The only way Congress can defeat the BJP

Friday, September 10, 2021

/ by mansuralisaha

The News Cover:  There are 292 seats in West Bengal's assembly. In the 2016 state elections, Congress won 44 seats and in 2021 it won none. While the TMC’s victory against the BJP made headlines another story that wasn't discussed was that Congress got completely wiped out in the state. In addition, Congress lost the Assam, Puducherry, and Kerala elections. We’re very well aware of the current struggle of the Congress party. Several experts have talked about this but even the members of the party have recently accepted this. Despite the challenges, Congress remains one of the principal opposition parties in the country. And we know that a strong opposition is very crucial for democracy. But the question is how can Congress revive itself? The obvious answer is changing the leadership. Apart from changing its leader, Congress needs to reform itself. What steps should it take? Should it chase ‘Hindutva’? No. Why not? That’s what we’ll discuss in this video. And there are two schools of thought on what Congress needs to do to reform itself. One says that the fight between Congress and BJP is an ideological fight. “We are fighting based on our ideologies.”

 “Narendra Modi and the BJP have their own ideologies and we have our own.” Many people in Congress have argued that Congress needs to clarify its ideology and communicate it effectively to the voters. Now there has been some debate on what this ideology should be. Recently, people have argued that Congress needs to double down on its secular ideals. Shashi Tharoor said the party needs to stay invested in its core ideals of an inclusive and liberal party. Another senior Congress leader Manish Tewari thinks Congress should focus on issues like secularism, nationalism, and economic development. But a few years ago, Congress was seen practicing what many called "Soft Hindutva". 

But if you’ve watched one of our previous videos where we talked about Overton Window - if you haven't, I would suggest you watch it – you’d know that this "Soft Hindutva" strategy doesn't work. Any rightward shift in Congress' ideology indicates that the BJP has successfully managed to shift the narrative rightwards. But Asim Ali, a political columnist says, that shifting or clarifying its ideology is not the answer to Congress' revival. And that's because Congress has predominantly been a centrist party. 

Even under Jawahar Lal Nehru, the Congress included many conservatives since it was the party leading the charge for India's independence and thus consisted of leaders holding different ideologies. Asim says that centrist parties like Congress can’t win elections solely based on an ideological. He says that when centrist parties suffer electoral losses, they’re put under pressure and asked to clarify their ideologies. Some demand these parties to move to the left, while others demand them to move to the right. A recent paper by the political scientist, Roi Zur says this strategy does not work for centrist parties. 

He argues that since the vote share of centrist parties is quite evenly distributed across the political spectrum if they shift leftwards, they risk losing right-leaning voters and if they shift rightwards, they’ll lose left-leaning voters. And this can be observed in the policy decisions Congress has taken. Since 2014, the ideology of Indians voters has shifted rightwards, be it Article 370, the issue of Ram Mandir, or the CAA. All these scenarios put Congress in a dilemma that if they oppose the BJP-let government, it might lose the electoral votes of those who supported the BJP-led government. 

Or if they support the government’s decision, they might lose electoral votes of those who disagree with the BJP-led government. In both scenarios, Congress had a lot to lose. Asim Ali suggests that the only thing that can counter the BJPs rise is regional-linguistic pride. The recently concluded Bengal assembly election is a classic example of regional linguistic pride. Mamata Banerjee stressed ‘Bengali identity’ in countering the Hindu nationalism of the BJP. The strategy’s drawback is that it’s only useful at the state level and not at the national level. At a national level, people don’t vote based on the issues of their respective states. 

Such centrist parties find it hard to fight on ideological issues. But parties like BJP can fight on ideological issues. This is what we discussed in the previous video too, where we discussed how the Sangh Parivar uses Hindu nationalism to unite Dalits and OBCs in Uttar Pradesh to consolidate the Hindu vote against the opposition parties. We took the case study of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, to explain how Sangh Parivar helps the BJP at ground level. And if you would like to know more about how BJP's election strategies, I would strongly recommend the book How the BJP wins by Prashant Jha. But you don't need to buy read it, you can listen to the audiobook version on the KuKu FM app, which has sponsored this video. This show has 8 episodes, which discuss the BJP's tactics in detail. This app has many other original podcasts audiobooks in several languages. The annual plan is only INR399, less than the price of the book. And because they are sponsoring the video, you will get 20% off if you use the coupon MOHAK20, which brings the cost below 1rs a day. You can also avail 50% discount if you subscribe to this app during 13-15 Aug 2021 and use code FREEDOM50. So do check out the app. The download link is in the description. So if Congress can’t fight against the BJP on ideology, what can it do? It needs to improve its valence image. 

Roi Zur says that political parties have two sources of appeal: ideological and valency. What is valency? It is a combination of non-policy attributes such as competence, integrity, and leadership ability. Zur argues that people don’t vote for centrist parties because they resonate with the ideologies but because they’re ready to make ideological compromises as long as those parties can deliver jobs, healthcare, or education. And when they fail to do so, they suffer in elections. Zur in his paper shows that "centrist parties vote shares are sensitive to real changes in their valence image". The fall of Congress in the 2014 and 2019 elections can similarly be attributed to corruption, scams, and inflation. Now, this doesn’t mean that a party can either show valency or ideology. It can show both. Before 2014, the BJP used the ideology of Hindu nationalism yet it couldn’t win elections. But this changed with the rise of Narendra Modi, who gave the party both valency and ideology. 

But valency is very essential for Congress than it’s for the BJP. So what does Congress need to do to improve its valence image? First, it needs to settle its leadership question. A party that cannot set its own house in order inspires little hope in the electorate in its ability to govern the country. Second, it needs to leverage its control over state governments to demonstrate the competence and integrity of Congress. Much like the Gujarat Model was used by the BJP, Congress needs to develop models of Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Third, the party needs to act as a shadow government: regularly communicating to the people in a detailed manner how it would solve the pressing problems confronting the country. For a while, we have seen Rahul Gandhi criticize the government. But he doesn’t mention what he would’ve done had he been the PM. Finally, it needs to talk more about the past achievements of its UPA government, such as MNREGA, which has been praised by the experts Congress has one silver lining. 

The valency image of the main opposition party is generally expected to rise as the valency of the governing party marks a fall. And over the last few years, many people are disappointed with the BJP government about issues, such as inflation, unemployment, and COVID management. But this disappointment will only create a political impact if Congress and other opposition parties convince the citizens that they can govern the country better. As of now, people believe that Congress has no solutions. 

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