Tripura, Nagaland and Delhi show it is very easy for another party to replace the Congress; all it needs is to be new and aggressive.
There are at least three states now where the Congress has zero seats in the legislature. In all three, big swings have managed to wipe out the Congress.
In Tripura, the Congress went from 10 of 60 seats in 2013 to zero seats in 2018. Its vote share fell from 36 per cent to 1.8 per cent.
The argument often given for such declines is that the Modi wave of 2014 was an exceptional situation. But the Congress did better in Tripura in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections than in the recent Vidhan Sabha elections. In the general election, it had managed to save a 15 per cent vote-share.
Tripura is not the only state where it has been completely wiped out. In Nagaland, the Congress went from a 25 per cent vote-share in 2013 to 2.1 per cent in 2018. Its seats fell from eight out of 60 to a big zero.
In Tripura, the BJP took away all the Congress’s voters, leaders, workers, and then some more from others like the incumbent Left.
In Nagaland, the BJP engineered the split of the ruling Nagaland People’s Front into two. Now, one faction is ruling and the other is in opposition. The BJP itself won 12 seats in a Christian-dominated state, against the Congress’s zero.
If you think the phenomenon is limited to Nagaland, look at Delhi. In the capital’s assembly, the Congress went from a three-term dominant party to zero. It had a 40 per cent vote-share in 2008, 25 per cent in 2013, and 9.7 per cent in 2015, when it got the big zero.
Today, the Congress is not even the main opposition party in these three states. Such quick extinction flies in the face of the Congress’s belief that it will always be around. The party thinks it has seen rise and fall, again and again, starting with the Emergency. This too shall pass. When voters are fed up with the BJP, they will return to the only national alternative, the Congress.
But the examples of Tripura, Nagaland and Delhi show it is very easy for another party to replace the Congress. It has happened in other places too. In places like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Congress has been replaced by regional parties, but still manages a presence and plays ally from time to time. But the examples of Tripura, Nagaland and Delhi show how easy, quick and painless it can be for another party to replace the Congress.
The Congress sits pretty on captive vote shares in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but is unable to capture power. If voters in such states have the option of a third party that shows a better chance of displacing the incumbent, they might jump ship without a second thought. In UP and Bihar, the Congress is already on its way to extinction, surviving only on the munificence of the regional satraps.
Punjab is the only state where the Congress has come to power after having lost two successive elections. That exception might just prove the rule.
In Telangana, for instance, the Congress is the main opposition party. Even Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM has more MLAs than the BJP. But the BJP could simply steal away the Congress MLAs and workers, add the RSS cadres for mobilisation, and, overnight, finish the Congress in the state.
A Congress-mukt Bharat is not impossible. In fact it is very easy to achieve. All it needs is aggressive, new parties to replace it. It is the Congress’s good luck that there isn’t a pan-India party trying to replace it, though that’s the stated ambition of the Aam Aadmi Party.
The Liberal party in Britain was one of the two main parties from the 1850s to 1918. From 1918 to 1988, it tottered to a fall, like the Congress party today. The fact that the Liberal party ruled Britain for a long period was no guarantee it wouldn’t become extinct. It did, its position in British politics replaced by Labour. A similar fate for the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress cannot be ruled out.