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Pride and Prejudice: Rahul Gandhi's Southern India Blitzkrieg Comes With An Important Reason

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at St. Xavier's College at Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli district, Sunday. (PTI)

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at St. Xavier's College at Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli district, Sunday. (PTI)

If the Congress pulls off a victory in Kerala and the DMK wrests power from the AIADMK, Rahul Gandhi will get some credit that he desperately needs after a series of debacles, especially in the North.

The two big states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar contribute 22%, or 120 seats, to the Lok Sabha where the Congress has failed miserably. Rahul Gandhi even lost family bastion Amethi in 2019.

Though the Congress put up an impressive show in Punjab, winning eight out of 13 Lok Sabha seats and swept the recently-held municipal elections, it is again looking at a possible turmoil in Rajasthan in the future.

Rajasthan was one of the three Hindi heartland states with Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that Congress won in 2018, but in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party could won just three Lok Sabha seats in the states, one in Madhya Pradesh, two in Chhattisgarh and could not win a single seat in Rajasthan.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was restricted to just 44 seats. It could add eight seats more in 2019. After the Lok Sabha election 2014, the Congress and its allies had state governments in 13 states. Now it is limited to only five states. And it has governments in three states now, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

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Electorally, the Congress is largely absent in the western and eastern India and also in the northeast. In Maharashtra and Jharkhand, it is a junior partner in the alliance. The repeated electoral losses had forced Rahul Gandhi to resign from the post of the Congress president.

However, the Congress senses an opportunity in southern India, especially after its emphatic win in Kerala in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, while the Congress has just 10 MPs from Punjab, Bihar and UP, it has 28 MPs from the five states of southern India, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana and the union territory of Puducherry. The party is a major political force in Kerala and Tamil Nadu when it comes to share of its Lok Sabha seats tally. It won 15 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala and eight seats in Tamil Nadu as DMK’s partner.

In northern India, the Congress has almost become a non-existential political entity in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The party was also blamed for the failure of the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan as it could not get sufficient number of seats to form the government in spite of RJD emerging as the single largest party.

In Kerala, going by the history of the Assembly elections since 1980, each election has seen a different ruling party. Going by that logic, the Congress-led UDF should storm back to power this time, especially after its good show in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But the CPI(M)-led LDF government won the recent civic polls, defying that trend. But it is too early to write off the Congress in the state.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK-led alliance which the Congress is part of, is speculated to have an edge in the coming Assembly elections. If the Congress pulls off a victory in Kerala and the DMK wrests power from the AIADMK, Rahul Gandhi will get some credit that he desperately needs after a series of debacles amid the current leadership tussle.

Once successful in these two states, Karnataka and Telangana may also give Rahul additional advantage as the Congress is still a major political force there along with the Union territory of Puducherry.

The previous Karnataka government was Congress-ruled while in 2018 Assembly elections, despite emerging as the second-largest party, the Congress retained power with a post-poll alliance with JD (S). The BJP, after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, formed a government in Karnataka after some of the Congress and JDS MLAs resigned bringing down the government.

In Telengana, the party performed poorly winning 19 seats in the 2018 Assembly elections and three seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But its vote share considerably increased, from 20.5% in 2014 to 29.48% in 2019.

first published:March 01, 2021, 20:00 IST