New Delhi: The Congress’ poor strike rate in the 2020 Bihar assembly election — with the party winning only 19 of the 70 seats it contested — is being blamed for dragging down the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan’s overall tally as its allies registered a good performance.
While the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won 75 of the 144 seats it contested, with a strike rate of 52 per cent, the three Left parties won 16 of 29, at a strike rate of 55 per cent. The result was that the election was won by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), even though the RJD emerged as the single-largest party in the House of 243.
Bihar, however, isn’t an aberration. The Congress’ value to its alliance partners in different states — including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — appears to have deteriorated over the past few years.
In Maharashtra, for example, the Congress’ strike rate was 48 per cent in the 2009 assembly elections, when it contested with years-old ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar. In 2014, when the Congress went solo, its strike rate came down to 14 per cent.
In 2019, as it forged an alliance with the NCP again, its strike rate rose to 30 per cent, with the party winning 44 of the 147 seats it contested.
Even the strike rate of 30 per cent was due to Pawar’s doughty campaign as former Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed just two rallies, and prominent state party leaders remained confined to their own constituencies. The NCP’s strike rate in 2019 was 45 per cent as the party won 54 of the 121 seats where it fielded candidates.
Analysts say the Congress has been piggybacking on the NCP in Maharashtra — a state where it once enjoyed significant stronghold in many regions and was in office for 15 years from 1999-2014.
“The reason why the Congress could come to power in Maharashtra in 2019 was because of the NCP. But the party on its own is facing a huge crisis where many of its leaders are switching over to the BJP, and it has hardly any strong local leaders left,” political analyst Dhaval Kulkarni said.
The role of the ‘Modi wave’ cannot be underestimated in the state, he added.
“In 2014, there were some BJP candidates who hardly campaigned, and they were fighting some of the Congress heavyweights. And yet, surprisingly, many such candidates won. This can be attributed to nothing but the Modi wave,” Kulkarni said.
The state is currently led by a coalition government comprising the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress — the Shiv Sena had contested the 2019 assembly election with the BJP but a fallout caused it to look for new partners. The BJP had emerged as the single-biggest party in the election — with 105 seats in a House of 288 — but the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance has a numerical advantage.
UP & Tamil Nadu examples
The Congress contested the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP). The last Congress leader to have served as chief minister of the state was the late N.D. Tiwari, whose term ended in 1989.
In the 2017 elections, the Congress contested 114 of the state’s 403 seats, and won just seven of them, or 6 per cent. The SP, meanwhile, won 47 of the 311 seats contested, with a strike rate of 15 per cent. The election was subsequently won by the BJP with a landslide of 312 seats.
In the 2012 UP elections, the Congress had a strike rate of 7 per cent, as opposed to its then ally Rashtriya Lok Dal’s 19.5 per cent.
A similar trend has been witnessed in Tamil Nadu, where the party is in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). M. Bhaktavatsalam’s term as chief minister from 1963 to 1967 was the last time the party led the state.
In the 2016 Tamil Nadu assembly elections, the Congress won eight of the 41 seats it contested — a strike rate of 19.5 per cent — while the DMK won 88 of 180 seats, or 49 per cent of the constituencies it contested. The election was won by the AIADMK under the late J. Jayalalithaa, with the win marking the first time since 1984 that an incumbent government was retained in the state. The AIADMK won 136 seats in a House of 234.
The Congress’ strike rate in the 2011 election was 8 per cent, down from 70 per cent in 2006. The party contested both the elections in alliance with the DMK.
Among other states, the Congress has been gradually pushed to the margins in Odisha since the Biju Janata Dal came to power in 2000. Since 2014, the BJP has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition party in the state.
In former stronghold Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has seen its fortunes dip since the 2014 bifurcation, with the party also failing to gain much ground in Telangana.
The Congress has not had a chief minister in Jharkhand since the state was formed in 2000, and has been piggybacking on regional players — the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) or the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM).
In 2019, when the JMM-Congress alliance came to power, it was largely credited to JMM chief Hemant Soren’s leadership as the Congress largely remained a passive player during the campaign. However, its strike rate appears to have increased over the years.
The Congress had a strike rate of 51 per cent in the election, against the JMM’s 60 per cent. In 2014, the Congress had a strike rate of 9 per cent, and 22 per cent in 2009.
2 factors in Bihar
In Bihar, the party performed relatively better in the 2015 assembly elections, winning 27 of the 41 seats it contested — a strike rate of 65 per cent. This was a significant improvement from its 2010 performance in the state, where it contested all 243 seats solo and won just four, or 1.6 per cent.
Asked about the party’s performance this time, Bihar Congress leaders said they were given tougher seats to contest. “On 26 of the 70 seats where Congress contested, it is always the NDA that has won. The RJD couldn’t have won those seats either. So, the problem was in the nature of seats to begin with,” a senior Bihar Congress leader said.
Analysts agreed, but added that the party also lacks the organisational rigour needed to win a state like Bihar.
“The last time the Congress was in power (in the state) was in 1990. The Congress’ best performance in recent times was in 2015, where it won 27 seats, which isn’t much,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy research. “So, to give a party 70 seats in the immediate next election wasn’t right, and then to expect them to win on such a high number of seats wasn’t fair either.”
In 2015, the Congress had contested the Bihar election with the RJD and the Janata Dal (United), which was then in the midst of a brief separation from longtime ally BJP. The Congress-RJD-JD(U) coalition won the election, but the alliance collapsed in 2017 as the JD(U) returned to the BJP. The last time the Congress was in power on its own in Bihar was between 1985 and 1990.
According to Verma, the alliance partners of the Congress — in this election, the RJD and the Left — may also have failed to transfer their votes to the party because the candidate fielded by the Congress in various seats may have failed to impress voters.
“While partly the reason is that they were contesting tougher seats, it is also that they aren’t as strong organisationally in the state. Tejashwi Yadav did 50-odd rallies, while Rahul Gandhi did a handful. This would obviously make a difference,” Verma added.