Although the current poll outcomes “don’t augur well for Congress’ prospects in 2014,” still a “lot can change” over next few months depending on what the Congress party does in terms of reorganising its electoral machinery and political governance…For a start, the Congress party needs to “set the house in order” by driving out political dissent among party workers and undertaking bold policy initiatives on issues of concern to voters, to enable it to shore up its electoral count ahead of general elections which are likely to take place before May next year…
After a thumping defeat in local polls in four out of five States recently, India’s ruling Congress party said it would enter a period of introspection. Analysts say it will need to do that and more to have a chance at coming back from these local defeats to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in national elections due by May. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s Vice President, promised to transform the party to regain the public’s confidence. “We are going to learn and we are going to do a better job than anyone else in the country in ways that you cannot imagine right now,” he told reporters at the Congress party office in New Delhiafter State election results came out.
If his party is to have a possibility of winning the general elections, it will have to take these commitments seriously, political observers said. Although the current poll outcomes “don’t augur well for Congress’ prospects in 2014,” still a “lot can change” over next few months depending on what the Congress party does in terms of reorganising its electoral machinery and political governance, said B.G. Verghese, a New Delhi-based political analyst and journalist. For a start, the Congress party needs to “set the house in order” by driving out political dissent among party workers and undertaking bold policy initiatives on issues of concern to voters, to enable it to shore up its electoral count ahead of general elections which are likely to take place before May next year, Mr. Verghese said.
On Monday, Delhi’s three-time Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was ousted from power in the state polls, blamed her Congress party for the electoral drubbing. “I did not get enough support from my party in Delhi,” she told the NDTV news channel. Next, analysts say, Congress must fill its leadership vacuum. Aditya Mukherjee, professor of contemporary history at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University suggested Congress needed to “make up its mind” on whether Mr. Gandhi, would be announced as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate “any time soon” and “do away with the lack of electoral energy.”
Mr. Gandhi, 43 years old, is the great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation’s first Prime Minister. His father and grandmother were also Prime Ministers of India. So, many take it for granted that he will follow in their footsteps. But he’s been reluctant to step into the limelight and his own remarks on his possible ascension often leave the impression he has no real interest in the role. “If it’s not Rahul, the Congress should let people know about their choice that will help the party gain some credibility among its voters,” Mr. Mukherjee added.
In comparison, Narendra Modi, the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, is no stranger to the limelight. Although the poll results were driven mostly by local issues, Mr. Modi was able to “create a wave” for the BJP, Mr. Mukherjee said. “He was definitely a better crowd puller than Rahul.” Mr. Gandhi’s election rallies — whether in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or elsewhere — have often been dwarfed by those addressed by Mr. Modi. Still, the correlation between performance in State and general elections was not always direct. An election report released recently by the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch indicated success in the recently-concluded State elections was not a clear indicator of the outcome of next year’s general elections.
The four States where the BJP won — Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — accounted for just 13 per cent or 72 of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. “The States are traditionally BJP strong-holds. Doing well in these States is not enough to indicate the direction of the 2014 election,” the report said. And history suggests the same. In 2003, the BJP won three of these four States but lost the general elections the following year.
Opinion polls over the past year have suggested that while the BJP might emerge as the single largest party, it will fall short of the simple majority it needs to govern. “Who will win next year cannot yet be forecast,” Navnita Chadha Behera, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi University, said. She said the “electoral fortune” of Congress would depend a lot on how the general election performance of the BJP, which remained a dominant political force only in the northern belt where the most recent elections were held. “There are too many State level equations that will play an important role,” during the general elections, Ms. Behera said. “In the end, it could be a BJP-led coalition or a muddled coalition supported, but not led, by either the BJP or the Congress,” she added.