Rahul Gandhi is back. Back from his 57 day foreign sojourn, during which, if Congress leaders are to be believed, he was thinking about how to revive the Congress party.
And now that he is back he has come out all guns blazing against the Narendra Modi government. The Gandhi family scion has blamed the Modi government for being very close to the corporates and not being worried about the farmers. In a speech in the Lok Sabha yesterday he accused the government of being a “suit, boot ki sarkar.”
For the time that Rahul was not in the country, several leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP) took potshots at his absence. Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, had recently said at the two day National Conclave of the party in Bangalore that: “Instead of raising non-issues and fictional issues, they[the Congress party] should find out where their leader is.”
After Rahul returned to India, Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesperson said: “He (Rahul) is confused. He does not know what he wants to do with his life, whether he wants to continue in politics. He has to answer to the people.”
Such statements are a part of the broad strategy of BJP of talking about a Congress mukt Bharat (an India without the Congress party). “Congress Mukt Bharat is not merely a slogan, but the determination of the people of India,” Narendra Modi said in January 2014, when the campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had started. Since then, many leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP) have used this slogan on many occasions.
Nevertheless, a slightly strong Congress party might work to the advantage of the BJP. And a Congress mukt Bharat may not necessarily be good for the party. Why do I say that? Take a look at what happened in the recent elections to the Delhi assembly.
The BJP got 32.2% of the votes polled. This was marginally lower than the 33.07% of the votes that the party had polled in the assembly elections held in December 2013. The Congress had polled 24.55% of the votes in December 2013. This collapsed to 9.7% in the recent elections. The gainer was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The vote-share of the party jumped from 29.49% to 54.3%, helping the party win 67 out of the seventy seats in the assembly.
What this clearly tells us is that the entire collapse in the vote for the Congress moved to the AAP. This in a way ensured that the anti-BJP vote did not get divided and helped AAP win almost 100% of the seats in the assembly. If the Congress vote hadn’t collapsed as much as it did, it would clearly helped the BJP win more seats in the Delhi assembly. Hence, a stronger Congress would have helped the BJP in Delhi.
Now, along with this let’s look at an interesting piece of analysis on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections carried out by Neelanjan Sircar, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CASI at the University of Pennsylvania. In his analysis Sircar found that: “Consider the constituencies in which the BJP and Congress were the top two vote getters; there were 189 such constituencies, and the BJP won 166 of them for a whopping strike rate of 88 percent. By contrast, the BJP’s strike rate was even (49 percent) in the remainder of the constituencies it contested.”
What this clearly tell us is that when it’s on a one on one with the Congress, the BJP does well. But the same cannot be said of a situation where there is a multi-party contest. In a multi-party contest, a strong Congress party can help in dividing the anti-BJP votes. While this may not matter in the bigger states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and smaller ones like Chattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, where there is a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress, it matters in many other states like Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam, where the electoral contest is multi-party.
In fact, in the first past the post system (an electoral system where the candidate winning the most votes wins, even though there might be more votes against him in total) that India has, a divided opposition can really help the ruling party. And for that divided opposition to become a reality, the Congress party needs to be on a slightly stronger wicket than it currently is.
This rule comes with a corollary. The BJP has to hope that the Congress does not come together with other opposition parties like it did in Bihar in August 2014, when bye-elections to 10 assembly seats were held. The vote percentage of the BJP plus the Lok Janshakti Party was at 37.9%. The vote percentage of Rashtriya Janata Dal plus Janata Dal (United) plus the Congress party came in at 45.6%. So, all said and done, the anti-Modi vote does remain strong. And it can create huge problems for the BJP.
But the other parties coming together is not a possibility in every state. Take the case of West Bengal where the Trinamool Congress and the Left Front are unlikely to come together for the assembly elections scheduled in 2016. A weak Congress party will mean that its votes will move to the Trinmool Congress and that can’t be good for the BJP.
The BJP cannot be expected to form the government in West Bengal. But in the 2014 assembly elections it got 17% of the votes polled. Given this, the party can expect to win more than a few seats in the state assembly.
Further, the assembly elections in Bihar are due later this year. It is important that the BJP does well in the state given that it elects 16 members to the Rajya Sabha. West Bengal also elects 16 members to the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP currently has only 47 members in the Rajya Sabha and hence can be held to ransom by the opposition parties in the upper house, whenever it wants to pass any important legislation. The Land Acquisition Bill is an excellent example of the same.
In order to increase the number of members in Rajya Sabha the party needs to do well in the state assembly elections scheduled over the next few years. And for that to happen, the BJP needs a stronger Congress party. In short, Modi needs Rahul.
The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on April 21, 2015