The Congress party has a lot to prove in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, with its diminishing influence reflecting on the number of seats it contests and wins. Rahul Gandhi made multiple visits to the state, apparently to increase the bargaining capacity, but the party had to contend with 25 seats in the Assembly elections.
Congress is also contesting the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha by-elections, necessitated by the death of H Vasantha Kumar.
The party had allied with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2016 as well, contesting in 41 seats and winning only eight. The recent shifting of camps by Congress MLAs in other states also dented the hopes of the party in getting a better share of seats.
The party contested alone in the 2014 general elections and drew a blank, exposing the deteriorating influence.
Congress even received an invitation from actor Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) when the seat sharing talks with the DMK hit a roadblock. The party faced embarrassment over the invitation since DMK and Congress had remained together since 2015 and faced all the elections together.
The group wars and factional feuds in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) are no secret and those intensify during the elections, resulting in more damages at the crucial time. The group wars and lack of collective leadership has hampered the party, with its traditional vote bank taking a hit for the past several years.
After the massive defeat of the Congress government in 1967, the influence of the party has continued to diminish. The absence of a strong leadership and the increasing number of factions further dented the hopes of any survival.
The party has been shuffling between DMK and AIADMK in the elections, which has not helped the party either. The number of seats won in the Assembly elections reflects the reducing influence of the party.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during his campaign in Tamil Nadu days before the polls in 1991, resulting in a sweep for the AIADMK. The Congress also managed to win 60 of the 65 seats it contested. In the subsequent elections, baring 2006, the party suffered humiliating defeats. The split orchestrated by G K Moopanar in 1996 led to the rout for the party and decimating defeat for the AIADMK. The DMK - Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) won a massive mandate in the elections.
R Vijayasankar, Editor of Frontline, while speaking to Newsclick said, “The Congress has not allowed any leader to grow in stature. The party itself has an inbuilt opposition.”
The vote share is another concern for the Congress, with the party losing its strongholds to the Dravidian parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has benefited from the waning influence of the Congress.
Despite all the setbacks, the party has hardly learned any lessons from the past. “The split in the DMK resulting in the formation of the AIADMK has kept the Congress out of the picture as power has shifted from one Dravidian party to the other,” Vijayasankar said.
CANDIDATE SELECTION AND PROTESTS
The ‘Sathyamurthi Bhavan’, headquarters of the TNCC, witnessed protests and counter-protests during the interview for candidate selection for the Assembly elections. After managing to wrest 25 seats in the DMK alliance through hard bargaining, the fight for getting a seat came out in the open.
“Two factions of the party held hunger strikes in the party headquarters. The office is known for open protests and fights among the groups within the party. The absence of a charismatic leadership has been the undoing of the party”, said Vijayasankar.
Congress MPs, Jothimani and M K Vishnu Prasad came out in the open slamming the party leadership over selection of candidates. M K Vishnu Prasad accused that seats were being sold for money, The Hindu reported.
Karur MP, Jothimani wrote on her Facebook about the lack of transparency in the candidate selection process and expressed her inability to win seats for the deserving candidates.
The Congress leaders held a protest insisting that the sitting MLA from Vilavancode constituency should not be fielded again, given her absence in the constituency even during the pandemic. But the party has renominated her in spite of the strong opposition.
EXPECTING BETTER OUTCOME?
With a waning influence and increasing infighting, the party relies highly on the strength of the alliance parties to win a handy number of seats. The Congress is taking on the BJP in five Assembly constituencies and in the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha by-election.
The Congress is expecting to win in 20 seats, reported The Hindu, quoting the chairman of the All India Congress Committee’s Technology and Data Cell, Praveen Chakravarthy.
The party is also expecting a positive outcome from the by-election in Kanyakumari because the consolidation of votes there has always been in favour of the DMK-led alliance.