Congress at the crossroads, The party is yet to see that principled, not populist, politics wins trust and votes
The 83rd Congress plenary session was notable for what it left unsaid. Eleven states will decide the outcome of the next general election—Uttar Pradesh-80, Bihar-40, Tamil Nadu-39, Andhra Pradesh-42, West Bengal-42, Maharashtra -48, Gujrat-26, Karnatka-28, Madhya Pradesh-29, Rajasthan-25 and Orissa-21 Lok Sabha Seats. Together they account 420 MPs in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. About 70 % total Lok Sabha seats.
Whichever coalition—UPA or NDA –wins at least 210 parliamentary seats from these states will form the next Govt at Centre.
A careful state –wise calculation shows that, with Andhra in revolt, coalition fissures in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharastra, entrenched opposition Govt. In Gujrat, MP, Karnatka, UP and Bihar and anti-incumbency likely in Rajasthan, the Congress will struggle to get, on its own even 120 seats from the 11 large swing states.
Corruption and communalism are the pivots on which the next general election will turn. If the Congress continues to treat Muslims as votes banks rather than citizens to be lifted out poverty, it will lose—as it did in Bihar—its steadiest support base—Anti-RSS rhetoric does not impress Muslims any more. They understand the real threat—and epicenter—of terrorism lies in Rawalpindi, not Nagpur.
“Manmohan Singh has absolute accountability but not absolute power, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has absolute power but not absolute accountability. This lies at the heart of India’s governance deft.”
Indian voters are increasingly shunning political parties which abuse public office. But the decline of the Congress has deeper roots. Why has its national vote share plunged into the 20 % range since the mid-1990s, restricting the party to around 200 Lok Sabha Seats or less in the 5 general elections of 1996[28.80 %] national vote share, 1998—25.82%, 1999—28.30%, 2004 –26.53% and 2009—28.55%?
The answer—While the critical 14 % Muslim vote –which hands the Congress over 1/3 of its Lok Sabha seats—has been steadfast, the emerging middle class, alienated by the odor of corruption and nepotism that surrounds the party, has gradually deserted it.
The Congress now commands only 1/5 of the fragmented Hindu national vote. However, there is a significant slice at the lowest socio-economic end—tribals, dalits and rural poor which feel disenfranchised by two-speed India. Large swathes of young and poor voters are cut off from India’s sizzling 9% GDP growth rate. This marginalized rural Indian under class is the principal target of the
congress’s electoral strategy. Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerla and Assam in 2011 will serve as a referendum on the party’s bottom-of the –pyramid strategy, re-articulated at the plenary by Rahul Gandhi.
The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council’s Welfares is tethered to the same populist credo. But the poor of 2010 are not the poor of Indira Gandhi’s India of 1970. Their grandparents were promised “garibi hatao” by the Congress. After 40 years of which the Congress has been in power nearly 30 years. 437 million Indians still live below the proverty line. Corruption and misgoverned scar their everyday lives. Principled not populist politics wins peoples trust and votes.
Rajiv Gandhi lost that trust in 1989. The Congress hasn’t won a majority in a general election since. Congress should believe in implementation and execution not only on populist slogans.