The cost of 28 seats – analysis of the Congress performance in UP

by Ritwik on March 7, 2012

As per the results announced by the Election Commission of India on its website, the Congress party has finished fourth with a tally of just 28 seats in the 403 member Uttar Pradesh assembly.  This does not represent a significant improvement over the 22 seats the party bagged in 2007. Also to be noted is the fact that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won 22 parliamentary seats, and was leading in 95 assembly segments.

Differentiated Voting

As has been proved time and time again, the voter thinks differently about state and national elections. Take the case of  Gujarat, where Narendra Modi holds a vice like grip in the assembly yet the Congress manages to win between 10-14 Lok Sabha seats out of the 26 in the state.

Before we turn to the main topic of this post, let us pause to reflect on how the media, and many “pundits”, in their quest for a snazzy news byte, don’t seem to take this differentiated voting pattern into account when it comes to state and national level elections. Hence, headlines about “is the Gandhi family on the wane?” or “is UP politics now like Tamil Nadu where regional parties will dominate” etc. Of course, admitting that the voter thinks differently about national and state elections would lead them to tacitly admitting the following:

a) the voter is not entirely swayed by caste, community or emotional considerations. These play a part, as do a myriad other factors

b) the voter has a sense of her area, her state and her country and each of these play into her voting choices.

Perhaps many in our media and amongst our intelligentsia are not willing to admit the above.

The cost of 28 seats

Anyway, now that the Congress has managed just 28 seats, in spite of a pre-poll alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which was expected to help both parties in western UP (it didn’t – Ajit Singh got one seat less than 2007), and in spite of the tireless campaigning by Rahul Gandhi, let us look at the cost that these 28 seats have extracted from the Congress and its UPA government:

1) Censorship of films

Congress MP, chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and former Mayawati-aide PL Punia led the chorus in demanding a ban on Prakash Jha’s film “Aarakshan” (starring Amitabh Bacchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpai and others). This was before anybody had seen the film, which is good as most of this (utterly unwatchable) film isn’t about reservation but about the hold of tuition centers over our education system.

Given the slippery slope nature of populist politics, as soon as Punia started campaigning against this film on TV, Mayawati who had been content to look at it with a benign gaze, was forced to swing into action and ban it forthwith. This was followed by a ban in a few other states.

Prakash Jha successfully appealed against this ban in the Supreme Court.

The Congress party and the UPA government lost image, especially amongst the influential middle classes, but the party “leadership” kept quiet (an art it has mastered) hoping that Punia will help the party gain dalit votes.

2) Censorship of writers

The Congress governments at the Centre and in Rajasthan jointly enacted a great farce to deny Salman Rushdie a chance to speak at the Jaipur Literature Festival, even through video conferencing. It should be noted that:

– Rushdie holds a person of Indian origin card, so he doesn’t need a visa to enter the country or travel to any part of India.

– He has visited the country many times in the past, even after the infamous fatwa.

–  He has already spoken at the Jaipur Literature Fest in 2007.

What is worse is that the district administration didn’t legally stop Rushdie from entering, but that the Rajashtan police said it could not guarantee his security and that of the event, were he to go and speak at the litfest. An official directive can be challenged in court, but what do you do when the government shirks its responsibility and looks the other way?

This gambit was expected to help the Congress garner muslim votes in UP.

3) Reservation for Muslim OBCs

The logic of this move continues to elude me. Many Muslim communities are already listed as OBC, and are thus eligible for benefits within the 27% earmarked for OBCs in government jobs and educational institutions. It is not as if there is intense competition for OBC seats, as most remain vacant due to the lack of suitable candidates.

In this scenario, what could possibly be gained by earmarking a quota within quota for Muslim OBCs, given they already are the beneficiaires of a quota that is not even filled?!

That didn’t stop the Congress party from making this its flagship promise in the UP elections, with not one but two senior party leaders and union ministers (Salman Khurshid and Beni Prasad Verma) running afoul of the election commission in their haste to announce ever-increasing quotas for Muslim OBCs.

For the record, Mr. Khurshid’s wife Lousie stood fifth in the Farrukhabad assembly constituency. The Congress lost all 5 assembly segments falling within Mr. Verma’s Gonda Parliamentary constituency.

4) Unseemly attacks on the Election Commission

See above. Congress ministers were heard mumbling about how the election commission is getting too big for its boots. How once the assembly polls are over, the power to pull up violators of the model code of conduct shall be taken away from the Election Commission and vested in our courts, which are known worldwide for the fair, speedy and inexpensive justice they dispense.

5) Threats of President’s Rule

Chatterbox Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh announced midway through the election process that in the case of a hung assembly, the Congress shall not consider a tie up with the Samajwadi Party but rather impose President’s rule.

The people got the message, and ensured that the SP gets a full majority. Dr. Manmohan Singh can continue devoting his attention to blaming American NGOs for nuclear protests and the like. The people of UP have ensured that his government, which is already embattled on all sides, would not have to worry about the additional responsibility of running UP by proxy.

But Digvijay Singh’s threat, voiced subsequently by other senior Congress leaders as well, added to the increasingly arrogant image that the party is regaining (after the relative lull of the 90s and 00s) (See: Kapil Sibal’s efforts to censor the internet, attempts to deny Anna Hazare the right to protest etc)

6) Batla House encounter flip-flop

The mass of theories and counter theories regarding the Batla House encounter in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar is enough to give anybody a headache. A dwelling occupied by a few Muslim youths was attacked by a team of the Delhi police led by the late Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who ostensibly lost his life in the encounter. Sharma was subsequently awarded the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award. Note that this award is given by the Home Ministry, which was under Shivraj Patil at the time, who is a known loyalist of the Gandhi family. In addition, Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit herself attended Sharma’s memorial service.

Over the years, there has been intense speculation about the genuineness of the encounter. The Supreme Court has dismissed a petititon filed to review the conclusions of the police. The home ministry, controlled by the Congress, has repeatedly refused to relook the matter.

This has not stopped Digvijay Singh from questioning the genuineness of the encounter on multiple fora. He has contradicted the line of his own government, doubtless hoping for a few muslim votes.

Salman Khurshid, union law minister, went a step further, saying at an election meeting recently that Sonia Gandhi “burst into tears” when he told her about the encounter. If this is indeed the case, then the voter can be forgiven for asking, why did she not tell her home ministry to reopen the case?

How could the Congress party believe that this charade will help them gain even one vote, rather than losing many, is beyond my comprehension.


Rahul Gandhi, and his expensive foreign trained image consultants, tried to project Congress as a party of change, of hope, of decisive action in UP. I leave it to the wisdom of the reader to decide whether any of the above is consistent with the image that was sought to be projected. It appears to me that the actions of the party in the last couple of years have rather been populist, oppurtunistic and given to the worst kind of sectarian and votebank politics.

The voter, alas, is neither a fool nor a statistic on an Excel spreadsheet.



The reason for Congress doing well in 2009 MP elections & scoring 21 seats was that Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav had tied up with Mr. Kalyan Singh (former BJP CM of UP under whose administration Babri Masjid was demolished) in order to fetch some non Yadav OBC votes.

This antagonized the Muslims of UP who switched over to the Congress. Subsequently, Mr. Mulayam made amends & kicked out Mr. Kalyan Singh & his son. Thus this time, the Muslims of UP swiched back to SP.

Also the BJP did a good job of warning the SC/ST/OBC’s that if Congress comes to Power, then Muslims will get 18% reservation at their cost (since the total reservation cannot be more than 50%)

by Keshav Garg on March 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm. #

Yes Keshav you are right. Congress undoubtedly made tactical errors when it came to realpolitik. Apart from the above, the idea of using Beni Prasad Verma to garner non-Yadav OBC vote was in contradiction to offering Muslim reservation out of the OBC pie.

My point in above post was that the Congress tried (successfully and unsuccessfully) all kinds of gimmicks and gambits, but the final paltry tally of 28 seats doesn’t make up for the image that the party has lost through the use of such gimmicks.

by Ritwik on March 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm. #

I think that the BJP should run a national campaign to highlight the fact that Mr. Rahul Gandhi has got no relation whatsoever with Mr. Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Its just a coincidence that his surname is Gandhi.

Our illiterate public thinks that, “Oh, Gandhiji was such a great man. He did so much for the country so lets vote for Rahul Gandhi”

by Keshav Garg on March 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm. #

This is a very correct analysis of UP poll results. Congress tried its best to improve in the State. your “cost” analysis is also put few important facts and misdeeds of party for the elections. Keep it up. congrats for such a mature political understanding.

by Anand Pandey on March 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm. #

In my view, the overall picture that the two recent rounds of State elections had given is that of people’s intolerance towards corruption. Even in Tamil Nadu, people were quite happy with the DMK’s administration. But it was the image of the party as a corrupt one that undid the effects of all the good schemes they brought in.

Congress’ image as a corrupt party too has now taken deep roots, to the extent that they weren’t able to take advantage of the anti-incumbency in Punjab. And the utter disregard that they show to people’s sentiments, whether it be the Lokpal and Land acquisition bills at the Centre ,or the Koodankulam nuclear power plant and SL Tamils issue here, is disconnecting them from the voters and positioning them as the party of the elite.

Adding to this is the lack of local leadership. Not only do Congressmen divide the people, they are divided among themselves. The joke is that the Congress in TN has more factions than the number of voters in the State.

But I am not too sure, with my limited experience of covering just one Assembly election, about the extent to which middle class voters would be swayed by issues such as banning a movie, whatever be the background of such a move (in this case the issue of reservations). In fact, I am pretty sure not many would even count it as a factor when they vote.

And about the Muslim quota in OBC reservations, I think the rationale is to ensure that the Hindu OBCs do not dominate this bracket of reservation, which has been the case so far. Given the fact that the judiciary is against religion-based affirmative action, it is quite difficult to provide the benefits of reservations to this community, which is faring as bad as the dalits in socio-economic parameters.

I am not too sure about other parts of the country but the number of Muslims who get seats under the OBC (it is MBC here) quota is quite low in TN. I assume it must be worse in the case of UP, where Muslims struggle to get through even high school.

Given this background, it would be a good move to carve an exclusive category for Muslims within the OBCs quota but after excluding the creamy layer.

But of course, this is no defense of the Congress in this issue, for their intention is to politicise and gain maximum momentum.

However, if you are fundamentally against community-based reservations, this might not seem very intelligent. :P

by Sruthisagar Yamunan on March 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm. #

@Anandji – Thank you!

@Sagar – the corruption and general directionless of the central government has certainly cost the Congress in the states.

My point regarding censorship wasn’t that it leads to loss of votes, but that it leads to loss of face. The party image suffers. One could say that politics is about dealing with loss of face to an extent as long as there is political gain. Therein lies the reason for me calling the above post “the cost of 28 seats” – the costs the Congress has incurred to its image in its populist haste has not yielded the desired results on the ground.

As regards OBC quota, the situation is very different in the north. Do not forget that apart from Brahmins, most communities in the south are either scheduled or classed as backward – that is why TN can have 69% quota. However, in the north many seats reserved for OBCs go vacant year after year – so it is not as if eligible Muslim OBCs are getting crowded out by Hindu OBCs. That is why the Congress promise was nothing but an eyewash and the people have rejected it as such.

The party is bereft of ideas – I can’t believe that they are actually taking “credit” for the farcical Lokpal bill they’ve presented – they’ve fallen into the quagmire of believing that people are stupid.

Which brings me to:

@Keshav – I disagree that the average voter is unaware of the lack of family connection between Mahatma Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Even if we assume that somebody believes that the two are related, it is an insult to the voters’ intelligence to imagine that in 2012 they are voting for the deeds of a great man who died in 1948.

by Ritwik on March 7, 2012 at 8:29 pm. #

Very well articulated, Ritwik. Congress was taking every step in the election field with over-confidence. Their election mantra of appeasing minority vote-bank didn’t work. Instead, SP capitalised on it very well. The Batla House flip-flop was the final nail in the coffin, along with Rushdie row.

It would be interesting to see if SP at all would be willing to take a brave decision of giving the CM seat to young Akilesh and not as expected to Netaji. These elections may have an impact of the General Elections if mid-term polls are announced, which seems quite unlikely.

by Aditya Raj Kaul on March 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm. #

Very nice. I love the last line – The voter, alas, is neither a fool nor a statistic on an Excel spreadsheet.

Time and again, voters have shown that they will not stand for anything that compromises democracy and they finally are very pragmatic ‘Indians’ who don’t care for tall promises, identity politics and all of that beyond a point. They want good governance to be able to carry on their life with minimal discomfort.

Very disappointing that the Congress doesn’t learn this.

by Neelakshi on March 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm. #

wow! very very nice compilation! i would have loved to know of the amount the grand old party has to pay to the mediadom to keep alive the hype surrounding the gandhi scions.. like most other factors that too can be dismissed, particularly in uttar pradesh, but then as u mention, it debunks other parties and the nation unnecessarily keeps on debating congress when the political discourses are way too huge n way to beyond the mummy-pap party! congress has become arrogant and thrives on lipstick and flattery! there are lessons to learn but i am sure nothing would be forthcoming! a party that believes in the alleged wit n wisdom of someone like sonia or rahul can’t look beyond the horizon.. good one!

by vivek on March 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm. #

@Aditya – The question of giving the CMship to Akhilesh is quite tricky. Although it is clear that most MLAs and the public want him to take charge, the party has to decide whether it is wise to throw him into the deep end straightaway given how nightmarish the task of ruling UP is.

@Neelakshi – it is difficult to reconcile to voters being calculative – it is much easier for both politicians and analysts to hope that voters could be swayed by the means of some formula or the other all of the time.

by Ritwik on March 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm. #

Could you elaborate on the reasons why people vote differently based on whether its a state election or nationwide election ?

by Pritish on March 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm. #

@Pritish – the fact that they do is empirically determined. The reasons for this are many and differ from state to state. In fact that could be the topic for an entire post.

by Ritwik on March 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm. #

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