May 19, 2014

Congress 44: Is it time for a reverse merger?

The Congress is down to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, a staggering loss of 162 seats since 2009. How has this happened? To understand it, one needs to see the event in context.

In its long and chequered history, the Congress has split several times. I am not referring to the historical Congress of the freedom movement but the more recent political party dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Every state leader who has broken away from the Congress in recent memory has had to go back, tail between legs.

The First Citizen of India, in an earlier incarnation, set up his own breakaway party in West Bengal, contested all 294 seats in the 1987 assembly election and won precisely nothing. The outgoing Finance Minister of India was member of a party that came out of the Congress in Tamil Nadu in 1996. Less than a decade later, the bravado was gone. He was trying to find his way back. Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra set up his party in 1999, but was allying with the Congress in five years. Today, his party, the NCP, is an also-ran, a small appendage of a shrinking Congress.

The one and only leader, since Independence, who has moved away from the Congress and succeeded is Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamool Congress won 34 seats in West Bengal, only 10 seats lower than the Congress’ all-India figure. The party which was started on January 1, 1998, won 19 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, and a thumping majority in the West Bengal Assembly in 2011. Both these famous victories were won when the Trinamool was in alliance with the Congress. What makes the 2014 win even more satisfying is that the party won 34 seats and 40% of the vote share, all on its own.

In the old days, the Congress inevitably subsumed breakaway groups and dissident parties as these groups and parties lost vitality. Today, the Congress itself is on the ropes. Is it time for a reverse merger? The Congress is a party in search of strong leaders. It has driven out its strong leaders. Congress workers know where to find them.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress

May 14, 2014

Exit polls: The Blooper of Blooper Awards

Exit polls are good entertainment and are needed to keep political obsessives and television anchors busy in the days between voting and counting. I’ve participated in a few exit poll debates over the past two days, and been both amused and provoked. I’m looking forward to the NDTV exit poll this evening, brought to us by the original polling guru, Prannoy Roy.

Some exit polls are honest efforts, conducted by serious companies. Others are quack polls, done by amateurs. They come up with astounding results. I have a collection of what were to my mind the four biggest bloopers of the exit polls so far:

  • The Blooper of Blooper Award must go to Times Now-ORG India for giving the Congress 14 seats in Rajasthan and the BJP only 10. How is this possible six months after the BJP won a massive, massive mandate in the Rajasthan assembly election? (By the way, can someone enlighten me on the ORG controversy? Are they saying they are not the original ORG?)
  • ABP-Nielsen gives the CPI(M)-led Left Front 36 per cent of the popular vote in West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress three per cent less, 33%. Again, this defies even CPI(M) expectations. (Is it just a coincidence that ABP Ananda have been Trinamool Congress bashing for the last two months?)
  • Times Now-ORG India (again) gives Laloo Yadav’s RJD zero seats in Bihar and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) 10 seats. A journalist I know and respect, who travelled the length and breadth of Bihar during the election, had only one word to offer: “Ludicrous.”
  • The Today’s Chanakya poll gives the BJP six-eight seats in West Bengal. In 2009, in alliance with GJM, the party won just one, Darjeeling. While I admit the BJP’s vote share in West Bengal will go up appreciably from the current 6%, I don’t see it coming anywhere close to six or eight seats, as this poll has predicted.

As such, while I recognise exit polls are needed to fill the space between ads from May 12 to 16, I’m taking them with a pinch of salt.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress