Why Congress could be pushing for early polls

While one might want to assume that a party like Congress, with its back against the wall, would want to buy time before the next general elections and make sure they have done adequate damage control, the party is reportedly planning to push for early polls.

One of the reasons, according to a CNN IBN report, is that the younger Congress brigade led by Rahul Gandhi wants an early election as it would help cut down anti-incumbency.

The report says:

A day after the UPA II cabinet passed the Food Security ordinance, speculations mounted that the government is looking at a possible November winter general election date. The speculations were given even more impetus with the tie up of the JMM with the Congress seen as a part of a wider electoral strategy of the Congress to bag as many allies as possible ahead of the elections.

There are several reasons why Congress might want early polls. AFP.

There are several reasons why Congress might want early polls. AFP.

The report suggests that with the early elections, Congress might be trying to deal with two things at the same time. Firstly, it doesn't want to give the ever-vacillating Samajwadi Party enough time to make up its mind, pull out or find new allies. Secondly, with early polls, the possible participants in a Third Front don't get enough time to get their heads together.

BJP MP Venkaiah Naidu echoed similar sentiments when he said a few months back that the Congress wants early polls to cut down on its losses. Calling the present UPA government a 'lame duck', Naidu told The New Indian Express:

"Becoming aware of growing disenchantment among the people and the economic situation which was not going to improve, the Congress wants to go for early polls along with the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh (where elections are due by December) to cut its losses and retain some strength," he said.

However, there seems to be a fair amount of disagreement within the Congress on the issue of early polls. A Reuters report suggests that while the older leaders of the Congress want more time for the economy to revive and come out of the doldrums, so that the party can then cover up the tracks of policy failure, the younger lot has something different in mind.

With reports of BJP fielding Narendra Modi from Varanasi doing the rounds, it has become clear that the party is spinning their entire electoral campaign around the success and appeal of the Gujarat CM. Modi's appeal, arguably, has so far been limited to Gujarat and a minor section of the national electorate who are taken in by his developmental approach to governance.

However, for the BJP to triumph on his back, Modi has to appeal to a larger percentage of India's voters which includes grassroots voters who are not fully aware of his agenda and his political positioning. Understandably therefore, the Congress doesn't want to give Modi enough time to strike a chord with a greater number of voters who now tend to follow individual political leaders in the various states. To simplify it, before Modi manages to lead away popular votes, the Congress would have already had an election underway.

The Reuters report notes:

Another key factor in the Congress's decision-making is the outcome of four state elections due at the end of this year. The party, which has ruled for most of India's 65 years of independence from Britain, is not expected to do well in the states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

The report quotes a party leader as saying that since the Congress' fortunes don't look too bright in the above-mentioned states, holding a general election after defeat in state elections will reflect badly on the party and might turn away more voters.

Another factor that might have prompted the Congress' decision to hold the polls in November is the election protocol that has to be followed in the country. A government has no say to declaring the polls when it is in the last six months of its term - the decision then lies entirely with the election commission. If the Congress has to salvage its future, an early election can be a profitable move and in that case, the government has to declare polls right away.

Since, the Congress' election positioning will have to be more about severe damage control than flaunting achievements, this might be just the right strategy to brighten its chances in the 2014 general elections.