Poor strike rate of the Congress in Bihar election results may take its toll in other poll-bound states. Impact will be more in states where the Congress is eyeing a coalition, from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu. While an alliance with Left parties in West Bengal has already been announced, it's the DMK in Tamil Nadu with which the Congress is likely to face more hurdles.
The Congress is being blamed for the demoralising result in Bihar for the Mahagathbandhan. The Congress managed to win only 19 out of 70 seats it contested in the state with a strike rate of 27 per cent, poorest among all other allies in the Mahagathbandhan, prompting its own leaders to point fingers.
Veteran leader from Bihar and five-time Lok Sabha MP from Katihar Tariq Anwar conceded, "We need to accept the truth. The grand alliance lost because of the Congress party's weak organisation in the state. We need to introspect the reasons for the loss."
Poor strike rate
There is a worrying trend in the Congress's performance in states where it contested elections in alliance with regional parties.
In Uttar Pradesh, the party contested 2017 assembly polls in alliance with the Samajwadi Party and won just seven out of the 114 seats it contested with a poor strike rate of 6.14 per cent.
In Maharashtra Assembly election, held in 2018, the Congress contested on 147 seats, more than its ally the NCP, which fielded its candidates on 121 seats. But the Congress ended up winning 44 seats -- 10 less than the NCP's tally, with a strike rate of 29.93 per cent.
'Crucial election for DMK, they can't lose'
The impact of the Bihar election results is likely to be felt in Tamil Nadu on the DMK-Congress alliance. In 2016, the Congress contested in 40 seats and won only eight with a strike rate of 19.51 per cent. This was cited as the reason for the victory of AIADMK and the defeat of DMK in that election.
Political oservers anticipate that the DMK, which has roped in political strategist Prashant Kishor for the 2021 assembly polls, may not be keen to repeat the mistake of 2016. The Congress, on the other hand, will not be in a position to push its case very hard.
Political analyst Sumanth C Raman told India Today TV, "The problem for the DMK is that it is a very crucial election and it is the election they can't lose."
"They are out of power for ten years, so they would be keen to ensure that every vote is added into their kitty," he said adding, "The Congress currently commands four to five per cent vote in the state. The DMK will be calculating very carefully how much of damage could the Congress do, and ensure the minimum number of seats that can be shared with its alliance partner."
Another political analyst R Mani is of the opinion that the DMK will take a cautious approach. "I don't think that in the light of Bihar election results, the DMK will jettison the Congress in the 2021 assembly election," he said.
"However, if the DMK comes to power in the 2021 assembly election, it may jettison the Congress in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election provided the ill-fate of the Congress continues even then," Mani added.
"In Tamil Nadu, there are at least 35-40 constituencies where the Congress has a dedicated vote bank of not less than 7,000 and in at least 10 to 12 constituencies, the party enjoys over 12,000-15,000 votes. I can say that out of 234 constituencies, the Congress can poll 7,000-15,000 votes roughly in 35 to 40 constituencies. There are at least 20 to 25 constituencies, where in the Congress can have around 5000 votes. So, the Congress on its own will end up as a pauper (zero seats)," Mani further said.
But he also added a word of caution. "In all the 234 seats, if the Congress party goes alone without the DMK, it will definitely spoil DMK's chances in at least in 40 constituencies. When the margins are very slim like in the last elections, where in the DMK lost nearly 30 seats with margin of 100 to 5,000 votes, one can imagine the loss the DMK will suffer if it jettisons the congress."
DMK tight lipped for now
The DMK leaders for now are tight lipped. The DMK members who didn't wish to be named said that only the party high command would decide on alliance. This time, the party will focus on winning and only the best moves will be chosen. However, the Congress leaders think it would be imprudent to read too much into Bihar results on a national scale.
Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu and AICC secretary in-charge for Telangana, Manickam Tagore told India Today TV, "Every election is different. There are local factors like organisation strength, candidate selection in constituencies that play a role in deciding the poll outcome."
"The Congress is an important part of the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu which swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. We have a strong alliance on the ground and in assembly polls, anti-Modi and anti-Palaniswami sentiments will play a big role because of the unplanned lockdown which hit the MSME sector in the state and the people's mood is visible on the ground."
Murmurs within Left in Bengal
The Congress's poor performance in the Seemanchal region of Bihar which borders West Bengal may also hurt its prospects in the upcoming assembly polls in the state next year.
Part of the Mahagathbandhan or the grand alliance, the Left parties performed much better than the Congress and have blamed it for sinking the coalition ship. There are murmurs that the Bihar results may take its toll on the recently announced Left-Congress alliance in Bengal.
In the 2016 assembly polls, the Congress contested 92 seats and managed to win 44 with a decent strike rate of 47 per cent. The Congress's in-charge of West Bengal affairs, Jitin Prasad has dropped a word of caution. He told India Today TV, "For historical reasons the Left parties contested 200-plus seats and won only 33 seats. Our strike rate was much better. At the end of the day alliances are formed on ideology and common goal."
(with inputs by Akshaya Nath in Chennai)