Early leads based on the counting of votes in the five state Assembly elections till forenoon on Saturday have indicated a clean sweep for the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh. This will certainly count as one of Mr Modi’s biggest electoral victories and a big boost to his and his party’s prospects for Gujarat next year and more importantly for the 2019 general elections. This is also significant as it comes in the backdrop of the electoral setbacks he suffered in the Assembly elections in Bihar and Delhi.
But the message from these early leads is arguably bigger and more significant for the Congress.
And this is not just because it would once again question the leadership of its vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, at the national level, but more importantly because it underlines latent electoral force that the Congress
continues to be in as many as three of the five states.
leadership must now review whether a change of guard at the apex level is now long overdue and an early decision should be taken on that crucial issue. But equally important would be the need to read this verdict as a message of hope, rather than a message of all-round popular indictment of its relevance as an alternative force in electoral politics.
Consider the following clear signals that emanate from the early leads.
One, the Congress
is going to make a comeback to Punjab
after a long gap, with a thumping majority, defeating both its powerful challengers – the BJP-Akali alliance and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The Congress
is staying ahead of the rest In Goa, though it is not clear if it would get a simple majority to form the government on its own. It may have to rely on some alliance with other regional parties to stake that claim. Manipur
too has not rejected the Congress
completely. Indeed, it is leading the pack there as well, staying ahead of the BJP.
What this means is that the Congress
is still a party that can offer hope to the electorate. It has taken on powerful forces emanating from the BJP, AAP and local parties in all these states – and most significantly with the help of local leadership. The Congress, therefore, needs to recognise the importance of promoting and building local leadership in different states. Its national leadership may be a liability, but its local leadership can bail the party out in Assembly elections and that can do a lot in keeping it politically relevant in national politics.
At the national level, it is clear that the Congress
with its current listless leadership of Rahul Gandhi
(and its president Sonia Gandhi
was hardly seen in these elections) is no patch on the charismatic personality and the vote-catching ability of Narendra Modi. But it needs to promote local leadership in all the states across the country, which can take on the national appeal of Narendra Modi. Voters in states are constantly looking for alternatives and a new set of Congress
leaders in states can offer that option to voters. The space for a party like the Congress
is not completely gone or usurped by the BJP.
It can still be retained by creating a stable and robust network of local leadership.
This strategy still may not work against Modi in the 2019 general elections but can help stall the march of the BJP
in different state elections coming up in the next couple of years. That would also help strengthen the Congress
presence in the Rajya Sabha and pose credible and constructive opposition to the ruling party at the Centre. In short, voters in this country are astute choosers. They are looking for change and seeking improvements in governance. Given a credible choice, they are willing to experiment with such change.
The second clear signal from the early leads is that performance continues to be a major determinant in electoral politics. Take, for instance, the leads in Uttarakhand that show the Congress
to be on its way out. The incumbent government of Harish Rawat has failed to live up to the people’s expectations. A new leadership, this time led by BJP’s Modi, offered hope and development for the people of this hilly state and is likely to be rewarded at the hustings. The likely defeat of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh is another indicator of how non-performance can be costly. A similar story can be seen in Punjab, where the long tenure of the BJP-Akali alliance at the helm has disappointed the voters and pushed them to look for a change. In short, there is no substitute for performance in electoral politics. This too is a message for the Congress.
At another level, the early leads also are an occasion for the AAP leadership to review its plans for growing into a national political party as an alternative to the BJP.
Its success in Delhi was sought to be replicated in Punjab
and Goa. In Punjab, it has met with limited success and in Goa, its presence has not yet been felt. Why it did not succeed in spite of popular disenchantment with the incumbent governments in both the states is cause for concern for the AAP leadership. Conversely, it could well be a sign of hope for the Congress, which was threatened by the rise of AAP in states like Delhi, Punjab