The Congress needs to continue to introspect afterthese victories rather than celebrate
The political map of India had largely turned saffron in 2014. This has changed after the recent Assembly elections with the Congress registering a convincing victory in Chhattisgarh and just falling short of a majority in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. But a careful look at the party’s vote share in these elections suggests that while the Congress has won this war, it cannot afford to rest easy for the battle of 2019. After all, in this round of Assembly elections, the party has also lost its last citadel in the Northeast, Mizoram, and performed badly in Telangana even after stitching up a formidable alliance with an old-time rival, the Telugu Desam Party, as well as the Communist Party of India and the Telangana Jana Samithi. Also, while an increase in vote share for the Congress from the previous Assembly elections indicates a desire for a change of government in these States, this does not mean that a similar mood prevails in other States. The party needs to continue to learn and introspect after these victories rather than celebrate.
Very much in the contest
As for the BJP, these defeats may demoralise some in the party, but it still remains strong for the big fight of 2019. Except for Chhattisgarh, where the BJP’s vote share declined by nearly 8 percentage points (from 41% in 2013 to nearly 33% in 2018), in the other two States it has not lagged behind the Congress in terms of the popular vote. This is an indication that though the BJP is out of power, it is not out of the contest in these States. That the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government managed to overcome anti-incumbency effectively and that the BJP managed to minimise the losses in Rajasthan despite the anger against the Vasundhara Raje government says a lot about its ability to fight.
Let’s look at the States. In Rajasthan, the Congress won 21 seats in 2013; this time it has won 99. While it was expected that the Congress would win this time — and it has emerged as the single largest party — it fell short of the majority mark. In terms of popular support, there is not much of a difference between the two national parties: the BJP won 38.8% of the votes and the Congress won 39.3%. The Congress can be happy about the fact that it has increased its vote share from 33.1% in 2013 to 39.3% in 2018. In Madhya Pradesh, though the Congress won five more seats (114) than the BJP (109), the BJP remained marginally ahead in the vote share, by 0.1 percentage point. Again, in terms of vote share, the Congress has improved from 36.4% in 2013 to 41.1% in 2018. Going by the vote shares of the Congress and the BJP, both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it is clear that there is no wave in favour of any one party. But the significant ground gained by the Congress suggests that there is some undercurrent in these States. It is important to note that the Congress had trailed behind the BJP in the vote share by 12 percentage points in Rajasthan and by 8 percentage points in Madhya Pradesh during the 2013 Assembly elections. The results in Mizoram indicate that this mood did not travel to the Northeast. The Congress lost the election there badly: it won only five seats compared to the 34 seats it won in the previous Assembly election. Nor did this mood travel to the south. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi registered a massive victory in Telangana, winning 88 of the total 119 seats with nearly 47% of the votes. These results certainly pave the way for building a much stronger Congress for 2019, but to perform better the party needs to stay on the same track.
Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies