One of the principle criticisms of the Congress approach in the run-up to the 2019 elections was that the party had failed to truly unite the Opposition to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was not part of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-led alliance in Uttar Pradesh, it failed to settle terms with the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in Maharashtra, and it dallied well into the elections over the question of whether to tie-up with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
Just a year ago, after the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) came together to form the government in Karnataka, there was the hope that parties opposed to the BJP would unite around the country and put one anti-BJP candidate in every seat.
In some cases this did happen, with mixed results. The Congress tied up with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to win 37 of Tamil Nadu’s 38 seats. But a Congress-Rashtriya Janta Dal combine in Bihar only managed to get one of the 40 seats in Bihar.
The scale of the BJP’s massive victory, in fact, suggests that even when parties came together it didn’t really matter. The party got more than 50% of the vote share in 13 states and union territories, meaning no electoral arithmetic could have stopped them.
The data bears this out too.
Scroll.in looked at seats in the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Assam to see, based on the results, whether the Congress partnering with other Opposition parties would have made a difference. These were the only places where an alliance was seriously on the cards, leaving out West Bengal where a Trinamool Congress-Congress tie-up was very unlikely to happen pre-polls.
We took a simple approach: Just added the votes won by the Congress candidate and its potential ally to see if they build to more than the votes won by the BJP candidate. This is inexact, but indicative. In actuality votes don’t transfer seamlessly, so one would expect the final numbers to be smaller. But the existence of a significant number of votes for the Congress and other anti-BJP parties suggests that there was a potential voter base to appeal to.
Of course, one could argue that a more cohesive pan-India anti-BJP alliance might have given the BJP a stiffer fight and drawn in more votes than the combined numbers for these candidates, but considering the level of support for Modi and the reasons why that did not happen anyway, it seems unlikely.
Between them, these 5 states have 159 seats. Of these, the Congress and its allies won 10. Its potential allies won 17. The BJP and its allies won 132.
If the Congress had tied up with other anti-BJP fronts in each of the states, they would have won another 18 seats. But that means the final tally would still have been BJP 104 (out of 159), and anti-BJP parties 45.
In other words, it is clear that simply putting parties together would not have fixed anything. It was not arithmetic that did the Congress in. It was politics.
The anti-BJP alliance could have won one more seat in Assam – Karimganj – if the Congress had signed up with the All India United Democratic Front.
In the Karimganj constituency of Assam’s Barak Valley, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kripalnath Mallah won with a vote share of 44.62%, just 3.62% higher than the All India United Democratic Front’s Radheshyam Biswas, the incumbent. The Congress’s Swarup Das got just 11.36% of the vote. The seat is reserved for scheduled caste candidates, though Muslims form the majority here. Going by the figures of the 2011 Census, Muslims account for about 58% of the population in the districts of Hailakandi and Karimganj, which constitute the Karimganj Lok Sabha seat. Hindus are about 40% of the population.
This Bengali-dominated border constituency has seen low-key communal conflagrations over the last few years, which has polarised votes between Hindus and Muslims. It is also home to a large number of Bengali Hindus who have fled neighbouring Bangladesh over the decades and now worry about proving citizenship for the National Register of Citizens, currently being updated in Assam. For them, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which would ease citizenship criteria for non-Muslim undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, would come as welcome relief. Though the bill lapsed, the BJP promised to bring it back should it return to power.
These factors are said to have pushed Bengali Hindus towards the BJP. Another large vote bank consists of tea garden voters, mostly adivasi, who also favoured the BJP. That left the Congress and All India United Democratic Front to fight for the Muslim vote. In the run up to the elections, the Congress, which wanted to pull both Hindu and Muslim votes across Assam, resisted an alliance with the All India United Democratic Front, seen as a “minority face”.
While most of the Muslim vote was consolidated around the All India United Democratic Front, it was still split by the Congress, helping the BJP to power.
The anti-BJP alliance would not have won any seats even if the Congress had tied up with the Aam Aadmi Party.
Discussions about whether the Congress and AAP would come together carried on nearly until May, mid-way through the elections, with leaders of both parties even taking to Twitter to make statements. Yet ultimately, they failed to come together and as a result, the anti-BJP vote was split.
Even if they had though, it would have made little difference, unless you believe that a combined front might have presented a tougher challenge to the BJP. The BJP candidates got vote shares of more than 50% in every one of the capital’s seven seats, suggesting that at least on arithmetic alone, there was no combination that could have defeated them.
The Congress could have won one more seat in Haryana – Rohtak – if it had tied up with the Jannayak Janta Party, or the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Assuming that Congress got Rohtak and Sonipat in a seat-sharing scenario, Congress +BSP or Congress+Jannayak Janta Party would’ve been enough to win Rohtak, where Deepender Singh Hooda was contesting. There, the gap was 7,503 votes and the Jannayak Janta Party candidate, Pradeep Kumar Deswal, won over 21,211. BSP won 38,364.
No alliance would have helped the Congress in Sonipat, where Bhupinder Singh Hooda was running. The BJP got 52.03% of the vote. Hooda got 37.43%. The only possible allies were Jannayak Janta Party and Indian National Lok Dal. The second was unlikely anyway. The Jannayak Janta Party got 4.53% and the Lok Dal, 0.81%. Taken together, that’s 42.77%. The Loktantra Suraksha Party won 3.1% but it is a breakaway faction of the BJP and led by Sainis, the community the Jats attacked during the 2016 Jat agitation. They would never have allied with Hooda and Congress. To win Sonipat, the Congress would have had to ally with every party that contested and even a few independents to win a greater voteshare than the BJP.
The old, undivided Indian National Lok Dal might have made a stronger ally but after its split, neither faction had much chance. Also, Rohtak and Sonipat faced maximum violence during the Jat agitation and the BJP has successfully convinced the non-Jat voters that the Hooda family was responsible.
The anti-BJP alliance would have won 7 more seats – Buldhana, Hatkanangle, Parbhani, Solapur, Nanded, Sangli and Gadchiroli-Chimur – if it had signed up with the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, led by Prakash Ambedkar.
The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi was formed as platform for marginalised communities in Maharashtra, coupled with the support from the All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen, run by Asaduddin Owaisi. The front, a successor of Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, had talks with the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in March over a potential partnership.
This eventually fell through over various concerns from either side. Reports suggested the Congress was unwilling to tie-up with the AIMIM, while others have said that the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi asked for as many as 22 seats out of 48 in the state. Prakash Ambedkar said he rejected the possibility of an alliance because of the Congress refusal to release a plan to tackle the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
After alliance talks fell through, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party accused the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi of being the BJP’s “B-team”, while Ambedkar criticised the Congress for its “soft Hindutva” plank. In the event, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi ended up being a very strong political force, with a 14% vote share across the state and a significant number of votes in many seats. It won one seat, and saw its candidates get a vote share larger than the margin of victory in nine Lok Sabha seats, meaning it will be a major force to reckon with in the assembly elections that are around the corner.
Of those 9, seven were won by the BJP and the Shiv Sena, suggesting that if Ambedkar’s party had indeed tied up with the Congress-NCP alliance, their overall numbers for the state would have gone up to 12, from the 5 that it won. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine would have won 34 seats, compared to the 41 it has now.
The anti-BJP alliance would have won 9 more seats – Dhaurahra, Meerut, Badaun, Barabanki, Banda, Sultanpur, Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar and Chandauli – if the Congress (and its ally Jan Adhikar Party) had tied up with the Gathbandhan.
Whether the Congress would tie-up with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal gathbandhan (alliance), was one of the main storylines of the election early on. A coalition seemed obvious and natural. The Congress had been the Samajwadi Party’s ally in 2016 state elections, and they would broadly be competing for the same set of voters, with some differences based on caste.
Yet it did not happen. The reasons for these were many. There was antagonism between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, especially after the latter refused to cede any space in return in other states like Madhya Pradesh. The Congress meanwhile, sent the message that though it did not expect to be a major player, it was playing a long-term game, hoping to build its base for the 2022 state elections.
Through the elections, there was the suggestion that Congress had an arrangement with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, particularly in the Samajwadi Party seats. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi even said as much, a few phases into the campaign, saying that the party had picked candidates to cut the BJP votes, presumably in response to criticism that it would divide the anti-BJP vote.
Numbers suggest that it did indeed hurt the alliance in nine seats, five of which were BSP ones. In some of these, the combined vote shares of the two parties would have put them well above the halfway mark, an indication that the lack of alliance did split votes.
Yet even if this ‘Mahagathbandhan’, grand alliance had come together, it would only have had a total of of 24 seats, out of the 80 in the state. The BJP and its allies would have seen their tally come down from 64 to 56, still a huge victory.
Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to update the final tally for the DMK-led alliance.