Bad hair day for Congress

Bad hair day for Congress

By: || Updated: 19 May 2016 10:06 AM
New Delhi: All eyes are on today's Assembly election results. In normal circumstances, it would not have been so. But these are not normal circumstances and more than formation of new Governments in five States what is at stake is the short and medium term prospects of the country's two national parties.

Catch LIVE commentary in detail below:

  • Badruddin Ajmal, AIUDF leader, was hopeful of emerging as the king maker in this election. Nothing of that sort happened. The AIUDF won fewer seats than in 2011 -- it's down from 18 to a dozen. Badruddin Ajmal lost from Salmara South constituency by a whopping margin. A rather sheepish perfume trader who has invested heavily in communal politics acknowledged that none of his predictions had come true. And congratulated the BJP. Rather reluctantly and grudgingly. For the record, as recently as Wednesday he was busy fantasising about a Congress-backed 'Third Front' Government

  • The first past the post system has its many advantages. But it does not always accurately reflect the vote share of political parties. For instance, in Assam the BJP has secured a 30.1 per cent vote share, which is lower from that of the Congress's 31.1 per cent. Yet the BJP has swept the polls in Assam while the Congress has been decimated. The BJP's allies have secured 8.4 per cent (AGP) and 3.8 per cent (BOPF). One way of looking at the vote share would be BJP+ is way ahead of the Congress. These are provisional vote shares and a fuller analysis would be possible only after the final results are out.

  • Here's an update on the byelections whose results were also expected today. These have been overshadowed by the Assembly elections results. With trends proving to be fragile, we now have the BJP and the Congress leading in an Assembly constituency each in Jharkhand. Earlier the RJD was in the lead along with the Congress. It's the BJP now sharing honours with the Congress. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party has won both the byelections. In Telangana TRS hasn't surprised its supporters and opponents. In Gujarat, the BJP is leading in a constituency earlier held by the Congress. A bad hair day for the only other national party.​ As someone pointed out on Twitter, from Kutch to Kamrup and Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the Grand Old Party of India has just wilted and withered away.

  • When Chandra Bose, the grand nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, made his high profile entry into the BJP, there was much thrill and claim by both party stalwarts and Netaji fans that this would be a huge winner in the Assembly election. Similarly, much claim was heard that by releasing the Netaji Papers from the custody of the Government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hit a sixer that that would propel the BJP to impressive electoral gains in West Bengal. Such assumptions have been proved to be misplaced. In Bhabanipur, from where Chandra Bose was fielded by the BJP, Mamata Banerjee has coasted to victory. Deepa Dasmunshi of the Congress is the runners-up while Chandra Bose is a poor, also ran, distant third. With seven leads in Bengal, the BJP is not doing too badly but surely it had aimed much higher than that?

  • The credit for BJP's victory in Assam should also go to BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. He has been strategising on Assam for more than a year now, rebuilding the party organisation bottom up, bringing in new blood and facilitating lateral entry of local leaders with a high popularity quotient. Promoting and projecting Sarbananda Sonowal was a brilliant move, as was bringing in Himanta Biswa Sarma. After crafting the BJP's spectacular performance in the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly election and enabling the formation of the BJP-PDP Government's formation, this is the second proverbial feather in Ram Madhav's cap. He is clearly the rising star in the BJP!

  • J Jayalalithaa has pulled off the impossible by posting a second consecutive victory for the AIADMK. Tamil Nadu has swung between the AIADMK and the DMK, electing one and rejecting the other, in previous Assembly elections. So conventional wisdom suggested that it would be curtains for Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK this time and Tamil Nadu would welcome its very own dynast by installing Stalin, son and heir of M Kaurnanidhi, as Chief Minister. This was touted as a tectonic change, but it's proved to be a change that was not to be. For the next five years Jayalalithaa remains on top. But she has suffered considerable loss on the battlefield with the AIADMK's own 2011 tally of 150 seats falling substantially and the alliance she leads by 25-odd seats. Victories, however, are about who gets to form the Government. Everything else becomes irrelevant.

  • Politicians tend to scoff at the accuracy of exit polls. But are exit polls that inaccurate? C-Voter has got the outcome in Tamil Nadu and Kerala right almost to the dot while ABP News TV's exit poll in Assam got the numbers correct. This should stop people from doubting the accuracy of exit polls, though there is no guarantee that in the next round exit polls will fall flat on their face.

  • On a day when seats are raining for the BJP, Jharkhand has brought bad news for the party with the RJD and the Congress leading in the two constituencies where byelections were held. One of the seats was held by the BJP, the other by the Congress. In Gujarat, the Congress has retained the seat where byelection was held. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and SP are likely to share honours winning a seat each. The TRS gets to keep the seat it held in Telangana.

  • Trends till 9.30 am suggest the Left-Congress 'alliance' in West Bengal may not hit the 2011 tally of 104. What's worse is that the CPM, which begged and cajoled the Congress for the alliance, may end up with fewer seats. A quick analysis shows CPM is lagging behind in a dozen seats which it had won in 2011. On the other hand, the Congress seems to be gaining over its 2011 tally.

  • Very early leads but if they hold then BJP would have made history in Bengal by winning Jorasanko, an urban seat in Kolkata and seat of the Tagore family residence, and Mayureshwari in Birbhum district. Rahul Sinha would have struck gold after years of trying to win a seat. But the bigger story would be actress and feisty activist Locket Chatterjee winning from Mayureshwari. Birbhum has been a traditional Congress stronghold that swung to the CPM and then to TMC.

  • As of 9 am, there are no indications that the BJP would hold on to its earlier win in Bengal when Shamik Bhattacharya won the Basirhat (South) seat in a byelection, defeating the TMC. Nor is the BJP leading in any of the Assembly segments of its 'star' MP and Minister from Bengal Babul Supriyo. That tells a different story.

  • There is invariable excitement over early trends during the first half an hour of counting. But that is largely misplaced excitement. On Bihar results day the BJP had begun distributing laddoos when early trends showed the party heading for a two-thirds majority. The celebrations had to be called off soon after when the numbers plummeted. I'd counsel patience.

  • Nonetheless, 20 minutes into counting, BJP is sweeping Assam, TMC is surging in Bengal, LDF is racing ahead of UDF in Kerala. BJP is showing early leads in one seat each in Bengal and Kerala.

  • More than Mamata Banerjee and her TMC, it is the Left-Congress alliance-of-sorts that is on test in West Bengal. Together, the Left and Congress had won 104 seats in 2011. The Congress had contested that election as an ally of TMC and secured 42 seats. Can the Left and Congress together top their performance in 2011? If there are no gains then what was touted as the kernel of a grand alliance of non-BJP parties in 2019 would be aborted. But any substantial gains or a run for Mamata's money would make the idea of a grand anti-BJP alliance gain traction.



  • For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after two successive defeats, first in Delhi then in Bihar, a win is essential to maintain the political momentum and policy direction of his Government. For the BJP, a win is needed to revive cadre morale that has been drooping ever since the party's disastrous performance in Bihar.



  • A politically stronger Government and a resurgent party are absolutely non-negotiable for the biggest electoral battle between now and the general election of 2019. When Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls next year, it will in a sense be a precursor, a curtain-raiser, for the final battle for power two years later.



  • Having swept Uttar Pradesh in 2014, the BJP cannot afford to falter and fall in 2017. But to be the first to reach the finishing line, the BJP needs to enthuse its cadre, supporters and state level leaders. The can-do spirit of 2014 needs to be revived. In the shadow of Delhi and Bihar, that's not possible.



  • Hence it is essential for BJP to win Assam and dislodge the Congress. And possibly make a breakthrough in West Bengal and Kerala by posting historic wins. Exit polls indicate the BJP should coast to victory in Assam. But the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip cannot be ruled out.



  • Assam will also test the tactical shift in BJP's electoral strategy. A prominent and popular local leader, Sarbananda Sonowal, was named Chief Ministerial candidate. The campaign was designed and delivered by another local leader, Himanta Biswa Sarma. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, both Sonowal and Sarma are lateral entries into the party. Sonowal has come from the AGP; Sarma is from the Congress.



  • Essentially, the BJP's campaign in Assam was bottom up rather than top down. Unlike the campaigns in Delhi and Bihar. Will that work?


 

Kanchan Gupta is a political commentator, columnist and a blogger. He can be  reached at @KanchanGupta on Twitter
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