What do the verdicts mean for the Congress?
Are its days as the alternative party over? Now that it has lost Punjab, the only two sizeable states that it rules are Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
After the last general election, I wrote a column encouraging Congressmen and women to recognise that, whatever the results may be in terms of seats, they did show that the Congress was still the only national alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Thursday’s results suggest that this is no longer so.
In Punjab, after the very public internal battle which led to Congress chief minister (CM), Amarinder Singh, resigning from the party, it only won 18 seats. Singh, now in alliance with the BJP, couldn’t win his home seat, Patiala. It was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that swept to power. I saw Ashwani Kumar, a minister under Manmohan Singh, who recently resigned from the party, say on television, “This is the end for Congress”.
With the humiliation that the Congress suffered in three states this time, I am inclined to believe he is right. I don’t think I can any longer speak of the Congress as the alternative national party to the BJP. Apart from Punjab — a state where it has never been a major player — these assembly elections have once again shown that the BJP is the only party that can claim to be national, although it needs to do a lot of hard work in the south and the east.
During the election campaign, it appeared that the AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, was attempting to become the alternative national leader to Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. In the Capital, Delhi voters were reminded that a vote for the BJP was a vote for Modi by widespread advertisements of him and Yogi Adityanath together. But they were matched by a stream of full-page advertisements in daily newspapers and on television with the achievements of Kejriwal’s Delhi government. These achievements were also prominently advertised on the streets. This led to the speculation that he saw himself as an alternative to the PM.
Some of the experts commenting on these results on television raised the possibility of the BJP’s success in Uttar Pradesh (UP) putting ideas into CM Adityanath’s head. Five years ago, when he was still just a Member of Parliament (MP), it was generally thought that he could never go beyond that. He was considered to be an outspoken anti-Muslim backbencher. With Modi’s dominant position, I can’t see how he can now become more than an outspoken anti-Muslim CM.
Kejriwal’s position is different. He has now emerged on the national scene, and is no longer confined to Delhi. He is now the undisputed, widely promoted, head of the party that rules Punjab. If there is to be an alternative to the BJP, the only current possibility would seem to be an alliance of regional parties, each limited to one state. Could Kejriwal be the leader of such an alliance? He has two state governments and if his party does a proper job of running Punjab, his influence will spread too.
What about the Congress? Are its days as the alternative party over? Now that it has lost Punjab, the only two sizeable states that it rules are Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Both of their CMs have had to cope with dissatisfaction, which could easily have led to open rebellion.
The results of these elections could revive rebelliousness in both states. This is made even more likely by the fate Priyanka Gandhi Vadra suffered in UP, where she was in charge, and the party won just two seats. The Congress is being held together by the belief the Gandhi family’s name brings the party votes and the fear that without the family, it will fall apart.
With Sonia Gandhi unwell, Rahul Gandhi‘s record of failures, and now, Priyanka failing too, how much longer can the Congress hold together? If it does not, can Kejriwal and his AAP provide a national alternative to the BJP?
The views expressed are personal