Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress seems to be mimicking the BJP, not just in its social media outreach but also in the constitution of its key decision-making bodies. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress seems to be mimicking the BJP, not just in its social media outreach but also in the constitution of its key decision-making bodies. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Is the Congress reshaping itself in BJP’s image?

Representation of Muslims in Congress's key decision-making bodiesCongress Working Committee (CWC) and the All India Congress Committee (AICC)is at a historic low as it seeks to shed the 'Muslim party' tag

New Delhi: The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the pole position of Indian politics seems to be reshaping the entire political landscape. The principal opposition party, the Congress seems to be mimicking the BJP, not just in its social media outreach but also in the constitution of its key decision-making bodies, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

A Mint analysis of the composition of these bodies shows that Muslim representation in the two apex Congress bodies has fallen to a historic low in 2018. In May 2014, Muslim representation in the 88-member AICC at 12% was only a little less than the share of Muslims in India’s population (14%). But that share has declined to 8% in 2018. The share of Muslims in the CWC has declined by 3 percentage points over the past four years to 7%.

In the BJP’s case, only 3% of its national executive (NE) is non-Hindu while in the more powerful parliamentary board, all members are Hindus. While the BJP has never shied away from its Hindu identity, the Congress seems to be keen to shed the ‘Muslim party’ tag that the BJP has often tried to attach to it. The former Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, hinted as much in an interview to India Today, when asked about the much-publicized temple visits of her son Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi argued that the BJP’s rhetoric had pushed them into a corner and that in order to dispel the narrative of being a ‘Muslim’ party; they have to make activities such as temple visits more prominent.

The analysis, based on 10 years of data on CWC, AICC, and the two top decision-making bodies of the BJP (NE and the parliamentary board) also shows that both the BJP and the Congress are increasingly turning male-centric, with the share of women declining in the apex decision-making bodies of both parties. The analysis has considered the composition of each body as on the month of May of each year till 2017. For 2018, the latest compositions available on the respective websites of the parties have been considered. While the NE and the CWC are the two most important bodies for the BJP and Congress, respectively, the 45-member CWC is much smaller compared with the 186-member NE. BJP has had only one woman in its 11-member parliamentary board, Sushma Swaraj in the past 10 years. But it had much greater representation of women in its NE historically. Ten years ago, one in four members of the 85-member NE was a woman. Today, women constitute less than 10% of its 186-strong NE although the BJP has an in-house rule mandating that a third of its NE must be women.

The representation of women in the Congress is not much better. Over the past few years, the share of women in the CWC and AICC has been in the range of 12-15%. A state-wise analysis shows that some of the largest Indian states— such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—have a lion’s share of the representation in both the BJP’s NE and the Congress’s CWC. Only elected legislators (or former legislators) have been considered here to calculate state-wise affiliations of party members. Non-legislators have been excluded from the state-wise analysis.

However, it is the BJP’s NE rather than the Congress’s CWC which has a more nationally representative composition. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Telangana, Sikkim and West Bengal do not have any representation in the current CWC.

While the difference between the two bodies of the two parties may partly be because of the difference in sizes (CWC, with 45 members, is a smaller body), it may also partly reflect the changing priorities and ambitions of the two parties. Even as the BJP has grown outside its traditional bastion of northwest India and seeks to further cement its gains outside its traditional bastions, the Congress seems to be focusing on a revival in the northwest part of the country. As the chart below illustrates, the composition of the BJP’s NE broadly matches the vote-share across regions. But in case of the Congress, the correlation is much weaker.

Haryana, Assam, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh appear to be over-represented in the Congress CWC, suggesting that the Congress might want to put up a strong fight in these states in 2019.

States such as Bihar and Jharkhand are under-represented in the CWC. It is likely that Congress strategists might be banking on allies to defeat the BJP in these states.

Perhaps, even in reframing its state-wise strategy, the Congress may be attempting to replicate the BJP’s electoral machine—which has historically managed to convert its vote-shares into seat-shares more effectively by focusing on fewer seats. The 2019 elections verdict will tell us the effectiveness of these changes within India’s grand old party.

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