The Congress rout in these elections diminishes its ability to dictate terms to the rest of the INDIA alliance, and reduces its overall credibility.
Kharge’s Temporary Move to Hyderabad
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge would be well-advised to temporarily shift base to Hyderabad for health and well-being reasons. True, India has seen no instance of human sacrifice for decades, but there is no reason for Kharge to leave things to chance. Very powerful politicians are desperately seeking ways and means to shield Rahul Gandhi from the blame for the Congress’s rout in the Hindi heartland, in the just concluded round of Assembly elections. The burden of failure must be placed on someone’s neck, and the incumbent party president is a natural choice.
In Telangana, the Congress has tasted victory after a decade in the wilderness, and local sentiments are benign towards the party leadership. Never mind that in its share of the vote, the Congress is barely two percentage points ahead of K Chandrasekhara Rao’s party, the BRS.
BJP’s Triumph in Assembly Elections
For the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, the election results are a definite shot in the arm, and would appear to clear the path to a third term at the Centre. All the leaders of the BJP in the states the party won have been eager to give Modi credit for their victory, without forgetting to thank Amit Shah for his poll strategizing. No doubt, sending popular leaders who currently serve as Members of Parliament to contest the Assembly elections was part of a conscious strategy, and it seems to have worked for the BJP.
The temptation is strong, after the Congress victory in Telangana, to posit a cleavage between the North and the South as far as BJP politics is concerned, with the South being considered unassailable for the BJP. This is too facile a conclusion.
BJP’s politics is different from BJP’s electoral success. The Hindu majoritarian vision of the BJP, in which Indian nationalism is defined by being Hindu, while people of other faiths are forced to live, at best, as second-class citizens, has more purchase in the South than would be suggested by the number of BJP legislators who get elected there. The consistent failure of the Opposition to confront and oppose anti-democratic urges among the minorities, in the name of
religious custom, has legitimized the BJP’s charge of minority appeasement against non-BJP parties.
On top of this core majoritarian vision, the BJP has successfully layered a gloss of development. An unfounded narrative that growth under the BJP government has been transformative, while nothing but corruption had taken place under previous regimes, has been spread far and wide, using social media, in particular. The rate of growth over the
previous UPA’s ten years was higher than the growth rate achieved during the Modi years. Facts, however, count for far less than perception, when it comes to swaying the popular imagination.
Influence of Sangh Parivar’s Ideology
Even in a state like Kerala, where the Left dominates politics, whether it is in office or not, the Sangh Parivar’s ideology has extensive presence. People do not vote for the BJP because it is still not an electorally viable alternative. But it would be folly to rule out a possibility of the BJP roping in a popular figure to lead its charge in the state, and people who have been chafing at having to repress their Hindutva proclivities suddenly coming out in the open to help the BJP find electoral traction in the state.
So the fault lies in…
The fault, of course, lies in India’s stunted democracy, attempts to nourish and grow which probably petered out with Nehru’s demise. The trappings of democracy, with elections that offered opportunities to gain control over the levers of power and offer patronage in return for political support, have come in handy to make grabbing power as the sole preoccupation of politics, pushing political empowerment of the disprivileged totally off the agenda.
Caste, instead of being targeted for annihilation as something that not just is incompatible with democracy but actively hinders its advance, became a tool for political mobilization, reinforcing its continuance. Tradition and custom grotesquely incongruent with democracy, such as denying women equality in matters ranging from freedom of choice in marriage to property rights, were maintained and given legal protection, to nurture group support.
Democracy stands reduced to holding elections, and the extensive use of money and muscle-power to win elections, including by bribing voters with money, liquor and, in some places, even drugs, has become standard operating procedure. The first-past-the-post system of elections and cynical public acceptance of the elimination of scruples from political action have rendered defections and regime changes using politicians who have switched sides routine. So has patronage of criminals and goons.
The Opposition continues to hope to defeat the BJP through electoral strategy, instead of focusing on building democracy in the country. This gives a free pass to the BJP’s anti-democratic politics and leeway for its superior polling management resources and nous.
It is wholly convenient for the BJP that the principal Opposition, the Congress, is led by a dynast who refuses to take responsibility for his disastrous leadership, refuses to bow out, and continues to engineer sustained dominance of the party through a coterie.
Silver Lining or Congress in Election Results
The Congress rout in these elections diminishes its ability to dictate terms to the rest of the INDIA alliance, and reduces its overall credibility. There is a silver lining to the election results, however. The outsize BJP victory has greatly eroded the compulsion to stage spectacular but risky adventures like the Balakot attack in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The adverse international focus on alleged James Bond-like excursions of Indian security agencies, against Sikh separatists, also makes for sobriety in official conduct.
Left should look at its own stable
The election results should also remind the Left parties and their fellow travellers to take up the business of reviving their own parties in earnest, instead of pinning their hopes and spending all their energies on revving the Congress. The Congress would be relevant only as a force for building Indian democracy. It should finance itself through small contributions from the people, instead of using a government it controls to mobilise resources, which strategy leads to corruption and popular disenchantment. That, of course, would call for radical overhaul of the party and its conduct, starting with complete overhaul of its leadership.
TK Arun is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
This article was first published by The Federal as Congress rout and its obvious fallout on December 3rd, 2023.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
Read more by the author: Educational Equity: A University in Every City.
Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Anubhuti Mahanta, a research intern at IMPRI.