The Congress party doesn't seem to be faring too well in the 2022 state elections, if the exit polls are to be believed. The exit polls, released late on Monday, predict the incumbent Congress getting defeated by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab, not scoring more than single digits in Uttar Pradesh and losing to BJP in Manipur. The exit polls, however, do predict a neck and neck fight between Congress and BJP in Uttarakhand and Goa.
The results are important for the Congress as they will set the momentum for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, and will also play a role in determining the internal party dynamics.
If Congress fails to win even a single of the 5 states, then the party will be in power in only two states by itself: Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The party is in government in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu as part of alliances.
India Today-Axis has predicted 19-31 seats for Congress, and 76-90 seats for AAP: over 2/3rd of the 117 seats in the Punjab assembly. According to ABP-Cvoter, 39 per cent voters have voted for AAP, while 27 per cent have voted for the Congress. The AAP may form a majority with 52-61 seats in Punjab, as per the Zee News-Design Boxed exit polls while the Congress is projected to get 26-33 seats.
All exit polls are predicting a win for the AAP in Punjab: either comfortably, or by a small margin.
The Congress party’s turmoil and consistent infighting in Punjab has been no secret. Captain Amarinder Singh, who was the party’s CM for 4.5 years, was removed from the post in what was a very public fall out between the leader and the party’s central leadership. Singh eventually quit the Congress, floated his own party and allied with the BJP.
Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had been eyeing the post of the CM, was relegated to the post of the party president in the state but the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the CM was seen as a masterstroke by the party. In a few months’ time, the Dalit leader’s accessible appeal was believed to have potentially helped the party recover lost ground in the state. But if exit polls are to be believed, the AAP’s consistent efforts on the ground as well as repeated calls for 'change' in Punjab seem to have paid them dividends.
One major aspect which may have worked against the Congress was its mixed messaging, indicating a completely divided house.
While campaigning in Punjab in February, Priyanka Gandhi said that the Amarinder Singh government was “being run by the BJP from the center”. This, to many, seemed liked a self-goal, and an admission of the party’s ignorance of who was running its own government for 5 years. While the party did finally project Channi as the CM-face, it may have been too late by then, as the repeated barbs between various leaders of the Congress had become a matter of public spectacle.
Touted largely as a bipolar contest between the BJP+ and SP+, the former is predicted to win a significant majority in the 403 member Uttar Pradesh assembly.
While the India Today-Axis My India poll, as well as News24-Today's Chanakya have predicted a sweep by the incumbent BJP, the former has predicted 1-3 seats for Congress, and the latter has predicted just 1. If this prediction comes true, this will mean a worse performance from the party when compared to the 2017 polls, when it won just 7 seats. The Times Now-Veto has predicted up to 9 seats for the party.
The Congress' campaign in the state was led primarily by general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The leader's outreach to marginalised sections, primarily women, was seen as the Congress' USP in this election. The party gave 40 per cent of the tickets to women: a move that was lauded but also viewed with skepticism, given how the Congress was never expected to do too well in UP. The leader was also active in extending solidarity to families of the victims of the Hathras rape and murder in 2020, the anti-CAA killings and the Sonbhadra Massacre of 2019, along with others.
But Priyanka Gandhi's criticism continued to be her lack of consistent presence on the ground in UP, with her often spending most of her time in Delhi. Moreover, the visits to the victims' homes, while good for political optics, may not have seeped into making long-term change or even helping rekindle the organisational rigor of the party.
The party in UP has seen one too many exits in recent times, with Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh moving to BJP, and Imran Masood shifting to the SP. All of this combined with a flailing party cadre in the state may have contributed to the party's performance in the state, as being forecasted by exit polls.
In the 2017 Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha elections, the BJP had swept the polls, bagging 57 of the 70 seats. However, this time, the exit polls predict a drop in the party's seat share. India Today-Axis My India predicted a majority for the BJP with 36-46 seats, and 20-30 seats for the Congress. However, ABP-CVoter and Zee News-DesignBoxed predicted a narrow majority for the Congress: 32-38 and 35-40 respectively.
In any case, the drop in the BJP's seats was expected to be higher, given the instability the state government has seen in the last year alone. The state has switched between 3 CMs in a span of four months: starting with Trivendra Singh Rawat, who had been the CM of Uttarakhand for four years, was replaced with Tirath Singh Rawat in March 2021, who was then replaced with sitting CM Pushkar Dhami in July 2021.
The Congress had hoped that the BJP's changing CMs, combined with the fact that Dhami isn't a very popular face could have led to the party's downfall in the state. In contrast, Harish Rawat does enjoy a fair bit of popularity in the state, but given how the exit polls have largely predicted a tight contest between the two parties in Uttarakhand, it could go either way or may even result in a hung election.
Like Uttarakhand, Goa too is expected to be a tight contest between BJP and Congress, as per most exit polls.
India Today – Axis My India has predicted 15-20 seats of the 40 seats in the Goa assembly for Congress, while the ABP news gave 12-16 seats to Congress and 13-17 seats to the BJP.
If these predictions come true, then it could lead to a hung assembly in the state, as was expected. The developments thereon will be interesting to watch. Michael Lobo, former BJP minister from Goa had joined the Congress party just last month along with his wife, and has been leading the party's campaign since. The BJP had gotten weakened in the state ever since the death of former CM Manohar Parrikar, a sentiment echoed by Lobo as well. This may have worked in the Congress' favor.
The election was primarily fought on the issues of mining, corruption and job opportunities in the coastal state.
As far as Manipur is concerned, the Congress was never expected to be in leading contest there, and all exit polls have predicted a clear win for the BJP in the northeastern state.