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This Far, No Farther !


The rhetoric of "Congress Mukt Bharat" aside, the Party is actually seeing a revival in several of the BJP ruled states; Sanjeev Acharya reports
SANJEEV ACHARYA | Issue Dated: August 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Congress Mukt Bharat | BJP | Vasundhara | Sachin Pilot |

There is no doubt about the fact that the BJP at present is feeling on top of the world after its remarkable victory in Assam, after which the saffron outfit is governing nine states with around 35% of India’s population and the Congress has been reduced to just 6 smaller states covering about 8% of the country’s population. Riding on high tide, BJP has been of late raising the slogan “Congress Mukt Bharat”. But BJP bosses should not forget that it takes little for political cycles to change direction. True, the Congress today is in no position to coherently challenge the BJP, but it can regain its lost ground in the forthcoming assembly polls in at least a couple of states, as the margin of victory in the last elections in some states was very narrow.

The political scenario of the nation has undergone significant change since the last Lok Sabha polls. Yes, the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi threw the Congress out of power after ten years of rule. Additionally, in the subsequent assembly polls, BJP won Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana and has even formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir with PDP. In between, of course, BJP had two historic and spanking setbacks in Delhi and Bihar. But with a spectacular victory in the important Northeastern state of Assam, BJP again proved that it has not lessened its intention to wipe out Congress from every possible poll bound state. But at the same time, however tempting the Amit Shah-coined slogan “Congress Mukt Bharat” may be to Congress' detractors, the saffron outfit should not forget the fact that if some of the reverses happen in the bigger states going to the polls in 2017 and 2018, the equation could change.

Now, Uttar Pradesh is the most important state going to polls and will be a litmus test for both major political parties. Despite that, political pundits are of the view that it is not UP that will galvanise or return lost ground to the Congress. In fact, lo and behold, the Congress may have its best chance in Narendra Modi’s own den in Gujarat.

Currently, the BJP is vulnerable in Gujarat, facing a three-term anti-incumbency, which no one has beaten in recent decades. It becomes worse as Patidar leader Hardik Patel, after spending a couple of months in jail facing sedition charges, is out on bail. He is hell-bent on defeating BJP not only in Gujarat, but across India. The recent resignation of the Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben has been executed to dilute this anti-incumbency. Since Gujarat may well be a bipolar fight, it can easily swing the other way after a 15-year fatigue with one outfit. Point to note is that Congress at its worst got a 38% vote share in the 2012 assembly polls and the BJP received 48%. So the Congress still has a strong base in Gujarat and would benefit from a 5-6% vote shift away from the BJP.

 Recent incidents of atrocities on Dalits in the state have added much fuel to anti BJP government sentiments. The BJP got a shock in Gujarat last year when it lost 80% of all district panchayats in rural Gujarat to the Congress, possibly reflecting the disenchantment of the middle peasants – the Patel community – with the BJP. The BJP did retain its vote in the urban municipalities, but overall, the Congress seems to have got a higher vote share than the BJP in all of Gujarat’s local elections. This may be a glimpse of what might be in store for the BJP in 2017.

Now, let’s talk about 15-year anti incumbency in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in 2018. In Chattisgarh, the Congress has had a 40% vote share, just 1.5% behind the BJP. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has had a vote share of about 35%, which it can dramatically improve upon as the Shivraj Chauhan government has been badly affected because of the Vyapam scam and are yet to play out electorally. The Congress can reap this if it successfully curbs infighting within its party, which has been suffering due to groupism of heavy weights like Digvijay Singh, Kamalnath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and others. If the Party plays smart and does not make any big mistakes, it can make it to power. Like Gujarat, its a bipolar fight between Congress and BJP in this state too.

Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, the Congress couldn’t make it to power in the last assembly elections, but only by a very narrow margin. That was due to infighting between Ajit Jogi and Bhupesh Baghel camps. The Party could have done much better if it wouldn’t have lost its influential leaders like V C Shukla and others in a Naxal attack, in which half a dozen important leaders were killed. Now, the Congress high command has broken the urban myth that Ajit Jogi is their protégé and he could say or do anything. He was denied the Rajya Sabha ticket and a neutral, young, backward caste lady, Chhaya Verma, got the ticket. This triggered the breakaway of Jogi and supporters from the Congress. The High Command is of the view that this will help party workers work hard and become united as the party organization is now strong and there is an undercurrent of anti-incumbency against the Raman Singh government.

Maharashtra is another bigger and important state where Congress has its foot soldiers in every village and block. Despite their very bad performance during the last Lok Sabha elections, Congress still got 19% of the votes. It is learnt that Sharad Pawar, the strong Maratha leader who parted his ways from Congress two decades back and formed the Nationalist Congress Party, got just 15.22% of the vote share. His party base and vote bank is shrinking due to a significant reason. Pawar's health is deteriorating by the day and no second rung leader is that much capable of garnering support for the party as he can do. This again goes in favour of the Congress. The Congress Party has performed well in the recently held Panchayat elections and also in some of the municipalities. The ongoing tussle between BJP and its ally Shiv Sena is again a benefit for the Congress and NCP. Resignation of Minister Eknath Khadse and scams of Pankaja Munde and two other ministers are again tarnishing the image of the BJP government. Devendra Fadnavis”s poor performance is also making grounds for Congress and NCP to come to power.

Rajasthan is again a state which can return Congress to its lost glory. The state has 25 Lok Sabha seats, all of which were won by BJP in the Modi wave of 2014. But Congress also garnered 34% votes. More than 82 lakh people voted for Congress. This is a strong pointer that the party is far from getting wiped out. Jaat and Gurjar communities are up in arms against Vasundhara Raje’s government on the issue of reservation.Brahmins are also feeling completely sidelined under the present rule of BJP.

Congress has fielded the young and energetic Gurjar leader Sachin Pilot as chief of its organization. The Party has performed quite well in the recently held Panchayat and municipal elections. BJP’s infighting is growing by the day because of the fact that Vasundhara is not in the good books of Modi and Shah. A stage came during the Lalit Modi expose series when apparently the Centre wanted Raje to resign but she asserted and threatened to leave BJP and form her own regional outfit as a majority of MLAs were backing her strongly. So, with the hostile relationship between Center and state BJP, the chances of huge damage in the future can’t be ruled out. Congress will be a gainer in any case.

So, in conclusion, it can be safely said that it will be quite difficult for BJP to fulfill their dream of “Congress Mukt Bharat”. In fact, the worry for the BJP should be that in their one minded aim, they should not get blindsided by the Congress' quite resurgence.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017