New Delhi: The Congress party got a boost from unexpected quarters in the recent Lok Sabha polls—small regional parties and splinter groups that ate into the vote of its larger rivals. But the tide could turn in Tuesday’s assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, analysts say.
Political observers have noted the crucial role regional parties played in the victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the April-May general election by splitting the opposition votes.
Election fever: Political campaigners in Maharashtra ahead of assembly elections in the state on Tuesday. Ashesh Shah / Mint
In Maharashtra, for example, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance won 25 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state as the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) dented the base of the opposition Shiv Sena, led by uncle Bal Thackeray. The MNS is a splinter group of the Shiv Sena.
The Congress party “is reinventing itself and consolidating its hold on its original social groups. Now, the smaller parties and splinter groups are competing with the opposition parties,” said B. Venkatesh Kumar, professor of political science, Mumbai university.
A rally in support of MNS candidate Sudhakar Chavan in Maharashtra’s Thane on Thursday. PTI
Some analysts and even Congress leaders see the assembly polls playing out differently.
“The Congress could benefit out of the division in the Shiv Sena votes (in the Lok Sabha polls) because the MNS remained a local party, but the stakes are higher in assembly elections,” Congress general secretary B.K. Hariprasad said.
Bihar-based political analyst Saibal Gupta says such splinter groups could hurt any of the dominant parties. “Whenever splinter groups emerge, the most powerful parties get affected. It could be the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in some states and the Congress in some other places,” he said. “Interestingly, some of these small parties have been indirectly supported by the Congress in the initial stages.”
Children with Samajwadi Party flags in Bhiwandi, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
The Shiv Sena, for example, was backed by S.K. Patil, a former Congress leader from Maharashtra, primarily to break the dominance of trade unions in Mumbai’s industries in the 1960s, Gupta said.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the trend of small regional parties denting Congress’ larger rivals was evident in several states.
In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance won 26 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state as actor-politician Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) garnered 9% of the vote share, mainly by cutting into the opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK) support base.
A hoarding features Priya Shinde, an independent candidate from Aarvi assembly constituency in Maharashtra. Shinde is one of the numerous rebel candidates who are expected to act as spoilers for the Congress in the polls. Ashesh Shah / Mint
In Andhra Pradesh, it was the emergence of actor-politician Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) that helped the Congress consolidate the dominant Kamma community votes, especially in coastal constituencies where his party ate into the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s vote bank. The PRP won 17% of the total vote in its debut election in Andhra Pradesh.
N. Bhaskara Rao, psephologist and chairman of the Centre for Media Studies, says the impact of the smaller parties on the Congress would be limited in the long run.
“Most small or regional parties are restricted to pockets or reflect and cater to a particular caste or community,” he said. “The difference, however, is (that) the Congress can withstand all this since only its margin of victory gets affected, not the outcome. Its support base does not get worn out completely.”