The results of the just concluded by polls in six states and one union territory should be ringing alarm bells in the Congress. Its abysmal performance is a grim reminder that even after two and a half years in opposition, the Grand Old Party remains in terminal decline. If the trend continues, Sonia Gandhi's claim of a comeback, made in recent television interview, will be mere wishful thinking on her part.
Consider how much the ground is slipping. It held four of the seats where polls were held. It managed to retain only one, Nellithope in Puducherry where it is in government and its incumbent chief minister V Narayanswamy was the contestant. That its only victory came in tiny Puducherry, which is a union territory and not even a full state, underlines the extent to which is has been marginalized, in grave danger of becoming a bit player instead of a national force.
A closer look at the results is more telling. In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is the main opposition party, the ruling BJP won both the Shahdol Lok Sabha seat and the Nepanagar assembly seat. The BJP's victory is a significant comment on the Congress party's weakness as it comes after 13 years in power and under the shadow of the Vyapam corruption scandal dogging Shivraj Singh Chauhan's government.
There is cold comfort in the Congress party's claim that the BJP's victory margin for the Shahdol Lok Sabha seats plunged from 2.41 lakh in 2014 to 60,383. A victory is a victory and a margin of 60,000 plus votes is handsome enough, given that there was no Modi wave this time to power the win in a bypoll.
Madhya Pradesh is a state where the Congress should be on a comeback. Assembly polls are due in at the end of 2018 but as the by elections proved, its faction-ridden organization is in no shape to challenge a well-entrenched BJP.
There is more bad news. In the two eastern states of West Bengal and Tripura, the BJP has overtaken the Congress as the main opposition force. Although the ruling CPI(M) snatched the Barjala assembly seat from the Congress, the BJP came in second, relegating the Congress to third place. Worse, the Congress vote share plummeted by 41 % to a humiliating 2 % while the BJP's rose from 1% to 21%.
In West Bengal, it's a similar story. The Congress lost its deposit in the battle for the Monteswar assembly seat as it did in the Cooch Behar Lok Sabha constituency. In fact, the BJP vote share climbed by 11 % to 21 % in all the three seats that went to polls, suggesting that it is fast emerging as the main challenger to the ruling Trinamool Congress by displacing the Congress and the CPI(M).
While the BJP may boast that the its victories in the by polls is a referendum on demonetization, the real story is that the saffron party continues to make gains across the country at the expense of a shrinking Congress and is steadily cementing its position as the main pole of Indian politics instead of the Grand Old Party.
No-one in the Congress seems to be paying attention to the party's slow and painful death. Instead of tackling the organisational decay, its leadership continues to agonize over Rahul Gandhi, whether he will take over as president and when will the grand event finally happen.
The obsession with Rahul and the scion's obvious reluctance to step up and take charge led the Congress to its doom in 2014. And it has done little to revive itself since.
The bypoll results have sounded another warning. It remains to be seen whether the Congress (and the Gandhis) will heed it. Or indeed, whether they have any ideas to pull their moribund party out of the morass into which it is sinking day by day. Unless it can produce at least one big election victory soon, the Congress could well slip into oblivion.
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