Will Congress be able to achieve its breakthrough in 2019 election?

EditorialWill Congress be able to achieve its breakthrough in 2019 election?

2019 election is just around the corner and every political party is gathering all its wits to win their position in this election. According to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, if India is a computer then Congress is its default programme. If we look at the reality, he is not far off the mark. Before 2013 Congress had lost national power just three times. What is going to happen in 2019 election is still unprecedented. Even in 2004, Congress was at its lowest ebb just like today but the Congress bounced back, upstaging the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in a close fight in 2004 and widening the margin in 2009. Now we have to watch and see how the oldest party in the nation is going to make it’s come back.

If we asses all the chances of their revival, at first for the first time in post-independence history, the national vote share of the Congress has fallen below 20%. During the period of its dominance (1952-84), its vote share never fell below 34%. Secondly, BJP has more state legislators than Congress. Thirdly, the Congress’s best comebacks (except in 1980) haven’t crossed 70 seats. By looking at the current political situation we know that it is going to be very hard for BJP to repeat it’s 2014 victory. The Congress will have to change the definition of victory in the 2019 elections. If it manages to restrict the BJP to a number (200 or less) where the latter cannot form a government or can form a government only with a different prime minister, Gandhi would have something to celebrate. Congress has started to up their game and recently on Sunday at the party’s 84th plenary session congress party leader Palaniappan Chidambaram said the country needed to be “rescued from the hands of incompetent economic managers”. The Congress is also expected to state its position on alliances for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and unveil a vision document at the plenary beginning on Friday with party chief Rahul Gandhi keen on making the three-day event “worker-centric and not leader-centric”.

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With each passing year, the national reach of the BJP has grown while the reach of the Congress has shrunk. The BJP and its allies now run twenty-one of India’s twenty-nine states—home to over 70 percent of the Indian population. Even though in Karnataka Congress is the party governing the state it does not constitute substantiate the amount of population and they were also not able to secure enough to win the majority and now it is working on the coalition basis, even the CM is also from a regional party. Prior to Modi’s election, the NDA controlled just eight states but today it governs in just four states. Congress is one of the biggest national party in India but now it seems like they are becoming a part of the third front. Congress has faced electoral crises before, but what it faces today is an existential crisis. While it will likely gain seats in 2019, one Congress leader privately admitted that a triple-digit figure would be a stretch at present. The Congress is, fast losing ground among the people and is faced with an electoral debacle.  Although Congress retains the capacity to put up a good fight in the Hindi heartland, its stature in the northeast has rapidly diminished.

To win power, Rahul Gandhi will have to rely heavily on old and new UPA allies. Across our four clusters, the Congress will be lucky to win 85-90 seats overall. taking a best-case scenario, despite the unlikely prospect of the BSP and SP as well as the Left and TMC cohabiting in UPA 3, the 11 key allies together with smaller Congress-leaning parties are unlikely to garner more than 120 seats. Even if the Congress doubles its own tally to 90 seats, a putative UPA 3 would have only 210 Lok Sabha seats in all (90+120) – far short of a working majority. Therefore, for Congress to work it needs 150+120 allies. The state by-polls has shown a lot of anti-incumbency towards BJP. Rahul, as the new chief of the Congress, is trying to sideline the old guard and usher in the youth. This is easier said than done. The grand old party is rather allergic to change. And Rahul does not want to upset intra-party power equations until 2019 general elections. Today, in opposition, the Congress’ main failure is an absence of attractive policy imagination.

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One year in advance, many details of the 2019 race remain unknown, but its structural drivers are quickly coming into view. The Modi-Shah duo is on their way up for recalibrating the party stand and reorganize their political stand. The opposition is making adjustments as well. Gandhi and the once-dithering Congress appears more focused and consistent. The opposition, at least rhetorically, is embracing the need to forge a common anti-BJP front in 2019

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