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Congress becomes vulnerable to split

By Neerja Chowdhury
May 16, 2014 17:31 IST
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A tally of less than 45 seats in the Lok Sabha reduces the Congress to a regional party, just a shade better than the AIADMK's 33 seats, making it vulnerable to a split if the party leadership does not get its act together, warns Neerja Chowdhury.

India has voted for a decisive leadership and it is a vote all the way for Narendra Modi to deliver.

The 'M' factor has enabled the Bharatiya Janata Party to notch up a majority on its own, ended coalition rule of the last 25 years, and paved the way for a stable government at the Centre.  

Through their vote, the people of India have struck back to say they cannot be taken for granted, and they no longer respect the politics of entitlement or of pocket boroughs. The top guns of the Manmohan Singh government have lost, with some of them trailing in the third or even fifth position, and this not only illustrates the anger that had been simmering against the United Progressive Alliance, but also reflects a popular insistence on political accountability.

But Election 2014 is more than an expression of anger against the misdeeds of the UPA government. It is a vote for change, and the people have plumped for Modi as the man who can bring about that change.

The BJP has won more seats in the state of Uttar Pradesh than the Congress has notched up in the entire country. Such is the decimation faced by the Congress, that it might even be denied the post of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. (The Constitution provides that the main Opposition party can be so recognised in the House only if it has at least one-tenth of the strength of the House -- which in the 543-seat Lok Sabha is 54).

In 1977, the Congress was wiped out all over north India, with even Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay losing the election, as a reaction to the excesses of the Emergency, but it had retained its hold in the South and won 154 seats and 35 per cent of the vote. Today the Congress's vote share has slumped to the lowest ever at 23%.

And the Grand Old Party of India is losing all over the country, holding ground only in a state like Kerala. A tally of less than 45 seats in the Lok Sabha reduces it to a regional party, just a shade better than the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam at 33 seats, making it vulnerable to a split if the party leadership does not get its act together.

And with elections due in Maharashtra and Haryana later this year and in Bihar next year, Congressmen may look for greener pastures in the coming weeks. When the Congress faced the rout in 1977, there was Indira Gandhi at its helm, and within a year she had bounced back. Today the Congress does not have that kind of a leadership.

The right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on the other hand is all set to become a pan-India party, replacing the left of centre 128-year-old Congress, which ruled the country for over 50 years after Independence, signalling a paradigm shift in the country's politics.

Narendra Modi, who pitched for a 'Congress-mukht (free) Bharat' has achieved it in certain states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh. While sweeping the North and West of the country, the BJP has made inroads into every state, even those where it hardly had any presence, like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Kerala.

The Congress faces a rout in pockets it had expected to retain even in a highly adverse situation, like Assam, Karnataka, Telangana.

The BJP victory has not only wiped out the Congress, it has also decimated the regional parties in the northern plains -- the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in UP, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal-United in Bihar. This heralds the beginning of the end of caste-dictated Mandal politics which has held sway in North India for a quarter century. The increased vote percentage of the BJP -- which has almost doubled to 35% from 18% in 2009 -- indicates that the party got support cutting across castes, in what was obviously an aspirational election, heralding an India that now wants delivery on bread and butter issues.

With state elections due in Bihar in 2015, and in UP in 2017, will the current mandate compel Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav to sink their difference and the Samajwadi Party and BSP to make common cause, as they had done in 1993-1994, for the sake of political survival? The BSP's poor showing in UP also shows that a large chunk of the Dalit vote has gravitated to Modi, signalling their desire to move from issues of 'self-respect' to economic wellbeing that he promised.

Verdict 2014 gives Narendra Modi a free hand to get on with implementing the promises he has made. Perhaps he himself could not have anticipated such a favourable situation for himself that the people of India have given him. He need not now worry about the reservations that senior leaders inside his party have had about his leadership, and can fashion his own team.

He has left senior party leaders way behind; the mandate weakens Sushma Swaraj's position vis-a-vis Modi, as does Arun Jaitley's defeat from Amritsar. Nor is Modi dependent any longer on existing allies, or for that matter additional allies he may want to add to his kitty to push through legislations, particularly those related to economic reforms, in the Rajya Sabha.

Given the huge expectations he has aroused, he will have to deliver -- and deliver quickly.

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