Year Ender 2023: Congress loses momentum after victories in Karnataka, Himachal

FILE PHOTO: Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, smiles during a press conference in New Delhi, India, August 4, 2023. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/file photo

New Delhi : Congress’ victory in Himachal Pradesh helped give much-needed confidence to take on the Bhartiya Janata Party. In the second month of this year, the Congress lost three north-eastern states- Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The grand old party, however, regained turf with its phenomenal win in Karnataka in May this year by toppling the BJP government from its only bastion in South India.

The party, which saw a major internal tussle over leadership in Rajasthan, came tumbling down as it lost the three crucial Hindi heartland states–Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan–to its prime contender, the BJP.

With the Lok Sabha polls barely a few months from now, the Congress needs to count its pieces, identify and fix what went wrong, and take on the Modi juggernaut with new-found energy.

Congress’ defeat in the three north-eastern states came into the limelight with its historic win in Karnataka in May after the party bagged 135 out of 224 seats in the state legislative assembly with a 43.2 per cent vote share as compared to 80 seats and 39 per cent vote share in 2018.

Such a landslide victory came to the party only after 1999, when the Congress won 132 seats under SM Krishna’s leadership with a vote percentage of 40.84.

The Karnataka win gave new hopes to the opposition brigade, as the Congress was seen to be finally regaining its footprint after a series of electoral defeats in 2022, the only exception being Himachal Pradesh.

On July 18, 26 Opposition parties came together, with Congress forming the core, to form a new alliance to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. In the next few meetings that followed, they christened themselves INDIA, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.

After three meetings of the Opposition bloc the Congress, which was driving this alliance, put talks between its partners at the backburner and focused on the assembly elections at hand.

In Mizoram, where neither the BJP nor the Congress were the chief contenders in the electoral race, the Congress focused on ousting the Zoramthanga government from power since the Mizo National Front is a partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Zoram People’s Movement, which rose to prominence in the state in recent years, came to power in Mizoram. The Congress won just one seat, while the BJP won two.

In Rajasthan, the Congress failed to break the decades-long record of having incumbent governments voted out of power. The BJP was able to exploit Congress’ feud in the state, most notably the bad blood between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. The Congress could not come out of the shadow of the ‘paper leak’ scandal and allegations of an increase in crime rates against women under Gehlot’s watch. The party won 69 seats, while the BJP got 115.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress leadership under Kamal Nath could not break Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s fortress of welfare measures, especially the Ladli Behna Yojana, despite promises of multiple ‘guarantees’. Even after winning the poll battle in the 2018 assembly elections, his former party colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia’s rebellion led to the collapse of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. The party was reduced to only 66 out of 230 seats this year.

In Chhattisgarh, where the party was the most confident about winning, specially after securing 68 seats out of 90 in the 2018 polls, the BJP wrested power from the Bhupesh Baghel government. The BJP broke Baghel’s fort by accusing him of orchestrating multiple scams in the state, most notably the Mahadev betting app scam, which was apparently the final nail in his coffin. The Congress managed only 35 out of 90 seats.

The only silver lining for the Congress in the November assembly polls was Telangana, where the party was able to overthrow the decade-old Bharat Rashtra Samithi government.

The party won 64 of the 119 seats under Revanth Reddy’s leadership and further strengthened the opposition’s foothold in south India.
This year’s Assembly polls prove that the Congress’ chances of winning are still slim when it comes to a direct fight with the BJP. In case of a head-on contest against the BJP, the party has nothing more to boast of in the two years preceding the Lok Sabha polls, except the Himachal Pradesh win last year and the Karnataka win this year.

The Congress’ performance in the assembly elections also gives it less bargaining power before its alliance partners, with whom the party needs to tie up even more to take on PM Narendra Modi.

As the party stares at the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls, it needs clarity on how to stop the Narendra Modi wave. Showing generosity to its alliance partners in terms of seat-sharing, having state-level leaders who can deliver during elections and coming up with a rock-solid alternate idea to counter the BJP’s Hindutva-nationalist narrative may be the party’s only hope.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here