There is a feeling in sections of the party that it cannot remain a junior partner forever, when even BJP is pushing for expansion in Tamil Nadu
By winning 18 out of the 25 seats it had contested in the Assembly election, a 72% conversion rate, the Congress has ended up as the party with the best strike rate. The strike rate of its senior partner DMK was 70.75%.
The Congress can feel encouraged from this victory as it was blamed for a poor strike rate in the past elections, but the road ahead is long. There is a feeling in sections of the party that it cannot remain a junior partner forever, when even the BJP is aggressively pushing for expansion in Tamil Nadu.
In 2006, when the Congress won 34 out of 48 seats, it failed to capitalise on its performance to help grow the organisation. For all the talk of ‘bringing back Kamaraj rule’ in Tamil Nadu, the factionalism and infighting has dented its prospects over the years.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.S. Alagiri has managed to quell factionalism to an extent. Even when a few leaders protested against the nomination of some candidates, they were quickly asked to fall in line by Mr. Alagiri and senior leaders, including AICC in-charge of Tamil Nadu Dinesh Gundu Rao, who realised the enormity of the task at hand.
The agreements with the DMK for the past elections and its own performance deficit have meant that the Congress is unable to seek a share in power in the State. Even in 2006, when it won 34 seats and the DMK 96 seats, the Congress sat out of the government. The late AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa used to taunt it as a “minority DMK government”.
The 2021 Assembly election results present an opportunity to the national party, which is fighting for relevance in many States, to strengthen its base, build its cadre and identify young and talented workers to enable it to have either a stronger bargaining power or the ability to fight elections alone, notwithstanding its alliance with the DMK at the national level.
“The people of Tamil Nadu have a liking for the Congress, and among all the national parties, the Congress is the most liked here. We have to build our grassroots, identify good leaders. These results have helped us take forward the task of building our party at the ground level. But we have to fight the fascist force. That is our main priority,” Mr. Dinesh Gundu Rao told The Hindu.
Another senior leader said that while this victory was important for the Congress, it would not do anything to upset the alliance, pointing out that the party would have to work hard to grow its base in the State.
The fact remains that the Congress’s dream of bringing back the Kamaraj rule cannot come true till the party is in a position to contest in all 234 seats in the State on its own (it had contested in all 39 constituencies alone in the 2014 Lok Sabha election) or lead an alliance in Assembly elections, a prospect that seems distant at the moment.