India's Congress Party Out of Power After 10 Years
Image Credit: Sanjay Kumar for The Diplomat

India's Congress Party Out of Power After 10 Years


In the first ever defeat of the Congress Party in the 1970s, the opposition popularized the slogan “find a Congressman and get a hundred bucks.” On Friday, May 16, 2014, the day the results of the general elections came out, Congressmen were really quite difficult to spot in New Delhi, the nation’s capital. Had the opposition raised its old taunt on that day, it would have become an instant hit. The sprawling Congress office in the heart of New Delhi appeared deserted. Not long ago the road leading to 24 Akbar Road, the party  headquarters, used to buzz with people. But on Friday, the journalists covering the party were the only ones prominently visible. Some stray party workers roaming around were lost in shock and appeared clueless.

Contrary to the Congress, BJP workers and supporters colored every space in the city. Within two hours of the start of counting at 8 a.m., the roads leading to the party office were filled with people, firecrackers were being set off with abandon, and the drums were beating everywhere. Just in front of 11 Ashoka Road, the BJP headquarters, a huge screen had been erected to keep the crowd informed about the results. The media — both local and international — were filming and observing each and every activity on the streets of New Delhi.

For someone like me who covered both the 2004 and 2009 elections, it felt like a flashback. 2004 was my first election as a journalist and the sudden defeat of the BJP in the elections had sent shock waves across the party. Back then, even senior leaders were struggling to face the media and their questions. On the occasion of both elections, an eerie silence prevailed in the party office. The BJP workers would not venture out of the office. They would avoid interacting with media.

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Now, things have come full circle.

On Friday, the Hindu nationalist right-wing party took revenge for its two consecutive electoral humiliations by winning a massive majority in parliament. The symbolism was quite striking. In old times, kings in India would announce their victory over an opponent by beating huge drums outside the palace. The intensity of drum beats increased with the size of the feat.

Similarly, giant drums were dotting the entrance to the party office on Friday and with every additional seat awarded to the BJP, the drums got more intense.

“It’s been a long time since we have celebrated like this. To defeat the Congress was not an easy task but we did it and we did it so easily that it calls for a special celebration,” said Rajan, a party worker.

The BJP’s victory in India’s 16th general elections is more than convincing. It is historic and in many ways heralds a new era for India.

This is the first time since 1984 that a single political party has acquired an absolute majority on its own. The BJP alone has established a lead with 285 seats in a house of 545. If one counts the combined votes of the BJP and its alliance partners, then the seat count reaches 334, a whopping majority.

Since independence, only the Congress party had the distinction of having secured an absolute majority on its own strength. This year, its record was broken.

What is most shocking is the the decimation of the Congress party, India’s grand old party with a history spanning over 125 years. The party tallied a few seats shy of 50, a sharp decline from its previous tally of 209. For a party to officially be declared the Opposition, it needs to secure 10 percent of all seats and the Congress might struggle to do so.

Despite their loss, Congressmen cannot afford to hide. They need to be more alert to the new reality that has dawned on India.

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