Congress depends on Assembly polls to redeem itself

Success in the coming state assembly elections is the Congress` only hope of redemption in the present season of scams and Supreme Court strictures. Fortuitously, its expectations may be fulfilled.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2011, 19:25 PM IST

Success in the coming state assembly elections is the Congress` only hope of redemption in the present season of scams and Supreme Court strictures. Fortuitously, its expectations may be fulfilled.

The party has more than a fair chance of winning in West Bengal and Kerala in the company of its allies and is also likely to fare well in Assam. Tamil Nadu remains problematic because it is one of the focal points of the gross financial swindles afflicting the Manmohan Singh government. It is the government`s failure to act much earlier against former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja, apparently because of the pressure exerted by his party, the DMK, the Congress` partner in the state, which tarnished the reputation of both the parties. As a result, their chances of returning to power in Tamil Nadu have become somewhat dim.
But even if Tamil Nadu is written off for the present, it is the expected good showing in West Bengal, which will prove to be a great boon to the Congress at a time of trouble. Although much of the credit will go to its ally, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, the Congress will still be able to bask in her reflected glory, for the victory of the two parties will be nothing short of a historic event, marking the end of three decades of Left rule.

Coupled with the similar expected success of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, the outcome in these two traditionally Left-oriented states will be a devastating blow to comrades. For the Congress at the centre, it will mean that at least one of its major opponents, namely, the communists, will be demoralised into silence for some time as they mull over all their mistakes starting with the rupture with the Congress in 2008 on the issue of the India-US nuclear deal.
Considering that the comrades have consistently sided with the Congress` other major adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on questions ranging from the nuclear deal to inflation to the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into scams, the weakening of Left cannot but dilute the shrillness of the BJP`s criticism as well.

Apart from West Bengal and Kerala, the Congress can also expect an easy run in Assam because of the failure of the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to forge an alliance. Together, they could have posed a considerable challenge since both of them reflect the right-of-centre, anti-minority and anti-immigrant sentiments of the Assamese Hindu middle class. But fighting separately, they will only harm each other.

Besides, the Congress can gain from its settlement with a large segment of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), thereby diminishing to a large extent the threat of insurgency.

The Congress, of course, is lucky in being reasonably well placed in these three states. In any event, the combined non-communist vote in both West Bengal and Kerala in the last assembly elections was only one percent short of the Left`s percentage. Now, it expects to move well ahead in view of the string of successes it has had in West Bengal`s parliamentary and municipal polls as well as the assembly byelections.

Kerala, as is known, alternates between the UDF and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) every five years. By this token, it is the UDF`s turn now. In Assam, the Congress` percentage of 31 puts the AGP`s 20.3 percent in the shade although the 48.5 percent secured by the smaller parties, including the BJP, shows the complexities of the state`s political landscape.

However, the Congress` predicament could well be imagined if the uncertainties of the Tamil Nadu scene had combined with the uncertainties of states like, say, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, if they had been on the poll calendar. An electoral setback for the Congress in such a situation would have been a crushing blow to its standing in the aftermath of the unending allegations of sleaze.

Since the BJP has very little influence in three of the four states going to the polls between April 4 and May 10 - West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - and only a marginal presence in Assam, it will be more or less an onlooker where these contests are concerned. The Left, on the other hand, will be deeply affected by the outcome - which will be announced May 13 - especially if it loses in West Bengal, where it has been in power since 1977.

What such a setback will signify is that the impact of the collapse of communism in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1989 will be deemed to have been finally felt in India. Although there is a strong Leftist bias in sections of the Indian intelligentsia, the electoral reverses will show that their routine rhetoric against American "imperialism" and neo-liberal economics no longer influences the voters, especially the younger generation.

A rebuff suffered by the Left will also be a matter of relief to the Manmohan Singh government since it can expect some respite from the criticism it faces about its pro-US foreign policy and market-driven economics.

More than other elections, therefore, whose impact is usually limited to the states, like Nitish Kumar`s recent victory in Bihar or Mayawati`s earlier success in Uttar Pradesh, the fallout from the West Bengal and, to some extent, Kerala results will extend well beyond the two states and give a boost to the ideas of deregulation and globalisation at the national level and discredit the concepts of socialism and non-alignment with which the Congress was once associated.

In a way, therefore, it will mark the opening of a new chapter in Indian politics.