Will Favourable Exit Polls’ Predictions Help Cong Contain Allies?
A favourable election verdict for Congress can enhance Rahul Gandhi’s credibility with allies, writes Anita Katyal.
If the exit polls of the five state elections prove to be accurate, the Congress could have sufficient reason to smile when the results are declared on 11 December.
Most of the polls show that the Congress is heading for a clear victory in Rajasthan and has an edge over the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. On the other hand, the Congress is set to be unseated in Mizoram while the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi is heading for a second term in office.
These state polls, described as the semi-final before the 2019 General Election, are particularly crucial for the Congress in general and its president Rahul Gandhi in particular.
After it was reduced to a mere 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress cadre is desperate for a victory in the Hindi heartland states, so that it can start believing in itself again. A favourable verdict will also enhance Rahul Gandhi’s public image and boost his credibility, especially since he is constantly dismissed by his rivals and the people as a political joke.
Victory For Congress Projected in Exit Polls Crucial for Its Allies
More importantly, the 11 December results will determine the shape of the Opposition front being proposed to take on the BJP in next year’s election. If the Congress acquits itself well – it has to win at least two states to claim a credible victory.
It will strengthen its bargaining power with potential allies, who will then be forced to take it more seriously. In addition, it will also help the Congress claim the lead position in the coalition.
Regional satraps have, so far, shown a marked reluctance to accord primacy to the Congress or do business with Rahul Gandhi. For instance, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav have declared they will work together in Uttar Pradesh but have shown little inclination to include the Congress in its plans.
Mayawati’s Big Blow to Congress
Then again, Mayawati made it clear that she cannot be taken for granted when she refused to have a tie-up with the Congress in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on the plea that she was not getting a respectable number of seats. Instead, she chose to partner with Congress rebel Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh.
Similarly, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee has not established a good rapport with Rahul Gandhi and is reluctant to accept him as the key player of the anti-BJP alliance. She is particularly wary of the Congress chief as she is convinced that he is more comfortable dealing with CPM general secretary Sitaram Yehcury. She would like an alliance with the Congress but on her terms.
And though the Congress party’s alliances with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar are on a far better footing, these regional players are known to be hard bargainers when they sit down for seat-sharing negotiations.
A good performance by the Congress in the three Hindi heartland states does not mean that its presence in Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will improve dramatically in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls but it will give the Congress greater confidence in dealing with its allies.
Seat Sharing Deal Remains Major Hurdle for Cong & Allies
Seat-sharing is always a tough and challenging task as each political party wants to protect its turf in areas where it is in a position of strength. All this with an eye to maximising its gains so that it is better placed to drive a hard bargain after elections.
It was for this reason that the Congress failed to firm up an alliance with Mayawati in the recent elections.
The Congress believed the BSP had pitched its demands too high and it could not afford to cede space to Mayawati in states where the grand old party has a larger footprint. It was the same story in the last Gujarat Assembly polls when the Congress felt Sharad Pawar’s NCP was asking for far too many seats given its limited presence in the state. Then again the Congress could not clinch a deal with Mamata Banerjee in the February Tripura election as it believed the Trinamool Congress was making unreasonable demands.
The Congress has since faced a lot of flak for its “big brother attitude” and for not being large-hearted in accommodating its allies. Hopefully for the Congress, the election results of the Hindi heartland states will help contain its demanding allies.
(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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