The Congress Working Committee on Saturday rejected party president Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign, taking responsibility for the defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party won just 52 seats, still less than the tally required to get the Leader of Opposition’s post in the Lok Sabha.
Irrespective of whether Rahul Gandhi remains at the helm or not, the party has an enormous task ahead of it if it has to put up even a semblance of a challenge in front of the BJP in the years to come.
To quote BJP president Amit Shah, “Congress got zero seats in 17 states and Union territories while BJP secured over 50 percent votes in as many states and UTs”. This is how huge the gap between the two parties is.
Around 60 percent of the Congress’ seats come from just three states: Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. However, the real story lies in the vote share.
Vote Share Reveals Dependence on Minorities
The Congress could’t secure over 50 percent votes in a single state and achieved it in only Puducherry.
- The Congress got over 40 percent votes in Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Goa. The party also had a decent vote share in Assam at 35.4 percent.
- Except Chhattisgarh, the one thing common between all the other states is that non-Hindu communities are in there substantial numbers: 34 percent in Goa, 39 percent in Assam, 45 percent in Kerala, 61 percent in Punjab, 89 percent in Meghalaya and 91 percent in Nagaland. This is not to say that Hindus didn’t vote for the Congress but the party’s reliance on Muslims, Christians and Sikhs becomes quite evident.
- In all the states where the Congress is in a direct contest with the BJP, it lagged behind the BJP by 20 percentage points or more and its own vote share was less than 35 percent: Madhya Pradesh (34.5 percent), Rajasthan (34.2 percent), Gujarat (32.1 percent), Uttarakhand (31.4 percent) and Himachal Pradesh (27.3 percent). The only exceptions are Goa and Chhattisgarh where the party had a relatively better performance.
- The dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh stands out for the party – it got just 6.3 percent votes and even party president Rahul Gandhi lost from Amethi, despite Priyanka Gandhi being the party’s in-charge for East UP.
Gain at the Expense of Regional Parties, Losses to BJP
Compared to 2014, the party’s overall vote share increased by 0.3 percentage points. But there are important state-wise variations. The party’s vote share increased in states like Puducherry (up 29 percentage points), Tripura (up 10 points), Meghalaya (up 9 points), Tamil Nadu (8 points), Delhi (7 points), Punjab (7 points), Kerala (6 points), Assam (6 points), Goa (6 points), Telangana (5 points), Jammu and Kashmir (5 points) and Haryana (5 points).
There is a clear pattern here. In almost all these states, the Congress’ gains have been at the expense of regional parties and not the BJP, such as AINRC in Puducherry, Left Front in Tripura and Kerala, NPEP in Meghalaya, AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu, AAP in Delhi, SAD in Punjab, TRS in Telangana and INLD in Haryana. Even in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress’ gains may partly have been at the expense of the BJP and partly the AIUDF and PDP respectively. Even in Rajasthan, the Congress’ gains seem to have been at the expense of the BSP and others and not BJP.
The only state where the Congress made some gains at the BJP’s expense is Goa.
On the other hand, in most of the states where the Congress’ vote share has fallen, it has been because of the BJP, such as Arunachal Pradesh (down 20 percentage points), Manipur (down 17 percentage points), Odisha (down 13 percentage points), Himachal Pradesh (down 13 percentage points), Karnataka (down 9 percentage points) and Uttarakhand (down 3 percentage points).
The exceptions here are Nagaland, where the Congress’ vote share fell by 18 percentage points and the beneficiary is the BJP’s ally NDPP and West Bengal, where the Congress’ vote share fell by 4 percentage points. which seems to have gone to the TMC.
The message is clear: the Congress’ can still do well in contests against Left parties or regional parties but it fares dismally against the BJP. This is clear from the manner in which Rahul Gandhi won by a huge margin against the LDF in Kerala’s Wayanad but lost to BJP’s Smriti Irani in Amethi.
Huge Quantum of Losses
The Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh and TMC in West Bengal lost many seats by small margins to the BJP and came second in most seats they lost. But that’s not the case with the Congress. Most of the Congress’ losses have been huge.
Among the 421 seats the Congress contested, it won 52 seats, came second in 196 and third or below in 173.
But even in the 196 seats it came second, the Congress lost by huge margins in a large number of seats.
- Only in 17 seats did the Congress lose by a margin of less than 5 percent.
- In 54 seats, it lost by 5-15 percent votes.
- In 125 seats, it lost by over 15 percent votes.
This is important as it means that in the next elections, Congress would need a huge swing to turn its fortunes around. A swing of 2.5 percent towards it and against the winning party would take the Congress to 69 seats. A swing of 7-8 percent towards it and against the winner would take it to 106 seats.
To get beyond that, the Congress will need an even bigger swing to overcome the gap of over 15 percent in the remaining 125 seats. Barring a few exceptions, most of the losses of over 15 percent are at the hands of the BJP. This means that smaller swings may still help Congress defeat regional parties, it would need much larger swings to wrest seats from the BJP.
It is clear that the Congress stands alienated from a vast section of Indians. A very large chunk of Hindus see Narendra Modi as their undisputed leader. And while they might vote for the Congress in state elections, they are not ready to do it at the Centre.
The kind of huge swings Congress needs to defeat BJP cannot be brought about through campaigning during elections, preparing manifestos and candidate selection. It would need a huge shift on the ground that can be brought about only through a mass agitation or a constant contact programme over the next five years. This is a huge task for the grand old party, which might have to go back to its roots in Gandhian mass movements.