Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Congress Breathing Its Last?

 Pankaj Sharma |  29 Jan 2017  |  New Delhi

Is the Congress party on its last breath? Is the grand old party led by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi now a sinking ship?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes so. Addressing an election rally in Punjab last Friday, he asked the thin crowd that had assembled to hear him, "Will the people of Punjab think of stepping on a boat which is sinking?" He told the voters that the Congress is incapable of doing anything. The party is on its last breath, he said.

The Prime Minister dreams of two things these days: Cashless India and Congress-free India. I wish him the best for achieving these goals in remaining 27 months of his tenure. After 32 months in office, he has given us an economy withering in pain.

Narendra Modi's popularity peaked in 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) peaked electorally. It was also the year when the Congress suffered its worst defeat. Did the Congress take its last breath when Modi barged into the Parliament with 282 seats for BJP? Was the Congress consigned to a mere footnote in the history books, when the BJP won 31.3 per cent of the votes polled in May 2014? Did the Congress party ship sink when the BJP became the first political party in three decades to secure a clear mandate to form the government?

No. Even at the time when Modi enjoyed the highest levels of trust, affection, and support of Indian masses, the facts tell us that the Congress was favoured by one-fifth of the voters across the country. Though routed all over, it got little more than 8 per cent of the total seats in Parliament. In the general election of 2014, there were ten key states and Union Territories where Congress got sizably higher percentage of votes than BJP, and in around half a dozen states there were hardly any votes that went to BJP. In eight states, the Congress got more than 40 per cent votes, in four states its vote was more than 35 per cent, and in another six states, it got more than 30 per cent of the votes polled. Apart from practically no vote in 4 states, in another 2 BJP could get only 2 to 5 per cent votes and only 8-11 per cent votes in as many as four states.

Let us also analyse Assembly segments in different states during the elections for Lok Sabha in 2014: the highest benchmark of BJP's strength and Congress' weakness till now. BJP won all the parliamentary seats in 5 states in 2014 general election. It captured all 26 seats in Modi's home state Gujarat, all 25 seats in Rajasthan, all five seats in Uttarakhand, all 4 in Himachal Pradesh and two seats of Goa. More glorious was its victory in Uttar Pradesh where BJP got 71 out of 80 seats. Similar was the case in Madhya Pradesh where 27 out of 29 seats went to BJP, in Chhattisgarh where it got 10 out of 11 seats and in Jharkhand where 12 out of 14 seats went to BJP's kitty.

And what was the position of the Congress party in the Assembly segments of these nine states in which BJP thrived the most in 2014 Parliament election? In Gujarat, Congress-led in 17 Assembly segments at the time of strongest Modi wave. In Rajasthan, it was ahead of BJP in 11 Assembly segments. In Uttarakhand, the Congress-led in 7 Assembly segments. In Himachal Pradesh, it left BJP behind in 9 segments and Goa, the Congress-led in 7 Assembly segments.

Even in Uttar Pradesh, BJP could not leave Congress behind in 15 Assembly segments during Modi-typhoon. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress-led in 36 Assembly segments. In Chhattisgarh, it was ahead of BJP in 18 segments. In Jharkhand also, Congress could not be totally wiped out and led in 3 Assembly segments. In states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Congress did not get a single parliamentary seat in last elections and BJP got half the seats, but in Assembly segments, the Congress-led in 12 seats where BJP won only 25 of 87 segments. In Assam also where BJP captured half of the 14 parliamentary seats, and Congress had to content itself with only 3, the situation in Assembly segments was different, and it led in 23.

Seven states went to elections after 2014 parliamentary elections. Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections were held in 2015, and West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry went to polls in May 2016. In all these states Modi impact was not seen. BJP wiped out from Delhi and could get only three seats in February 2015. Congress did not get any seat in this election, but it could get the support of around 10 per cent voters. In Bihar, Modi wave vanished in November 2015, within 18 months of his unprecedented victory. Congress was the part of the grand alliance in Bihar with United Janata Dal, and Rashtriya Janata Dal which captured 178 of 243 seats and Congress individually got 27 seats.

In mid-2016 Assembly elections in West Bengal, the BJP contested all 294 seats but could get only 6. Congress fought on 92 and won 44. BJP got only one seat in Kerala and Congress 23. In Tamil Nadu, BJP contested on 232 and got zero with only 2 per cent votes. Congress contested 41 and won 8. BJP contested all 30 seats in Puducherry, too, and could not get any. Interestingly in Assam, where BJP won 69 seats and Congress 26, the vote percentage BJP got was 1.5 per cent less than what Congress received.

With the results of Panchayat, Zila Parishad and other local bodies in different states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, in which an active rejection of BJP supported candidates had been seen and the trend in 5 election going states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab is evident on the horizon, if Modi still wants the nation to believe that Congress is on its last breath, I must say his fingers have totally lost touch with the people's pulse.

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