New Party For Pilot? Here’s How Ex-Congress Leaders Fared in Past

Sachin Pilot has told news agencies that he will not be joining BJP.

Updated15 Jul 2020, 11:15 AM IST
Politics
5 min read

"Some leaders in Rajasthan are trying to fuel speculation that I am joining the BJP, but I am not doing so,” Sachin Pilot told news agency PTI on Wednesday, 15 July. He also pointed out that he had worked very hard to bring the Congress to power in Rajasthan.

Pilot’s alleged rebellion had led to a crisis in the Rajasthan Congress, following which Pilot was removed from the posts of deputy chief minister, as well as state unit president.

After Pilot’s announcement that he would not be joining the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rajasthan Congress in-charge Avinash Pande stated that the party has “not closed the doors” for Pilot.

With Pilot denying any move to join the BJP, the speculation now is that he could be considering forming a new political party.

If this is true, there are important lessons from the past for Pilot, from Congress leaders who left the party to form separate political outfits.

Here’s a classification of these departures into four main categories and its impact on the Congress.

1. Splits that Seriously Harmed the Congress

Mamata Banerjee

Once a firebrand Youth Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee left the Congress in 1997 and formed the Trinamool Congress in January 1998. The Congress in Bengal was never the same after that.

In the 1991 Assembly polls, the Congress had a healthy vote share of 35 percent in West Bengal, which went up to 39.5 percent in 1996. This plummeted after TMC was formed. In 2001, the TMC got 30.7 percent votes and the Congress fell to just eight percent. In 2006, the Congress improved a little to 14.7 percent and TMC fell a bit to 26.6 percent.

In the 2011 Assembly polls, the two contested as allies and came to power, with the TMC getting 38.9 percent votes and Congress getting 9.1 percent. In 2016, Congress gained a little because of its alliance with the Left and got 12.3 percent. TMC swept the elections with close to 45 percent votes.

There is an interesting pattern here. In 2001 and 2006, the combined vote share of TMC and Congress is not very different from the undivided Congress vote share in 1996.

But 2011 onwards the TMC grew immensely, while Congress remained stagnant and restricted to its pockets in Northern Bengal.

It seems that in the long run, breaking away from the Congress was beneficial for Mamata Banerjee as the TMC expanded much beyond the erstwhile base of the parent party. This remains an important blueprint for several Congress satraps.

Neiphu Rio

A similar case is that of Neiphu Rio who left the Congress and formed the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF). The NPF broke the Congress’ hold over the state, first emerging as the main Opposition and subsequently capturing power in the state. The Congress declined gradually in this period – its vote share went from 50.7 percent in 1998, before the split, to close to 36 percent in 2003 and 2008, and then 25 percent in the 2013 Assembly polls.

But after Rio split from the NPF to form the NDPP, the Congress was reduced to a marginal player in Nagaland. The state is now a two-party affair, with the BJP as a third player.

Jaganmohan Reddy

Congress, which once considered Andhra Pradesh as its bastion, is now virtually non-existent in the state. This is due to the twin blows of the bifurcation of the state and the formation of YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP.

The party’s vote share fell from 36.6 percent in the 2009 Assembly polls to 11.7 percent in 2014 in undivided Andhra Pradesh and then to just 1.2 percent in 2019 in the new state.

2. Splits That Had a Minor Impact on Congress

Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar

An important split that took place in the Congress is the formation of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) by Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar in 1999, in opposition to Sonia Gandhi’s appointment as the party’s president. The states most affected by the split were Pawar’s state Maharashtra and Sangma’s Meghalaya.

Though the split harmed the party in the immediate short run, eventually the party did not collapse the way it did in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland.

For instance in Maharashtra, the Congress vote share fell by just four percentage points between 1995 and 1999, even though the NCP polled 22.6 percent votes in the 1999 Assembly polls.

In fact, the split seems to have helped both parties tap into newer support bases and expand their respective patronage networks.

The Congress and NCP’s vote share reduced by 2014, but that was largely a result of anti-incumbency.

A similar trend can be seen in Meghalaya, where the NCP’s formation may have harmed Congress initially but didn’t affect the party’s core base in the state.

After the NCP split and PA Sangma formed the NPP, Congress was hardly affected beyond a point in the state. The Congress and NPP are now the main players in the state.

3. A Split That Helped the Congress

An interesting case is that of Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, that was formed in the run-up to the Assembly elections in the state last year. Even though the splinter got a little less than eight percent votes and made an impact in alliance with the BSP, the Congress ended up sweeping the state anyway.

Some reports suggest that Jogi’s party may have ended up splitting Satnami community votes that may have otherwise gone to the BJP.

4. Those Who Came Back

Just as Rajasthan Congress in-charge said that “the doors are not closed” for Pilot, in the past the doors swung back open for others as well.

Several leaders who split from the Congress and formed separate parties, ended up coming back and merging into the parent party. Even leaders as senior as AK Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh have split from the party in the past only to return soon after.

Most of the leaders who came back to the Congress are ones who found it difficult to stay relevant outside of the party. These are mostly leaders who, unlike Mamata Banerjee or Jaganmohan Reddy, didn’t enjoy state-wide popularity independent of the Congress.

Leaders from Kerala such as K Karunakaran and AK Antony fared particularly poorly, despite their stature in the state. This is largely because of the entrenched nature of the Congress in Kerala as well as its cadre strength.

Even in Haryana, most splinter parties – such as Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party and Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress – ended up eventually returning to the parent party.

Pilot should keep in mind these examples, especially the fact that leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Neiphu Rio or Jaganmohan Reddy, who succeeded after splitting from the Congress and forming new parties, are all from outside North India. There’s been no such successful model in the North. Clearly, Pilot faces a difficult choice.

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Published: 15 Jul 2020, 11:00 AM IST
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