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Congress won 8 of 39 Assembly polls under Rahul Gandhi; recent victories due to anti-incumbency, not strategy

Rahul Gandhi assumed the vice-presidency of Congress party in January 2013. Since then there have been 39 Assembly elections. Out of which the Congress party has won 8, including the three, whose results were declared earlier this week.

As it is, the figures are not something to be proud of, for a party which is claimed as the grand old party of India and has held power for the maximum number of times.

Four of these nine wins came in the year 2013 itself, the year in which Rahul Gandhi became the second-in-command of Congress.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Congress won only Puducherry in 2016. After that Punjab in March 2017 was the single victory before the recent verdict. The role of the central leadership in the party's victory in Punjab is, as it is, very contestable.

This is in addition to the loss in Lok Sabha Polls in 2014, where the party was reduced to a mere 59 seats.

Instead, the BJP has been on a bull run since 2013. It won four elections in 2013, the year Rahul assumed the office of vice president of the party. Then in 2014, the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls and won six Assembly elections the same year. In 2017, the BJP again won six Assembly elections.

Since 2013, the other parties have managed to assume power in eight elections. Out of which one in Karnataka is JDS and is in alliance with the Congress.

If these results were to be an indicator of the leadership record of any party, then surely Rahul has still to prove a lot in terms of his political acumen.

Also, the recent results do not form a part of any trend, whatsoever. The Karnataka elections earlier this year, didn’t give a clear mandate to the Congress, where it was the ruling party and yet the BJP emerged as the single largest party and came very close to clinching power.

Thus, the Congress, in the time period concerned, was able to reap the benefits of anti-incumbency of another party like in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, and Punjab. In Gujarat too, the Congress was able to grow its vote share and the number of seats. However, the popular vote garnered by the incumbent BJP also increased, even when it lost a few seats, which it had previously held.

Alternatively, the Congress was not able to beat its own incumbency. This was evident in Rajasthan (2013), Delhi (2013), Assam (2016), Maharashtra (2016), Himachal Pradesh (2017), Mizoram (2018), Meghalaya (2018), etc. In all such elections, Congress was the incumbent and was beaten by another party.

It will be correct to read the recent Assembly verdicts in this light.

In Mizoram, Congress was the incumbent and lost the election. Much like the pattern of the party’s electoral performances.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress did reap the dividend of a three-term incumbency of the BJP but couldn’t perform as well as it should have been. The popular vote was still marginally won by the BJP and only with a little luck, the Congress could get more seats than the BJP, as the fight was reduced to few hundred votes in these seats.

 Congress won 8 of 39 Assembly polls under Rahul Gandhi; recent victories due to anti-incumbency, not strategy

File image of Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

Rajasthan, stuck to its traditional formula of changing the incumbent government each time. However, the BJP did manage to retain a lot of popular vote at around 38.8 percent. The Congress is marginally ahead at 39.3 percent. This is in sharp contrast to the verdict in 2013 where the BJP was at 45.17 percent and Congress at 33.07 percent.

Therefore, the current Assembly election has thrown up an unprecedented anti-incumbent blip in Rajasthan in terms of its marginal nature, and the victory of Congress is not anywhere near as decisive as its defeat in 2013.

In Chhattisgarh, again it is safe to say that the Congress cashed in on a 15-year anti-incumbency, where the BJP, even in the last election was just able to pull off a victory from the jaws of defeat.

In Telangana, the Congress has traditionally followed the poorest electoral policy any party could ever follow. The TRS in 2013 reaped off the complete benefits of the creation of the state when actually it was the doing of the Congress at the Centre, and the party was left to dry. There are very few political examples of such electoral embarrassment in the history of Indian politics.

This time too, the alliance with the TDP has proved to be a very bad electoral strategy, when quite evidently the sentiment was too strong in favor of the TRS.

Therefore, it can be conclusively said that the leadership of the Congress in the form of Rahul Gandhi has some hard questions to answer, even in the face of these three electoral victories. There doesn’t seem to be any election strategy other than reaping off the anti-incumbency of another party.

There is also no clear trend in the rise of the fortunes of the Congress party. Be it the victories of Punjab and Karnataka, the performance in Gujarat or the three victories this week. To the contrary, they are explainable by the mathematics of incumbency and anti-incumbency.

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 19:48:52 IST