Lok Sabha elections: Congress contests fewer seats than ever, hopes less is more | India News

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Reprising the old classic ‘bees saal baad’, Congress is gearing up to contest its lowest tally of seats ever in Lok Sabha elections. Announcing the fight plan on Monday, the grand old party drew parallels with 2004, when it had cut down on poll contests in favour of allies and gone on to remove the BJP-led NDA from office. It’s hoping that the story will repeat itself after 20 years.
Congress is likely to fight around 330 seats in 2024 elections.That’s a considerable drop from 2004, when it had contested 417 seats, its lowest count till then. AICC spokesman Jairam Ramesh said its fight card had got squeezed this time to accommodate INDIA bloc partners in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The party is not contesting as many seats in these states as it used to in the past due to the alliance with NCP-Shiv Sena, Left and Samajwadi Party.
“Mark my words, the situation in 2004 was the same as in 2024. We have deliberately opted for fewer seats in these three states because we wanted to form a strong and effective alliance. Congress and the INDIA bloc will get a clear verdict in these elections. We will not need any new parties and the flip-floppers of NDA will not have to do a volte-face again,” Ramesh said. He added that that would also lay the ground for all the regional parties of the North-East to ditch BJP and back Congress.

Congress claims apart, the sharp fall in the number of seats the party is contesting is a direct result of its political marginalisation post-2014 and the rise of BJP under Narendra Modi. Over the last 10 years, Congress has seen its winnability nose dive in states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, which together account for over 40% of total Lok Sabha seats.
The slide in fortunes has forced Congress to opt for allies for meagre returns. The ceding of important party fiefs in Maharashtra and the failure to corner seats of its choice in Bihar are indicators of its weak- er bargaining muscle. This period has also been marked by the emergence of new regional parties and the strengthening of older local outfits, which have further shrunk its choices as it takes on BJP. For instance, Congress is fighting 23 seats in Andhra Pradesh, leaving one each for CPM and CPI.
But these numbers are notional since Congress has no chance in a state where TDP and the ruling YSRCP are the main players. Congress could not find any allies despite pressure from within to do so.

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Till even some months back, Congress was hopeful about the number of seats it would contest nationally. It had put off seat-sharing talks with INDIA bloc partners in the run-up to the Nov 2023 assembly polls in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana. Party strategists had hoped that its anticipated good show in the state polls — where it was pitted in a direct fight with BJP — would increase its bargaining power and allow it to bargain for a higher number of seats with allies.
However, that was not to be. The Congress debacle in northern states weakened its position with allies like RJD, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), SP, Left, etc., resulting in fewer seats for it to contest in Bihar, Maharashtra, UP and Bengal. The party’s also had to join hands with AAP in Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana.
Congress though believes that joining hands with allies — which it believes cannot align with BJP — has served to maximise its chances against the saffron brigade. “We have sacrificed very consciously. Because this is a very critical election, not just for the opposition but for the country,” a senior office-bearer said.

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