The Congress debacle in Gujarat has put a spanner in its ongoing struggle to check its fast decemating electoral base. Fresh from the setback of winning only 9 of the 250 wards in the MCD elections, the Congress came in at a distant second with 16 seats, down from the 77 it won in the last elections.
In the 2017 elections, the Congress gained on both counts — the party bagged 77 against 61 seats in 2012 with a vote share of 41.5 per cent, up from 38.95 per cent votes it garnered in 2012. Failing to build further momentum on its consolidated vote base, the Congress put up its worst performance, with its vote share dropping to 27.3 per cent, as per the latest EC trends.
The Congress catastrophe could possibly dilute the gains that the Congress hoped to make through the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. The Gujarat debacle could hit at the party’s credibility to get its house in order and, possibly, further trigger the exodus of its rank and file.
Perception matters to political parties and narratives play a key role in connecting them to the people. Congress appeared to have miserably failed on this front. A lackluster approach and silent campaigns in a state as crucial as Gujarat drew a deep disconnect between the Congress and its vote bank, making deep inroads into the vote base of the grand old party.
Rahul Gandhi, the face of Congress, remained busy with his Bharat Jodo Yatra, and could only manage a day for campaigning ahead of voting in the Saurashtra-Kutch region where the party scored well in 2017 elections.
The verdict also signifies the tough road that lies ahead for newly elected Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. The ‘Ravan’ remark by the Congress president during the poll campaign in Gujarat created a ruckus and provided ammunition to its rival BJP to weaponise it in the midst of polls.
The Congress, to be far, came across as a listless unit up against the clinical electionary machinery that the BJP has become. With its tectonic achievement of bagging 157 seats, as per the leads available till now, BJP broke the Congress’ record of winning 149 seats in 1985 under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki, a record no party has matched in the state.
Solanki is known for engineering the KHAM formula to bag a massive mandate in 1985. The term KHAM evolved from the social engineering to bring K- Kshatriya, H- Harijan, A- Aadivasi, M-Muslim to the Congress.
Solanki’s KHAM caste equation changed the political contours in Gujarat and the Congress reaped its electoral benefit for a prolonged period. In June 1980, election was announced after a brief spell of President’s rule and Solanki was entrusted with the responsibility to lead the party to fight assembly elections. The Congress won Gujarat back to back, bagging 141 of 182 seats in 1980, and 149 in 1985.
The steep fall from the record of 149 to 16 seats in 2022 is a matter of deep introspection for the Congress with the party now threatened by the prospect of losing the space of principal opposition in Gujarat.
Losing Gujarat could deal a bigger blow to the party already grappling from the exodus of its leaders. Failed to surmount internal bickering, the Congress has already paid a huge price for its self-inflicted Punjab disaster, paving the way for its nemesis, the AAP.
Merely a year later, the Lok Sabha elections will be held. Such a result could accentuate the crisis of the Congress’s sagging image. The dismal performance of the grand old party could potentially impact its ability to mobilise support and resources for future electoral battles in states assembly polls of 2023.