Thursday, December 11, 2008

"CONGRESS SOUNDS WAR CRY" - REALLY?

"Congress sounds war cry." That was the screaming headline of Hindustan Times that greeted the citizens of Delhi on December 09, 2008. "Wins 3 to BJP's 2 in semi-finals" was the explanation justifying this dramatic headline of a newspaper known to be a close supporter of the Congress party. Such a headline would have made anyone believe that the Congress had defeated the BJP in three of the five states where elections were held.

A closer look revealed an entirely different picture. Of the three states that the Congress won, Mizoram is a small state that sends just one MP to Delhi and the BJP does not even exist there. Thus, the BJP did not lose to the Congress in Mizoram; the latter beat the ruling MNF. The Congress held onto Delhi while the BJP lost Rajasthan narrowly. So, really, the BJP lost one of the three states where it was in power while the Congress did not yield in Delhi, the only state it was ruling. 2-2 was the visible score at first glance.

But, on December 08, when election results and trends were coming in, star analysts on most channels were highlighting how difficult it was for the resurgent Congress to overcome the huge 11% gap that the BJP had created during the last election in Madhya Pradesh, even if it performed much better there. Surprisingly, no one applied that logic to the BJP in Delhi even though it had to overcome an even bigger gap of 13% that Sheila Dikshit had opened up for the Congress the last time.

When trends were clear that the Congress would retain Delhi, anchors and analysts started talking about how Delhi had rejected the divisive politics of the BJP and how it had not been influenced by its stridency over terror. Something similar was being propagated about the defeat of the BJP in Rajasthan. Similarly, till almost the very end, Delhi channels kept showing that the Congress was in a very close race in Chhatisgarh even though locally it was well known that the BJP had decisively crossed the half-way mark.

After the initial flurry of analysis in TV studios and newspapers which suggested that the Congress was on a strong comeback trail and that the people had rejected the BJP, there has been an eerie silence in the media about the significance of the election results in these four major states. Like always, one was looking for detailed analysis of the changes in vote shares of various parties since the last elections both in the print and visual media. The figures, one thought, would give an accurate picture of how strongly the Congress had pulled ahead of the BJP a few critical months before the general elections.

But, this time, nothing of the sort has happened. There have hardly been any follow up columns or panel discussions by the secular brigade to back its claims about the resurgence of the Congress and the impact that Rahul Gandhi has finally made on the national political scene.

That surprising silence had me sufficiently intrigued to go hunting on the net for getting the comparative vote share of both the parties in 2003 and 2008. What I found even more surprising on the net was that these details had not been compiled and put up by any media house. Only The Times of India of December 10,2008 had the comparative vote share in respect of Delhi. A hunt for the vote share of 2003 in other states led to the uncovering of that data from the NDTV web site which did not have the data for this year's elections. Thanks to Google, that was dug out from a forum discussion on another site and the two were put together to get a graphic picture.

The comparative data is startling and explains the silence of the Congress and the media; they know and don't want you and I to know too. What they know is a cause of serious worry for the Congress, which is far from sounding any war cry. It should also give some heart to the BJP, despite the loss of Rajasthan and its inability to conquer Delhi. Here is the chart:

Vote Shares 2003 and 2008

State-----------2003-------2008-----Change

Chattisgarh
INC.............36.7+7*%....39%.....- 4.7%
BJP.............39.3%......40%.....+ 0.7%

Delhi
INC.............48.1%......40%......-8.1%
BJP.............35.2%......37%......+1.8%

Rajasthan
INC.............35.6%......36%......+0.4%
BJP.............39.2%......34%......-4.8%

MP
INC.............31.6%......33%......+1,4%
BJP.............42.5%......38%......-4.5%

Note:- *7% vote of NCP in 2003 shown separately

The Congress, surprise, has suffered big losses in vote share in Delhi and Chhattisgarh. In Delhi, its loss of 8.1% did not turn into a gain for the BJP. It is the BSP which has increased its share from 8.7% to 14%, indicating that dalits have left the party. The BJP has increased its share only by nearly 2%. If this is what has happened to the Congress despite the great image of Sheila Dixit, one wonders what will happen in the Lok Sabha elections, when it will not have a weak VK Malhotra against a Dikshit. In Chhatisgarh, the Congress and ally NCP have together suffered an almost 5% loss of vote share while the BJP, despite being in power, has gained by about a percent.

Figures for Rajasthan and MP are even more startling. The Congress, which has 'won' in Rajasthan has hardly taken away any votes from the BJP whose near 5% loss has gone to rebels and others. The victory of the Congress is, therefore, actually BJP's loss, partially due to poor management, and does not represent even a minimal resurgence of the Congress there. In MP also the Congress has again gained only marginally despite a galaxy of leaders, even though the BJP has yielded 4.5% part of its huge previous lead.

The 3-2 verdict in the favour of the Congress is, thus, actually not in favour of the party at all. The Congress remains unable to attract voters to itself despite goal after self-goal being scored by the BJP. If anything, it continues to lose ground, as it has been for the last few years. No wonder media luminaries have been stung into silence after the initial high. No wonder the usual proclamations about the people of India reposing their faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have have been buried swiftly by the Congress.

The Congress' war cry has turned out to be a whimper, even a cry of despair. Nothing seems to be working for it. Even a bumbling BJP is unable to help. If these election results are any indication, the Congress has a lot to worry about and the BJP has a lot to think about. They both have six months and they both are hampered by top leaders who do not have what is needed to lead their parties to a decisive victory at the centre in general elections 2009.
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