In the 2019 general elections in India, the Congress party had a national vote share of 19.5 per cent. This was nearly the same vote share it commanded in the 2014 general elections, which ushered Narendra Modi to power.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) received 37.4 of the total votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections while the NDA led by BJP received 45 per cent of the votes. This was the best ever performance of the BJP at the hustings.
The non-NDA parties — even at BJP’s peak performance — commanded 55 per cent of the vote. Yet, the opposition made the BJP look like a hegemonic party because they could seemingly not get their act together.
Today the opposition parties in India complain about the fact that the BJP has the money and the media machine to overwhelm them. The party which complains the most is the Congress, which won 52 seats as opposed to the BJP’s 303 seats.
Congress' pan-India presence
Despite its dismal performance over the last two general elections under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, Congress still has a national vote share of 19.5 per cent. Apart from the regional opposition (in various Indian states), Congress party matters because of its pan-India presence.
Take the recent West Bengal assembly elections, where the Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee, swept the state for a historic third term or Kerala, where Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India, stormed back for a second term in a state which has never re-elected the incumbent. Significantly Gandhi is now a member of parliament from Kerala from the Wayanad seat and yet his presence barely helped the Congress.
In Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin at the age of 68, finally fulfilled his dream of becoming chief minister. The one thing that all these states have in common is that once upon a time they were ruled by the Congress party, which gradually ceded its space to regional parties. A universally acknowledged fact by political parties and leaders is that once the Congress party cedes its political space in a state, it finds it hard to regroup and return.
The reason I gave you this extensive preamble, my dear reader, is that now it seems as if the regional opposition has publicly decided to embrace the fact that a feeble Congress in the opposition will not allow it to fight the ruling alliance.
Enter PK, India's top political strategist
Prashant Kishor, the ideology-agnostic uber political strategist, who worked with Banerjee for her win in West Bengal, is now the opposition pointsman (barring the Congress) on how to take on the ruling alliance.
PK, as he is universally known, harbours political ambitions of his own, which he is keen to pursue and has recently detached himself from his consultancy. PK had a four-hour meeting with Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief in Mumbai this month.
Did PK carriy a mandate from Banerjee to Pawar to get the opposition parties on the same page? Interestingly, Pawar is the architect of the unlikely alliance government in Maharashtra, compromising of the NCP and the Shiv Sena. Post the PK-Pawar meeting, the Congress has started making noises about going it alone in the assembly elections.
Typical of the present day Congress, PK was formally appointed as special adviser to Captain Amrinder Singh, Punjab chief minister, who is locked in an ugly public spat with Navjot Singh Sidhu (the latter has the backing of the Gandhi family).
Opposition is now regional
Indian politics of the opposition is now firmly regional with the challenge to the BJP coming from rooted regional leaders. Wherever the Congress faces off with the BJP, the result is a victory of the BJP.
Says a senior NCP leader, “the Congress barely resembles a political party anymore. Three Gandhi family leaders in politics is one to many. If they can’t sort out their leadership issues, how will they take on the BJP?”
Uncharitable, but that may be the real story. The Congress party has been battling an endemic leadership crisis since 2014 which has seen a talent bleed of Jyotiraditya Scindia, who also cost the Congress its government in Madhya Pradesh, and Hemant Biswa Sarma, who is now the BJP’s Chief Minister in Assam. Yet the Congress seems barely moved by these leaders exiting India’s grand old party.
The only thing the Congress and its courtiers seem to care about is this: Will Gandhi return as party chief or will it be the sibling Priyanka Gandhi?
Regional parties are uncomfortable with the siblings as they lack political heft — unable to win any elections for their party. Sonia Gandhi, on the other hand, commanded respect because she won an election for the Congress and kept the party in power in Delhi.
These days Madam Gandhi is a reluctant politician, say opposition leaders, who have been trying to get in touch with her — she has ceded most of her decision making to Rahul Gandhi, who leaves leaders like Banerjee and Pawar in the cold.
Priyanka Gandhi, who was described as the congress Brahmastra (ultimate weapon), has proven to be a helicopter politician, mostly in Uttar Pradesh where she was supposed to revive the party. Gandhi has not even bothered to move to Lucknow after many stories appeared about the same.
The UP elections are slated for February 2022 and Congress is expected to be the also-ran in a state that matters electorally.
Currently India’s opposition is worried about the huge vote share that Congress commands and how to get the party to work on it. And that is good news for the BJP.