From MP, lessons for the two national parties
The Congress needs to review why it lost power. The BJP needs to perform now
Kamal Nath’s decision to resign as Madhya Pradesh chief minister, before facing the trust vote in the assembly, draws the curtains on the 15-month rule of the Congress in the state. Once it became clear that the party had lost the support of close to two dozen members of the Legislative Assembly, following the decision of senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to shift to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr Nath appears to have calculated that resigning, and projecting himself as a martyr, may be politically more prudent.
There are two clear messages from the entire episode. The first is that the Congress is not just facing a crisis of credibility with the electorate — with its failure to win polls, particularly at the national level. It is also facing an internal crisis — where the central leadership is weak, state-level factionalism is rampant, and incentives for legislators to stay on in the party is limited. As political scientist Gilles Verniers has pointed out, the Congress has been successively losing states despite having the highest number of legislators in an assembly. In Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya, it was unable to form the government; in Karnataka, its legislators defected, paving the way for a BJP government last year. And now, the loss of MP represents a big setback in the heartland. The party must do a serious review of its defects.
The second message concerns the BJP. In MP, it had lost by a narrow margin and was waiting for an opportunity to return. But in this term, the BJP will have a tougher time — both in terms of political management and governance. It has to accommodate Congress defectors; this will, in turn, cause resentment among old-timers. It will also have to immediately handle the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. The episode reveals its hunger for power, but also throws up questions about the political legitimacy of forming a government in this manner. To offset this, the BJP has to attain legitimacy through its performance.