What the exit polls mean: Congress and the Left are in an existential crisis


The message from the exit polls for the Congress and the Left is dire indeed. Both are on the way to becoming marginal players in the east of the country, and there’s only a small gap between staying on the margins and losing all political relevance. If the exit poll results prove to be correct in cases of Assam and West Bengal, then both parties could be in existential crisis.

Assam was critical for the Congress for many reasons. The party’s footprint is shrinking rapidly in the north, south and the west. While shifting from the go-it-alone policy to calculated alliances with stronger regional parties in some states — a strategy that paid off in Bihar — it has already acknowledged its hopeless situation on the ground. In states such as Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, it has already lost significant ground and revival would be a Herculean task. A victory in Assam, where it still has a strong base, could have been a morale-booster of sorts.

The bad news for the Congress is that the BJP is in the process of capturing all its vote bases. Tarun Gogoi’s policy of being all things to all people in a demographically complex state, which paid good dividends over the last 15 years, is falling apart. The BJP, with robust support from the RSS on the ground, has worked assiduously over the last couple of years to create a base across the several ethnic fault lines. This base originally belonged to the Congress. Parties can survive an election defeat but if the core votes are gone rebuilding becomes a massive challenge.

The writing was on the wall already but as typical of the Congress, everyone chose to ignore it. The BJP had an unprecedented vote share of 37 percent in the 2014 parliamentary election. It should have been a warning signal for the party and make it get its act together. It required immediate corrective measures but none was visible. Inexplicably, the party decided to part ways with the AIUDF, a party which had ensured that Muslim votes don’t get divided in the 2011 assembly election. The party’s national leadership was too casual about the problem of dissidence too. Now it has to pay a heavy price. The entire north-east is likely to be lost to the Grand Old Party.

The case is similar with the Left in West Bengal. Its core vote base — the rural areas — has shifted to the Trinamool Congress. This is a vote base that stays loyal to its party of choice for a long time unlike its urban counterpart. That Mamata Banerjee’s party appears to be on a strong wicket despite serious scandals such as the Saradha chit fund scam, the victims of which were mostly rural people, and the Narada scam is clear indicator to the shift.

The result on Thursday would tell us the real story but the exit polls reflect a trend that has been discernible on the ground for sometime now. The question now is what next for the Left? Will it be able to revive itself? Chances of it are bleak. It suffers from the same problems as the Congress elsewhere: too long in power has sapped its street-fighting ability; it has nothing new for people in terms of messaging; it does not have the capacity to produce leaders who can connect with the masses; and it’s too obstinate to invite change. Both parties have lost the agility and the energy to fight back. And they neither have an ideology nor ideas.

Both the Congress and the Left are headed for the exit gate in the east. No tears would be shed for them if they disappear from the political scene together.