No matter how well the Congress does in seats where it is in the game, the number of seats where it’s not in the game is only going up.
So, what does the election look like? When you pose that question to voters a few days before polling, they might often tell you about the top two contenders in the race. Usually, the number three and four and five are just spoilers.
It is, therefore, useful to see not just how many seats a party won, but also where all it stood second. The sum of those two tells you of the sheer presence of a party.
A look at the total number of seats where the Congress stood first and second, and comparing it with the BJP’s, tell an interesting story.
The Congress kept losing even the number 2 slot on many seats throughout the ‘90s, mainly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Since the Congress was slipping rapidly and the BJP wasn’t rising as fast, we had unstable Third Front governments. That could happen again this election.
In 1998, both the BJP and the Congress showed presence (number 1 or 2) on a similar number of seats: the Congress in 300 seats, the BJP in 307. The Congress showed some resurgence thereafter, with the Vajpayee era giving way to the UPA, but 2014 overturned this progress decisively.
In the last few years, the Congress has been almost wiped out in Delhi, Tripura and Nagaland. The BJP in Tripura and the AAP in Delhi have shown us just how easy it is to replace the Congress party.
The victory of the Congress in three mainland states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – has rekindled the hopes of the Congress party and its supporters. Could we be headed for a UPA-3? Are we about to see a repeat of the 2004 election? What option do voters have when they are unhappy with the BJP, except to vote for the Congress? Who knows, Rahul Gandhi could soon be the prime minister?
Yes, all of that is in the realm of possibility, though not considered very likely as of now. The UPA-1 had the Congress leading it with 145 seats. Today, the Congress feels it could easily cross 100, but 145 is a difficult target. This is because the Congress in 2014 had a presence (number 1 or 2) in just 268 seats. That’s less than half of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The spread of the Congress on the map of India – not victories, just mere presence – has been shrinking. Whether or not Narendra Modi returns to power, he wants to make sure the Congress’ presence shrinks even further.
The BJP is now pitching itself as the principal opposition to the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha and to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. It is also making a serious push in Kerala through the Sabarimala controversy. These are the three states, along with the northeast, where the BJP hopes to win some new, extra seats. This, the BJP hopes, could at least partly compensate for the inevitable losses it will face in the heartland states.
Even if the BJP doesn’t win too many seats in Bengal or Odisha, even if Kerala remains a pipe-dream for the BJP, and its efforts in the northeast are damaged by the Citizenship Bill fiasco, the Modi-Shah party wants to make sure that they reduce the Congress to a third force in these areas.
Mausam Benazir Noor, the sitting Congress MP from Malda, recently joined the Trinamool Congress. That’s the sort of thing which tells you which way the wind is blowing in Bengal. It’s increasingly TMC vs BJP. The Congress and the Left could be wiped out and can keep discussing their alliance till kingdom come.
Even if Rahul Gandhi becomes the prime minister by a fluke, the process of making India free of the Congress seems to have the force of nature behind it. Amarinder Singh managed to save the Congress from becoming history in Punjab, but the AAP showed us how eager people are for a third force in many states.
In business terms, states with bi-polar politics have a market opportunity that politicians aren’t exploiting. In mainland states where the Congress continues to be one of the two main parties, it may only be a matter of time before a new entrant rises and replaces it. So far, Rahul Gandhi has shown no ability to turn around a new state, or even prevent losing an existing one.
The Congress party’s victories in the three states notwithstanding, the process of a Congress-Mukt Bharat is still on, and still very much on top of Modi-Shah’s agenda.