Shrinking footprint of the Congress party

Shrinking footprint of the Congress party

The upcoming general elections are a watershed moment for the Congress. The party is set to contest in less than or around 300 Lok Sabha seats, its lowest ever tally since 1952: The lowest so far has been 417 in 2004. This is not surprising as the party has lost its pole position in national politics to the BJP. The fall in tally also suggests that the party has finally admitted to its decline and recognises the need to have pre-poll alliances to force a contest with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Congress flags waves at rallies

The Congress is not new to pre-poll alliances: In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the party has had allies for close to 50 years. Post the 1980s, the Congress lost ground in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and accepted the role of a junior partner to the Mandal parties. The formation of the INDIA bloc, however, has provided a pan-Indian template for a pre-poll alliance, which forced the Congress to cede space to allies, including relatively new outfits. So, in Maharashtra, the Congress has walked the extra mile to meet the demands of Shiv Sena-UBT and the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar), and in the process, letting go of even its traditional seats. In West Bengal, it is a junior partner to the CPM-led Left Front. In the five big states of UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, which have a total of 249 constituencies, Congress candidates are in the fray in just 65. Besides, the party has tied up with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana, allotted seats for the CPM, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and the Bharatiya Adivasi Party in Rajasthan and left a seat for the Samajwadi Party in Madhya Pradesh.

Two questions remain though: One, can the Congress and its allies resolve the contradictions among them and make the INDIA bloc work? Two, will the party be able to guard its turf, including from partners, and recoup post-elections? The party’s future will be shaped by how it responds to these challenges.

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