Congress’ creeping Revival
The Bihar elections have helped to revive the Congress party, but only as a minor partner
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
One of the unexpected fallouts of the Bihar elections has been the creeping revival in the fortunes of the Congress party. It could be credited to the fact that the Congress was part of the Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandan (MGB), but what is clear is that the high success rate of the party (28 out of the 40 seats allotted to it) defied pollsters and political observers who claimed that it would be a laggard as voters had not forgiven it for the corruption scandals at the Centre.
In fact, many political observers used the Congress performance as the bellwether of the MGB. No one got it right – even the Congress leaders from Bihar. Some of them were so dispirited and demoralised that they would claim the BJP was far ahead of the MGB. Expectedly, they did not work hard to garner votes for their party, but the truth is that the upper caste that was expected to vote for the BJP sold a lemon to the party and sided with the Congress, which seemed to be a winning bet. Out of the 16 seats that the Congress gave to the upper caste, 12 turned up winners. In terms of electoral arithmetic, the Congress not only got its upper caste and minority votes, but benefitted from the OBCs and Dalits. They epitomised the post-election analysis of the BJP leaders that the MGB allies were able to transfer their votes to each other. How did that happen?
Quite evidently, the social constituencies that backed the MGB found the rise of the BJP threatening and worked hard to ensure that their votes were not split. This meant the marginalisation of the two other alliances and parties that had come up in Bihar. After Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party cried off from the MGB for getting only three seats, it formed an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party. It bombed before it started. No one really took it seriously. Worse, many of Mulayam’s speeches made in Bihar, praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are being used by his detractors in UP. Minorities that found the MGB a godsend did not want any party to split their votes. This made Mulayam seem a BJP stooge trying to stop the MGB from coming to power. His decision to part ways with the MGB has reinforced the impression that his commitment to secularism is tactical. Similarly, the communists who decided to go it alone were also badly savaged. Only three seats were won by the CPI (ML), but that has little to do with the traditional Left.
The Bihar elections have provided firm evidence of how the 69 per cent of the country that did not vote for the BJP in the last parliamentary elections can remain relevant in other states that go to the polls in the coming years. Also, they can serve as a bulwark against the BJP and its front organisations as they endeavour to change the ideological locus of the country.
After the Bihar win, there is increasing talk emanating from Congress quarters about the Mahagathbandan. Even Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, facing a direct challenge from the forces of Hindutva, suggested that the Congress leadership should explore an MGB kind of arrangement in his state. In many ways, Assam is ripe for the BJP’s picking if earlier reports coming in from Guwahati are anything go by. Post-Bihar results, Congress circles seem more optimistic and claim that three of the seven party MLAs that joined the BJP a few weeks ago are keen to return to the party. There is a view that the formula to stall the Modi-led BJP has been provided by Nitish Kumar-run Bihar. First, ensure that the minority plus core vote of the leading party is not split; second, ensure that there are no communal riots of the kind witnessed in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh; and, third, take on the BJP’s star campaigner, Modi, directly by surgically exposing his claims and promises.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the big fight will take place in 2017, hints have been dropped by the Samajwadi Party that it would not be averse to having its own grand alliance to stall the BJP. In the parliamentary elections the BJP won 73 seats – a mind-boggling figure that translates into four-fifths majority in the Assembly. But who wants to have an alliance with the SP? After they dropped out of Bihar’s grand alliance no one really trusts them. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has refused to have anything to do with them. In fact, BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria helpfully suggested the SP join hands with the BJP, whom it has been helping all this while. The Congress, too, does not want to go with the SP as it fears that it would lead to the erosion of its upper caste support base. For the Congress, the ideal ‘grand alliance’ will have to be with the BSP, whose popularity is slowly rising again.
Many in Lucknow expect the Mayawati-led BSP to win the 2017 Assembly elections even if she does not move a muscle till the polls. The rising tide of anti-incumbency against Mulayam will carry her to the Chief Minister’s office. This is a tad simplistic as there has been a lot of erosion in the BSP vote in the last few years. As pointed out by Dalit ideologues like Anand Teltumbde, the BSP’s core vote is also getting urbanised with expectations similar to that of the other castes. Due to this reason, the BSP vote plummetted in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The BSP would need help to return to power and the only party that could make it an instant winner is the Congress, that brings in the support of the minorities, middle class and upper caste. A BSP leader said this would only be possible if the Congress was willing to share its space with them in other states too! “What about a Congress- BSP alliance in Kerala, MP or Punjab, for example? Why should we give space to the Congress in a state where we are strong?” he said. However, he said, an alliance of this nature can only be cobbled together by the two ladies, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati.
This is an interesting proposition, but it goes contrary to the position held by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has been trying to build up the party to come to power alone. The Bihar elections have helped to revive the Congress party, but only as a minor partner in the MGB.