India’s 2021 election season promises to be as exciting as any. In April-May, state assembly elections will be held in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in tiny Puducherry.
Understandably, the big story is West Bengal, winning which the Bharatiya Janata Party has made a matter of prestige. Once a Communist bastion, the BJP winning Bengal would have huge political and symbolic ramifications. It would deepen the BJP’s political and ideological hegemony over India, taking its from the Hindi heartland to the borderlands once thought impenetrable for the right-wing party.
A recent survey by the polling agency CVoter suggests the BJP isn’t doing as well in Bengal as the Delhi media would like us to believe.
But elections in Assam and Kerala are also becoming interesting. In Assam, the Congress party’s announcement of a Grand Alliance means a BJP victory make not be the cakewalk it was thought to be.
When results are announced in mid-May, it is Kerala that might turn out to be the most consequential election. Power in Kerala alternates between the Communists and the Congress, every five years. That’s how it has been for 55 years now. Often it seems that there could be a break from this tradition, but the tradition continues.
Right now we are at the point when it seems the tradition could break. Even ardent supporters of the Congress in Kerala feel the momentum is with Left Democratic Front government of Pinarayi Vijayan. The CVoter survey suggests that if elections were held now, the LDF would easily win the election.
If the Congress loses Kerala, it would have far-reaching consequences for the party nationally, hastening its decline and fall.
There are far too many reasons why it would be a huge embarrassment for the Congress to lose Kerala.
Firstly, if the Congress can’t even win an election it is supposed to by the force of history, which election can it win?
Secondly, the Congress-led alliance just won 19 of 20 seats from Kerala in the national parliament. How did they mess up so soon?
Thirdly, the Congress party’s heir apparent Rahul Gandhi is one of those 19 members of parliament from Kerala, having chosen a safe seat there to save face. Now even the state that could give Rahul Gandhi a safe seat is no longer safe.
Fourthly, the Congress in Kerala is not up against the powerful BJP. It has neither Modi nor Hindu fundamentalism as excuses to lose. It is up against the Communists who’ve been wiped out in West Bengal! Losing Kerala will show the problem is with the Congress, not with the domination of Hindu nationalism over the voter’s mind.
Fifthly, losing Kerala will take away the Congress party’s south India pretence. As the party gets wiped out in north India in Lok Sabha elections, it is able to say that it has a good presence in south India. That is the excuse Congress supporters give for Rahul Gandhi’s excessive use of the English language, which he is clearly more comfortable in, rather than Hindi.
Next parliamentary elections
Sixthly, if Congress is not doing well in Kerala, it will make you wonder about how many seats the Congress could win in the next parliamentary elections. Currently, 19 of their 55 seats come from Kerala. If they perform poorly in Kerala, they could achieve the impossible in sinking even lower than their current performance nationally.
For these reasons and more, losing Kerala would make it difficult for the Congress party to carry on with its all-is-well pretence. The party that has stopped even doing the formality of “introspection” and setting up committees to look into election defeats, will have to admit it has lost the confidence of the people — even the people opposed to the BJP.
The going will get much tougher for Rahul Gandhi, who is trying to make extra noise these days to compensate for his two weeks long Europe vacation when farmers were protesting on the borders of Delhi.
Rahul Gandhi acts as if he is the president of the Congress party, but refuses to actually take over as president anytime soon. He can get away with this model of power without responsibility because he is from the family that is considered indispensable to running the party. But if under the watch of the family, they can’t even win Kerala, from where Rahul Gandhi is MP, a lot of voices from even within the Congress party will start seeing the Gandhi family as a liability.
Losing Kerala could hasten the decline and fall of the Gandhi family as well as the Congress party, in ways that no state election has done in recent times. The result would be the strengthening of non-Congress opposition forces in different parts of the country.