Watch Nidhi Razdan: Why Congress fumbled in Hindi heartland in India Video Credit: Gulf News

The Congress party’s failure in the recent assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, the three Hindi heartland states in India, is causing significant turbulence for the opposition INDIA alliance.

A number of its allies are miffed at how they’ve been treated by the grand old party.

The Congress, which was hoping to dictate terms for seat sharing for the parliament polls, can no longer call the shots. For one, the Congress had to postpone a meeting of the INDIA bloc which it suddenly decided to call on Dec. 6 right after the results.

Top leaders — from Nitish Kumar to Mamata Banerjee to MK Stalin and Hemant Soren expressed their inability to attend for various reasons.

For the last three months, the Congress has ignored its allies in the bloc, not holding a single meeting after the one in Mumbai which was held at the end of August.

A joint rally planned in Bhopal shortly afterwards was scrapped by Kamal Nath and the Congress essentially decided it would focus more on itself than on their allies.

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

Opposition in-fighting

Even before the results were out, several alliance leaders privately expressed concerns that if the Congress did well, it would be more difficult in seat sharing talks for parliament.

As it turned out, the Congress was being difficult for the assembly polls as well, as talks for seat sharing in Madhya Pradesh with the Samajwadi Party collapsed. Some rather ugly exchanges followed between Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leaders.

Which is why it is no surprise that once the Congress lost all three Hindi belt states on Sunday, the knives were out immediately. From the SP to the JDU, the CPM to the National Conference, a number of allies spoke out and expressed frustration with the Congress.

A day later, Akhilesh Yadav, without naming the Congress, said “Now that the results are out, the ego has also ended. In the coming days, a new way forward will be found.” Mamata Banerjee also got out, saying that a division of votes among INDIA allies cost them the elections.

The results are a huge setback to the Congress despite a big win in Telangana. Simply because it is the north Indian states that hold the key to who wins parliament.

The Congress now only has one small state in the north: Himachal Pradesh and two in the South: Telangana, Karnataka.

BJP workers celebrate as the party leads in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh assembly elections during the counting of votes, in Ranchi on Sunday. Image Credit: ANI

Modi magic continues

It is however important to note that the Congress retained its vote share in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan at around 40 per cent. However, the BJP voteshare went up by 7/8 per cent as the party expanded its base. The question for the Congress is: why is it unable to expand its base the way the BJP is doing?

Another big setback is that the OBC and tribal votes have gone in large numbers to the BJP. Which means Rahul Gandhi’s campaign strategy to push for a caste census did not work.

Some feedback from the ground suggests this was largely due to a lack of a clear road map on what the Congress would do after the census, in terms of education and jobs. Merely promising a census was not enough.

And then there is the Modi factor. There is no denying that the Prime Minister remains the most popular political leader especially in the Hindi belt.

It does not help to personally attack him or to focus the campaign only on criticising Modi. That’s a lesson the Congress should have learnt long ago. People want to hear an alternative vision, they want to hear what the opposition is bringing to the table. That is not happening strongly enough.

Opposition in tight spot

Telangana showed that when the Congress is flexible, looking at new faces like Revanth Reddy and following the advice of strategists like Sunil Kanugolu, they do well.

In Karnataka they also handled the factionalism much better than they did in Rajasthan. Madhya Pradesh is a disaster for the party which needs to dump the likes of Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh and build up again.

Finally, there is Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. It appears to have had mixed results in these states. Most of this impact was seen in rural Telangana where the Congress won 12 out of 14 seats in what used to be a strong hold of the BRS. In contrast, in Madhya Pradesh the Congress only won 4 of the 21 seats the Yatra covered.

2024 looks even tougher for the opposition now. The problem for the INDIA bloc is that despite the election losses, the Congress is still the only pan India opposition party. There are over 180 Lok Sabha seats which are a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress.

Unless the Congress crosses 100 seats in these, the chances of an opposition government are almost impossible.