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Why It Will Be Do Or Die For Congress In 2018

Sutanu Guru argues how elections in Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will revive or kill the Rahul-led Congress

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The recently concluded elections revealed two challenges for the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi. The first was its virtual extinction in the all important state of Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 MPs. The second was its tragic ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. By all accounts, after winning 17 seats in Goa compared to 13 for the BJP, the Congress should have formed the government in Goa. Yet, it was an alliance cobbled together by the BJP that is now in power. Local Congress leaders have slammed national leader Digvijay Singh for his incompetence. A victory in Punjab has kept alive hopes that the Congress still has a chance to revive and rejuvenate itself.

For those hopes to not be extinguished, the Congress has to gear up for six assembly elections that are due from end 2017 to end 2018. These will be in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress rules in Himachal and Karnataka while the BJP rules the other four states. All the six elections will be more or less a two way fight between the Congress and the BJP without any major regional parties in the fray. There is the JD (S) in Karnataka but it seems to be gradually withering away. A victory in some of these states will rekindle hope. A defeat will ensure the Congress looks at oblivion in 2019. What are the chances for the Congress?

It is almost certain to lose Karnataka next year going by recent developments. The Congress government is very unpopular and facing strong anti-incumbency even as the BJP is resurgent. Similarly, anti-incumbency will also lead almost certainly to a defeat in Himachal Pradesh though the outcome is not as certain as Karnataka. Now we come to the four BJP ruled states. In all of them, there are strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency. After all, the BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 2017 and in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh since 2003. The BJP snatched back Rajasthan from the Congress in an unprecedented victory in the history of the state.

Can the Congress cash in on anti-incumbency? The first challenge will be in Gujarat end of this year. While the Congress keeps losing election after election, its vote share has not collapsed by any yardstick. Even in 2012, the party won more than 38 per cent of the total votes. The problem is that it has simply failed to narrow the vote share gap between the two: it has hovered between 8 per cent to 10 per cent over the last two decades. The other worry for the Congress is its peculiar electoral track record. Whenever and wherever it has lost two successive elections, it has never come back to power. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar and UP are some examples. To that extent, it is indeed a do or die election in Gujarat. It is also crucial because an upset victory here would jolt the formidable duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and humiliate them in their own home state. But chances of that happening look bleak.

Madhya Pradesh too seems to be a lost cause for the party. It is best chances are in Chhattisgrah and Rajasthan. The vote share gap between the two in Chhattisgarh is less than 2 per cent. A small shift can lead to a Congress victory. In Rajasthan, the vote share gap is huge; but the Congress has a credible and young leader in the form of Sachin Pilot who can lead from the front. Will he be declared the CM candidate?

Existential questions indeed for the grand old party.

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