MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Notwithstanding the opinion polls, the Congress looks poised to pay a heavy price for its political smugness and failure to read the pulse of the electorate this time too, as the rising tide of anti-Congress sentiment swells up the sails of the BJP.
Opening its political account south of the Vindhyas has been the BJP’s mission for long. If that happens, it will not be because there has been any intrinsic rise in the support base of the BJP but because of the consolidation of anti-Congress forces behind it, with the JDS, the other claimant, all set to get decimated.
That the Congress is finding it difficult to make much headway in gaining the support of the electorate in the elections, has been a fact of life for more than three-and-a-half decades.
Barring the first election after the Congress split in 1972, the Congress in no other election has been able to get more than 50 per cent of the total votes polled in the elections. But the party has managed to survive mainly because of the fragmentation of the anti-Congress votes among the several parties.
The movement towards the consolidation of the anti-Congress votes, which began in 1983, marked the beginning of a politically uncomfortable and uncertain period for the Congress from which it has never fully recovered, despite all the tall talk of serving the peoples’ interest.
Of the six elections held in the last 25 years, the Congress, has been able to win only twice, namely in 1989 and 1989, while the remaining have all gone in favour of non-Congress parties.
# 1983 was a shock year for the Congress. It lost its bastion and lost the race both in terms of the seats won and votes secured. In the 224-member assembly, the Congress could win 82 seats, as against 95 of the Janata and 18 of the BJP, with the rest going to independents.
Of the 129.19 lakh valid votes polled, the Congress polled 52.21 lakh votes (40.82%) while the Janata and BJP between themselves polling 52.97 lakh votes (41%) with 22 lakh votes going to others, including independents. This heralded the formation of the first non-Congress government headed by Ramakrishna Hegde.
# In 1985, the Congress lost further ground. It won 65 seats as against 139 won by Janata. Of the 147.20 lakh valid votes polled, the Congress secured 60.09 lakh votes (40.82%), and the Janata with 64.18 lakh votes (43.60%) and BJP with 5.71 lakh votes (3.88%) outdistanced the Congress.
# 1989 saw the revival of the political fortunes of the Congress, with Veerendra Patil leading the party to an impressive victory winning a whopping 176 seats. But in terms of the vote -share the picture was not that bright. The Congress still failed to cross the 50 per cent mark, having got only 79.90 lakh votes (43.76%) out of the total of 182.57 lakh valid voters.
The two factions of the Janata Parivar, the Janata Dal (49.34 lakhs) and Janata Party (20.70 lakhs), between themselves had managed to rake in 38.42% of the voters with BJP nibbling 7.55 lakhs (4.41%). Jointly they had overtaken the ruling party. 26 lakh votes remained beyond the purview of all the leading parties in the fray. Incidentally, the comeback of Congress was attributed to the schism within the Janata parivar.
# In 1994 Congress hit nadir of its political career, winning a measly 34 seats, six seats fewer than the BJP which became the principal opposition party for the first time in the history, while the Janata Dal had won 115 seats. In terms of vote share, the Congress with 56.33 lakhs (27.21%) was overtaken by JD, which polled 69.44 lakhs (33.54%), the BJP with 35.17 lakh votes (16.59%) following suit.
# In 1999 the Congress no doubt was returned to power under the leadership of S.M. Krishna, winning 132 seats as against 44 of BJP, 18 of the JDU and 10 of the JDS. But in terms of the votes cast, the three non-Congress parties had notched up 99.21 lakhs votes (BJP 45.98 lakhs, JDS 23.16 lakhs, and JDU 30.06 lakhs), which was more than Congress which had got 90.77 lakh votes (40.84%). The Congress, it was clear had got the benefit of the division of the anti-Congress votes among the three parties.
# In 2004, it was fractured mandate, with BJP in the lead with 79 seats, followed by 65 of Congress, 58 of the JDS, 5 of the JDU and 16 others. Between them, the three non-Congress parties chalked up a tally of 128.56 lakhs as against 88.61 lakhs secured by Congress.
The BJP and JDS had improved their position mainly because of the decimation of the JDU, which was one of the major players in the previous polls. The Congress did not get even the benefit of the 43 lakh new voters who had been added to the electoral roll, since its tally was down by two lakhs over the previous figure.
Under the circumstances, the following scenario for the 2008 election emerges:
# Even after the weeding out 50 lakh bogus voters from the rolls, the electorate has gone up from 3.85 crore in 2004 to 4.00 crore now, showing a rise by 15 lakh voters.
# Secondly, it is quite clear that the JDS has suffered erosion in its base seriously. Because it had hobnobbed with Congress in forming the coalition it cannot portray itself as a party opposed to the Congress which diminishes chances of the party laying claims for a share of the anti-Congress votes.
# BJP is the only anti-Congress outfit in the field and unlike the previous two occasions, there are no other claimants for any share in the anti-Congress votes. It is therefore sure to rake up a major slice of anti-Congress votes as there is no other credible anti-Congress party before the voters.
Infighting, the presence of rebels in the fray, dissatisfaction over distribution of tickets, and party hopping are common to all the parties. The rhetoric of the manifestos is also common.
What stands out in the maze of contradictions is the groundswell of anti-Congress sentiment. It is this which puts the BJP in an advantageous position.
Both the Congress and the JDS are not in a position to make any headway in Northern Karnataka, the support of which is crucial for any party wanting to form the government, going by the track record of election history. BJP therefore finds itself better placed of accomplishing its mission.