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After a series of dismal performances, what is the future of Congress?


Keerthi Nathan

keerthi nathan 2020The Mahagatbandhan alliance comprising of RJD, Congress and the Left parties have given a tough fight to the ruling NDA in the recently held elections in Bihar. Although the RJD has increased its vote share tremendously since last the general election held last year, it is the Congress which has been consistently underperforming and has caused considerable damage to the overall tally of the Grand Alliance, bringing into question its credibility as a junior partner in an alliance.

During the run up to the Bihar elections, the RJD had entered into an electoral alliance with Congress and the Left parties which consisted of CPI(M), CPI(ML)L, CPI. The Congress was allotted 70 seats, while the RJD contested on 144 seats and the combined Left parties got a share of 29 seats with the CPI(ML)L bagging the highest of 19 seats. And when the election results were being declared yesterday, the Left parties had done reasonably well and the CPI(ML)L won 11 seats compared to that of the 3 seats it won in the 2015 Elections.

The Left parties have done justice to their allocation with continuous round the clock campaigning from their energetic youth based cadre. The CPI(ML) had given tickets to candidates from backward castes and that seems to have paid dividends. But it is the Congress within the Grand Alliance which had performed miserably and dented its share of both the seats and vote percentage. And in spite of being the junior partner in the Grand Alliance, the INC has failed to live up to its expectations by winning only 19 seats compared to that of the 27 it had won in 2015. So what went wrong for Congress and why is it performing poorly whenever it is a junior alliance partner? Let us also analyze how the Congress party has performed when it has been an alliance partner in other states.

In the case of TN, the Congress is part of the Democratic Progressive Alliance which consists of the alliance leader i.e., DMK, the Left parties and a few other Dalit and Dravidian parties. In the 2016 TN Assembly election, the Congress was allotted 41 seats and the DMK contested on 176 seats.  The DMK won 89 seats and the Congress had won a meek 8 seats from the seats it contested. The DMK soon convened its internal party meeting and many of the senior leaders within the party were of the opinion that Congress shouldn’t have been given 41 seats. And apart from the seats given, the Congress also failed in cadre management and didn’t effectively campaign. Much of its campaign, where even national leaders had participated, the INC couldn’t pull crowds and many of its rallies did not live up to its expectations. It was the DMK who stepped in again and started pulling crowds for the Congress party.

But again, the campaign was lackluster and Jayalalithaa successfully pulled off a spectacular win where she returned to power again after serving a 5 year term. Many have attributed the failure of the Congress to its inefficient cadre management and fielding of weak candidates who did not demonstrate the qualities of efficient lawmakers. Take the case of the CPI(ML)L in Bihar, where it has come a long way from winning 3 seats to winning 11 seats in this election. The reason for their success has primarily been attributed to their efficient cadre who are mostly youngsters. Even during the campaign, the cadres of the party worked tirelessly and ensured crowd pulling rallies for their candidates. Another reason for the rejuvenation of the party is that it had given two seats to prominent student leaders from the AISA which is the student wing of the party and the remaining to its youth leaders. This reinvigorated the youth of Bihar in those constituencies and both the candidates emerged victorious with thumping margins. The Congress has certainly underperformed and has also pulled down the alliance with it.

There’s a lot of work to be done for the Congress party if it wishes to be the main alternative to the BJP in both National and State level politics. First and foremost the party needs to build a strong cadre and should encourage youngsters and motivate them by giving party positions and tickets. The Congress has now put itself in a fix where it is not in a position to bargain for seats they wish to contest in, especially in the case of TN. The DMK’s electoral supporters in social media were closely watching the election results of Bihar yesterday and clearly many had expressed reservations of allotting more seats to the Congress in the elections of TN scheduled to be held next year.  The poll pundits of DMK’s inner council too feel that seats for Congress should be restricted next year. If there is any lessons for the Congress too draw from yesterday’s results, it is to revamp its cadre and attract the youth. For this it can very well take a lesson from the Communist parties which have a robust mechanism to keep their cadre in check and also in their way of grooming young leaders.

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Keerthi Nathan is currently pursuing his Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is an avid Tennis player and takes a keen interest in analysis of political events in the country.