BJP may be weaker than it was in 2014, but Congress is not as strong as projected either

With this win of Congress and the regional players getting stronger, the Mahagathbandhan is in for a bumpy ride.

The high-stakes assembly elections concluded yesterday and BJP ended up being routed in three high profile states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Congress friendly media has dubbed it as an undisputed victory for Rahul Gandhi.

Some even had a word or two of caution for the Congress President.

But before they go about patting back of Rahul Gandhi and Congress, they should not forget that Telangana and Mizoram also gave their verdict. Mizoram, which was the last remaining Congress-ruled state in the Northeast has shown the door to Congress with the regional party Mizo National Front (MNF) emerging victorious with 26 seats out of the 40-seat Assembly.

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Telangana, where the regional party KC Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which had won 63 out of 119 seats in 2014 state assembly elections, took up its tally to 88 seats. Here, too, Congress ended up with 19 seats along with its alliance partner Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which got 2 seats.

While BJP, too, has gone from 5 seats in previous elections in Telangana to 1 seat, it has managed to get its first ever seat in Mizoram. While the BJP has little to celebrate, the ambitious ‘mahagathbandhan’ may also not prove to be a cakewalk for the grand old party, as yet.

If Mizoram and Telangana are anything to go by, regional parties are giving a tough fight to the national parties in state elections. Karnataka state assembly elections too showed how with double the seat tally at 80 seats, Congress had to play the second fiddle to HD Kumaraswamy as the regional party played the kingmaker.

In Madhya Pradesh, while Congress emerged as the single largest party with 114 seats, just 2 short of the magic figure of 116 seats, Congress needed the support of the BSP and SP to stake claim to form governments. BSP chief Mayawati, while extending support to the Congress said that she is doing this only to defeat the BJP. That despite not agreeing with Congress’ ideology and leadership, she would support Congress even in Rajasthan, if needed, ‘to keep BJP out of power’.

Another regional party leader who has shown displeasure on Congress leading the ‘United Opposition’ with Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate is Trinamool Congress’, Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee, too, whose supporters have already started campaigning for her as Prime Minister for 2019 on social media, chose not to congratulate Congress and stuck to BJP bashing. She was in Delhi yesterday to meet the Opposition leaders to formulate a strategy for 2019.

RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, reacting to the results credited it as a victory of the public.

Akhilesh Yadav, too, took a dig on the BJP instead of congratulating the Congress, which was their alliance partner back in 2017 Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections.

Similarly, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal too chose to remain silent on ‘Congress’ victory’.

Recently, another regional party head DMK’s MK Stalin had reached out to Kejriwal and asked him to bury his hatchet with Congress to make the ant-BJP front stronger.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asad Owaisi yesterday lashed out on Congress and Rahul Gandhi and said that in 2019, there would be a non-BJP and non-Congress government at the Centre.

Ripping into Rahul Gandhi, Owaisi had called for a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ after the 2019 elections.

Keeping all these points in mind, over and above fighting the BJP at the Centre in 2019, Congress also has to deal with the coalition, which is already not too keen on Rahul Gandhi leading. Barring Chhattisgarh, where BJP was facing over a decade of anti-incumbency, Congress needed the support of other regional parties in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where it failed to get a clear majority while in direct competition with the BJP.

While it is clear that the BJP is weaker and on a thinner ice than it would have liked, the Congress is not strong either. That is where the regional parties and other smaller parties get to take the calls. Like back in the 1990s when HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral were made prime ministers.

In 1996 general elections, Congress, led by P V Narasimha Rao won only 140 seats, after losing 104 more seats than previous elections, making BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the single largest party with 161 seats. However, since no party had a clear majority, the ‘United Front’ of Congress and non-BJP parties decided to form the government.

The manner in which Congress had to make way for HD Kumaraswamy (HD Deve Gowda’s son) for forming a government in Karnataka in May this year, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly made the Prime Minister avoid re-elections.

If Congress has not forgotten the 1996 elections, they would very well know they are on a sticky wicket here. With regional and smaller parties already calling the shots, Congress may have to work a lot harder.

One has to remember that the regional parties may not necessarily want to ally with a strong or resurgent Congress. Congress is the cash cow and a weak Congress means the regional parties not only get the funds but also the machinery needed to fight elections. What they get is also the foundation numbers that a weak Congress brings to the table with regional parties being the kind makers who can draw a hard bargain. A resurgent Congress is more than useless for regional parties. On the other hand, strong regional players are also useless for the Congress considering they would only draw a harder seat-sharing bargain thereby undermining Congress’ superiority.

In the end, the Mahagathbandhan only works if all the players are individually weak. With this win of Congress and the regional players getting stronger, the Mahagathbandhan is in for a bumpy ride.

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