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Why Bharat won't be Congress-mukt anytime soon

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Last updated on: May 19, 2016 18:34 IST
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Congress workers must feel what their BJP counterparts did in 2009, but that could change, argues Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

I was standing outside the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi the day the 2009 Lok Sabha election results were being announced, and the mood was sombre.

Party patriarch L K Advani had lost the election to the Congress and BJP workers had no idea what was going wrong with their party.

It was supposedly the best chance for the BJP to win back power. The election had been called just four months after the 26/11 attacks and Advani, once India's home minister, had portrayed himself as the 'iron man' who could deal firmly with terrorism.

The BJP had coined the election slogan 'majboot neta nirnayak sarkar ('a strong leader, and a decisive government'). The aim was to project Advani as a strong leader compared with Dr Manmohan Singh, the Congress prime minister.

Voters, however, rejected Advani's claim to the prime minister's post, and the Congress went on to rule India for another five years.

The news for the BJP from the states was not good as well. In Maharashtra, despite 10 years of lousy governance, the Congress was voted back to power in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party.

While researching the BJP's 2009 defeat, I discovered that the party had won 18.8% of the total votes polled. The Congress had won 28.55% that election.

The Congress had won 9% more votes than the BJP and 206 seats, compared with the BJP which won 116 seats. This percentage game did not matter to me then, but during the 2014 election I realised how important a particular party's voter base is, or how important swing votes are, or what you call indecisive voters who are not loyal to any party.

In the 2014 election, the BJP, under Narendra Modi's leadership, won 282 Lok Sabha seats and 31% of the total votes. 12.20% more than the votes the Advani-led BJP won in 2009.

The Congress in 2014 won 44 seats and 19.52% of votes.

The Congress in 2014 won a bigger vote share than the BJP did in 2009, but lost badly seat-wise.

So what changed for the Congress?

Two factors: First, Congress voters are spread across India. Second, the swing voters factor.

Modi could swing that extra 12.20% voter base on his side, with his campaign of 'Acche din' and 'Ab ki baar Modi sarkar.'

As the assembly election results to five states came in on May 19, commentators and lay folk began writing the Congress' political obituary. I feel it is too early to declare that we will have a 'Congress-mukt Bharat.'

Check the Congress vote share in these assembly elections:

In Assam, the Congress won 31.1% votes to the BJP's 29.8%. The Congress vote-base was spread out as compared to the BJP, which was concentrated in certain pockets. Hence, the BJP was able to win a majority.

In West Bengal, the Congress surprised itself by becoming the main Opposition party, even outscoring the Left Front.

The Congress won 12% votes, the BJP 10.2%, the Communist Party of India-Marxist 19.8% while the All India Trinamool Congress, the winner, won 45% of the votes in Bengal.

In Kerala, the Congress won 23.7% of the votes. The CPI-M won 26.1% of the votes. The difference is only 2.4%, but the Congress-led United Democratic Front still lost the election to the Left Democratic Front. The BJP won 10.6% of the votes, but only 1 seat.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress won 6.6% votes, the BJP 2.8% while the victor, the All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, won 41.1% votes. The Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, an ally of the Congress party this election, won 31.2% of the votes.

In Puducherry, the Congress won the election with 30.6% of the votes, All India N R Congress 28.1% per cent, the AIADMK 16.8% and the BJP 2.4%. The DMK won 8.9% of the votes.

With a large presence across India, it won't be easy for BJP boss Amit Shah to declare that you will get a 'Congress-mukt Bharat' soon.

Just like in 2009, when I stood outside the BJP HQ, chatting with party workers who had no idea what was happening to their party, I detect the same bewilderment among Congress workers today.

What the Congress needs is the right pitch and a leader who can connect with the masses. The Congress voter base is intact.

What the Congress needs more than ever are those swing voters. Can Rahul Gandhi get those voters on the Congress' side?

IMAGE: BJP supporters in Guwahati celebrate the party's historic win in Assam.

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