Kapil Sibal came up with the infamous “zero-loss theory” to counter charges of loss to national exchequer in the allocation of 2G spectrum allocation during the UPA-II regime. With BJP’s emphatic win in recently held elections in Uttar Pradesh posing serious questions over the fate of Congress party, another former Union minister from the Congress stables has come up with a theory of ‘seasonal loss’ to do some face-saving for the Congress party.
In an op-ed piece published in the Hindustan Times, Veerappa Moily has argued that electoral successes of the BJP are the reflection of “only a seasonal wave”. Moily believes that Congress party will bounce back once again like it did after losing to Janata Party post-emergency and to the BJP in 1990s.
To be fair, Moily is making these points in his personal capacity, and not as a leader of the Congress party. Interestingly, another leader of the Congress party, P. Chidambaram has acknowledged that Narendra Modi is the “most dominant political leader in the country today” and “Congress’ organisational structure is no match to that of the BJP-RSS combine”.
A look at long term trends in performance of the Congress party can give us an insight into the veracity of such claims. From being the dominant all-India party in the 1950s and 1960s, the Congress has slowly lost out in terms of both vote share and seat share. It is worth noting that even in the shock defeat of the Congress in the 1977 general elections held after the emergency, the party did not suffer a dramatic decline in terms of popular vote share. Under Indira Gandhi’s leadership the party quickly regained its lost ground and Congress’s vote share reached an all-time high in the 1984 elections held after Gandhi’s assassination. It has been a downhill ride since then.
Moily says in his piece that getting three seats in Punjab does not reflect well on the BJP’s national image. Moily would do well to look at the chart from an earlier Plain Facts column which shows that BJP has overtaken the Congress to become the party with highest number of MLAs in India.
As is shown in the chart, half of India’s MLAs are still from non-Congress and non-BJP parties, which should tell us that the longevity of BJP’s dominance in Indian politics is not assured. But it seems erroneous to assume that simple electoral realignments can counter the ascendancy of the BJP today. There has been talk of the need to forge Bihar-style grand-alliances to defeat the BJP but such efforts are unlikely to work unless they are backed by a coherent and appealing narrative.
In a recent Economic and Political Weekly article, the veteran political scientist Suhas Palshikar has argued that under Modi’s leadership BJP is creating a pan-India narrative, which could make state-level parties less relevant.
“In 2014, Modi’s handsome victory inaugurated a new framework of party competition,” writes Palshikar. “The BJP clearly emerged as the dominant party not in mere numeric terms, but more substantively. It stretched to a large number of states, received support from a cross section of the society, placed the leadership factor at the centre of competitive politics and above all, set the tone for the political debates. Since then, but also during that election, the BJP and Modi made every effort to set aside the state-specific factors, make them less relevant and bring about an all-India imagination that dominated the electorate. This feature of the BJP’s politics went against the established pattern of state-dominated competition.”
To be sure, the Congress party can bounce back. But for that, the Congress party leaders need to look beyond glib explanations and justifications for what appears to be a terminal rather than a seasonal decline.
The words of Lenin, penned in a bygone era, might be relevant today for India’s grand old party:
“A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligations…. frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analyzing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification—that is the hallmark of a serious party.”