The way political events that have unfolded within the Congress during the last few years are clear signals of a grave crisis
In a long political journey, political parties may win and lose elections, face ups and downs, but the crisis which the Congress Party is facing at the moment is much deeper than merely dissatisfaction, defection, dissertation and factional infighting.
The way political events that have unfolded within the Congress during the last few years are clear signals of a grave crisis that the party may find it extremely hard to overcome.
The Congress has not only lost two Lok Sabha and many state Assembly elections one after another, it has also not been able to hold on to power even in the states where it managed to form a government or emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly. It remains in power only in a handful of states either on its own or in alliance with regional parties.
The Congress has been extremely marginalised in states where it has not been in power for some time, and its voteshare declined to single digits. In states where the Congress lost power in recent Assembly elections, it trailed behind the winner by a big margin of votes.
What has added to the problems of the Congress is defections and desertions by some important leaders. Given these circumstances, a revival of the Congress is going to be extremely difficult as the problems are manifold.
The Congress is out of power at the Centre and will remain out of power at least till 2024. It has lost elections in many states and is currently in power only in three states -- Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Rajasthan, and is a coalition partner in the governments of Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Puducherry.
While that count might suggest that the Congress is sharing power in at least six states, some of them count for very little in national politics in terms of the number of members they send to Parliament.
Not only has the Congress lost many elections, it has even failed to hold on to power in the states where it formed the government. Defections have posed a huge challenge for the Congress in recent times.
After it had formed the government in Karnataka in association with the JD(U), it lost power in the state due to defections, and recently lost power in Madhya Pradesh, could not form the government in Goa even after winning more seats than the BJP, and lost power in Arunachal Pradesh due to the large-scale defection of Congress MLAs to the BJP.
In Manipur, the defection of Congress MLAs enabled the BJP to form government in the state. The Congress should have been in power in these states in an ideal situation, if the party had not faced defections.
The Congress also suffered a setback as many leaders either defected to other parties or left the party.
While Bhubaneswar Kalita, Sanjay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia left the Congress and joined the BJP, Priyanka Chaturvedi, having left the Congress, joined the Shiv Sena, and Ajay Alok joined the AAP.
The young leader from Haryana, Ashok Tanwar, left the party before the Assembly election, while spokesperson Sanjay Jha was recently suspended from the party.
The recent defections and desertion from the Congress is mainly in the states where Congress has some stakes, but that does not indicate that all is well with the party in the remaining states.
The party is lying very low in many states and it would be a herculean task for it to revive again. In Bihar, the Congress has been completely marginalised and its voteshare has fallen below 10 per cent in several elections during the last couple of decades: it was 6.7 per cent during the 2015 Assembly elections.
The party which ruled Delhi for 15 long years polled only 4.2 per cent votes during the 2020 Assembly election. The electoral contest in West Bengal remains restricted mainly between the BJP and the Trinamul Congress, and the Congress is completely marginalised, with only 12.2 per cent of the vote during the 2016 Assembly election.
In Uttar Pradesh, the state which sends the largest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, the Congress has been pushed to fourth position, with just 6.2 per cent votes during the 2017 election. In Jharkhand, though it is a coalition partner in the Hemant Soren-led UPA government, its voteshare is a low 13.8 per cent.
When the India Gandhi-led Congress was decisively defeated in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls, the southern states had remained with the party, but now the Congress seems to have completely collapsed in the South.
The Congress has been completely marginalised in Tamil Nadu for decades – in the 2016 Assembly election it polled only 6.4 per cent votes. Ever since Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy broke away from the Congress, the party has been completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh, polling only 1.1 per cent votes in the 2019 Assembly elections.
Though the Congress remains the single largest party in terms of voteshare in Karnataka, the BJP has made heavy inroads.
In Kerala, in the sea-saw change of government, the Congress-led UDF has been alternating with the CPI(M)-led LDF every five years, but the Congress is heavily dependent on the Muslim League in the state.
There are other states where the Congress still has a sizeable support base – Assam, Gujarat, Haryana, Odisha -- but it is far behind the winner.
The story of the Congress remains the same in the Northeast. The party was wiped out in Nagaland, where it polled 2.1 per cent votes in the last Assembly elections; in Sikkim its voteshare was less than one per cent in the 2019 Assembly elections and in Tripura it polled 1.7 per cent votes in the 2018 elections.
In Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, the Congress may have a decent voteshare, but not enough to hold power. The mass defections in Arunachal Pradesh led to it losing power to the BJP, while in Manipur the defection of one Congress MLA enabled the BJP to form the government.
In Mizoram, the Congress got 29.9 per cent votes but the MNF is in power in the state. In Meghalaya, similarly, despite getting 28.5 per cent votes in the 2018 election, the Congress failed to form the government, but the NDA did. In short, any revival of the Congress seems a herculean task at this juncture.