After the Congress party’s poor showing in the 2013 assembly elections in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, Mani Shankar Aiyar was the first Congressman to predict the party’s defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections (‘It’s good to lose’, IE, December 10, 2013). Though Aiyar may not have anticipated the scale of the Congress party’s defeat and the BJP’s victory, he passionately wrote, “As a Congressman, I greatly welcome Sunday’s electoral reverses.
I also look forward to our probably occupying the opposition benches after the mid-2014 Lok Sabha elections.”
The data presented in Figure 1 shows the scale of the defeat. In comparison to the 2009 elections, the Congress only marginally improved its vote share in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. In all other states, the party saw a negative swing in vote share. In fact, in no state did the Congress win seats in double digits. The BJP, on the other hand, faced a negative swing along with its ally Akali Dal only in Punjab.
Can the Congress bounce back by sitting on the opposition benches as Aiyar had hoped? We are in no way writing an obituary for the Congress party, but the election returns suggest that the Congress will find it much harder to revive its fortunes this time round. The extent of decline in the Congress’s strength in the 16th Lok Sabha may seem an aberration, but the reasons for the party’s debacle in this election are deep and structural.
First, as Table 1 shows, even during the anti-Congress waves of 1977 and 1989, the party managed to cross the 150-seat mark and won more than one-third of the total votes polled. The number of seats where the party’s candidates lost their security deposit was negligible. Since 1989, the party’s vote share has always been below 30 per cent and declining mostly. The Congress was voted back to power in 2009 by winning 206 seats. continued…