A look at the total number of seats where the Congress stood first and second, and matching it with the BJP’s, tell an interesting story.
The Congress continued losing even the number 2 slot on many seats during the ‘90s, mainly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Since the Congress was slipping rapidly and the BJP wasn’t rising as fast, we had fissionable 3rd Front governments. That could happen once more in this election.
In 1998, both the BJP and the Congress proved 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 consequently, with the Vajpayee era giving way to the UPA, but 2014 overthrown this progress decisively.
In the last few years, 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 substitute the Congress party.
The victory of the Congress in 3 mainland states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh – has rekindled the dreams 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 citizens 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 range of possibility, though not considered very likely as of now. The UPA-1 had the Congress managing 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 an appearance (number 1 or 2) in just 268 seats. That’s fewer 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 reverts to power, he wants to make sure the Congress’ presence contracts even further.
The BJP is now throwing itself as the principal opposition to the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha and to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. It is also making a grave push in Kerala through the Sabarimala controversy. These are the 3 states, along with the northeast, where the BJP hopes to win some new, extra seats. This, the BJP hopes, could at least partly pay 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 stops a pipe-dream for the BJP, and its efforts in the northeast are injured by the Citizenship Bill fiasco, the Modi-Shah party wants to make sure that they reduce the Congress to the 3rd force in these areas.
Mausam Benazir Noor, the sitting Congress MP from Malda, lately joined the Trinamool Congress. That’s the sort of thing which tells you which way the wind is blowing in Bengal. It’s frequently 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 PM by a fluke, the method 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 the 3rd force in many states.
In business terms, states with bi-polar politics have a market event that politicians aren’t exploiting. In mainland states where the Congress continues to be one of the 2 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 strength to turn around a new state, or even prevent losing an existing one.
The Congress party’s achievements in the 3 states notwithstanding, the process of a Congress-Mukt Bharat is still on, and still very much on top of Modi-Shah’s agenda.