NEW DELHI: In virtually every state going to polls, Congress is either part of a ‘grand alliance’ or a minor ally of a dominant regional force, a feature that illustrates the weakened political muscle of the party nationally.
The grand old party settling with DMK for 25 seats in Tamil Nadu marks a continuing diminution of Congress. Its failure to post a decent performance after securing 74 seats from RJD in the 2020 Bihar polls has had a debilitating effect on its perception among regional parties.
The five election-bound states, representing a wide east south geographical arc, attest to the shrinking Congress appeal among voters and allies alike, as evidenced by the loss in bargaining power.
Assam was a Congress fief till the party was ousted in 2016 by a resurgent BJP riding on Narendra Modi’s ascension to power in Delhi. In the volatile state, Congress used to make rare alliances for sub-regional adjustments as with a Bodoland outfit.
This time, however, Congress has formed a ‘Mahajot’ which not only comprises very minor outfits to aggregate votes but also a minority outfit to consolidate the sprawling Muslim base — a reason why it has not spelt out the tally it will contest.
While Kerala has had a tradition of two contending alliances for far longer than any other state, it is the first time in decades that the opposition alliance (UDF led by Congress) is unsure of ousting the ruling combine (LDF led by the Left). Congress’s own position in UDF is shakier than before.
West Bengal represents the ironical case where the party is set to contest a big tally of 92 seats in alliance with Left, but only because the coalition itself is a fringe player to what has become a direct contest between Trinamool Congress and challenger BJP.
According to party strategists, Congress may become relevant only as a “filler” in case the TMC vs BJP clash results in a deadlock.
Puducherry, where Congress had managed to retain its prime position in the alliance, appears to be slipping from the party’s grasp. After a spate of resignations by MLAs felled its government recently, Congress is looking at an uncertain future.
The party’s dwindling stock with allies is best explained by sources who said DMK was not just worried about the winnability of Congress (8/41 in the 2016 polls) but also its ability to keep its flock together.
Concerns about Congress’s winnability first surfaced in the 2017 UP contest where the party, through negotiations led by now dissident Ghulam Nabi Azad, managed to secure 106 seats from Samajwadi Party but could win only seven. The falling graph was broken in Jharkhand in 2019 but Bihar seems to have revived and accelerated the slide.