Why Congress Lost in Three States and Won in One

Could it be that the Congress holds its own better when its opponent is more reliant on governance and state machinery than politics.

The results of the elections have been contrary to the expectations of many political watchers.

There was a widespread feeling even before the elections kicked off that the Congress party would win comfortably in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and towards the end of the campaign, there was confidence about Congress’ win in Telangana. Rajasthan was seen to be a close fight which was in some ways seen as an improvement given the state’s history of alternating political parties in government. The results on the other hand point to the BJP winning in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress is winning Telangana.

Depending on who one speaks with, one would get a variety of reasons for the above results. Overconfidence in MP and Chhattisgarh, factionalism in Rajasthan is one narrative strand to explain Congress’ losses. A wellspring of positivity for the Congress party due to the Bharat Jodo Yatra ably harnessed through a competent campaign and an energised cadre after Karnataka victory is a popular explanation for the Telangana victory.

But elections are won and lost for a variety of reasons. Leadership, messaging, organisation, candidates, etc. play out through the local context and each of the above cited reasons have played a part in the results.

However there’s one more hypothesis: the Congress holds its own better when its opponent is more reliant on governance and state machinery than politics.

The Congress had an easier time dislodging Vasundhara Raje than Shivraj Singh Chouhan because MP politics had a strong Hindutva political core. Naveen Patnaik’s style of politics is eminently suited to a Congress type challenge but Congress did not do well in Odisha because it lacked leadership.

However, the Congress tends to flounder when confronted with a political campaign because it lacks a clear articulation of its own politics. In Telangana, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi chief minister’s style of politics evolved to become more bureaucratic than political. He became more reliant on government schemes and deprioritised political mobilisation and a direct connection with the people. The popular opposition narrative thus pilloried him as a ‘farmhouse CM,’ distant and inaccessible from the public. His primary political plank – the separate state of Telangana – too lost its edge when he traded Telangana for India, renaming his party Bharat Rashtra Samithi or BRS in a bid to widen his political horizons. The Congress was thus able to capitalise on various anti-incumbency factors and push its way to victory.

Also read: Telangana: Congress Poised To Win, Question Over CM Pick

On the other hand, in the other three states, Congress’s principal challenger was the BJP with a political plank built on top of Hindutva, nationalism and subaltern politics. In Karnataka, Bommai’s government was racked by internal dissensions and the state BJP unit was destabilised due to a tussle between Yediyurappa and BJP’s national leadership.

Congress governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh provided competent governance and implemented an expansive welfare agenda; however, there was no clear political plank which could serve as a counterpoint to the BJP’s politics in these elections. The BJP for good measure also promised expansive welfare measures.

It is true that state elections are delinked from the national election and thus the results of these rounds of elections cannot be extrapolated to the upcoming national election; however, it is clear that unless the Congress party thinks through a clear political plank of its own, it may feel hobbled in the national elections too. The election results also indicate that caste census pitch may not be electorally potent for the Congress party, not least because of internal divisions within the OBC grouping and accommodation of OBCs within BJP’s own organisation.

Ruchi Gupta writes about democracy, tech, public discourse and contestations for power in India.

This article first appeared on the author’s Substack India: Politics, Power & Public Discourse. Read the original here.