The results of the elections in the five states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram are out, and for those who believe that the current ruling dispensation is hurting the country beyond repair, the results have come as a rude shock. Without doubt, this is a huge setback for the Congress party, the INDIA Alliance, and for all those who are opposed to the right-wing brand of crude politics Modi and Co. espouse.
Let’s face it, Narendra Modi is still the king in India’s Hindi heartland. And Hindi heartland states send the most number of MPs to Loksabha, 210 MPs to be exact. If you add Maharashtra and Gujarat, two states where the BJP is in power, to this, the total number of MPs will be 284. Apart from this, northeastern states send 24 Members of Parliament to Delhi. In this region, too, BJP is better off than the rest. Though post-Manipur, situation has changed considerably, Assam and Tripura will most likely continue to support BJP. In short, in states that have 308 MPs out of the total 543, BJP and its allies are on a strong footing.
The question is, does this mean all hope is lost for the opposition? Momentum is definitely with the BJP, and they are miles ahead in the race to form a union government after the 2024 elections. But all is not lost for the opposition alliance; if they get their act together, they still have a chance, albeit a very thin one.
First of all, I don’t believe that these reverses in the Hindi heartland are a defeat of the INDIA Alliance but a defeat of the Congress Party alone. None of the INDIA Alliance partners other than the Congress party has a strong presence in these states. And those who had peripheral influence were kept at bay by the haughty state leaders of INC. Hence, the responsibility for this debacle lies squarely on the shoulders of Congress and no one else.
Yes, as the biggest party in the Alliance, the victory and defeat of Congress will have a huge bearing on the success of the Alliance. But allies cannot be asked to bear the brunt of Congress’s incompetence. The grand old party should get its act together immediately for the INDIA Alliance to have any chance in 2024.
First and foremost, INC will have to remove Indira-era leaders from key posts in the state hierarchy. They need to be heard and given respect, but they cannot be burdened with the responsibility of running the party. Young, energetic leaders will have to be identified and accommodated in key posts. Strong state-level leadership is indispensable; mass leaders will have to be given responsibilities instead of sycophants. The part played by the state leaders of Telangana and Karnataka in winning the elections in their respective states illustrates these points well. Contrast them with the leadership of MP and Rajasthan, and one will stop wondering why the party lost in these two states.
Sunil Kanugolu was the poll strategist for Congress in the successful campaigns of Karnataka and Telangana. But the veteran leaders of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh refused to listen to him, and the rest is history. In this day and age, elections cannot be won with the 1980’s strategy. New technologies, strategies, and expertise from strategists like Mr. Kanugolu are vital for winning elections. The role played by DK Shivakumar in both Karnataka and Telangana, especially in Karnataka, was very crucial. Congress doesn’t have many leaders like him who understand the art of elections. It will only help the grand old party immensely if he or someone like him is given a national role, at least until the general election is over.
In the battle between soft Hindutva and hard Hindutva, it will always be hard Hindutva that emerges as the winner. It’s suicidal to try and beat Modi and Amit Shah at their own game. It just won’t happen. Congress should stick to its centralist ideology and focus on real issues that actually matter to the people. Instead of addressing the privileged classes among the dominant community alone, the party should also focus on other subsections of society, like minorities, Dalits, and other obcs, without antagonising the former. How the Congress Party won Karnataka and why they lost Madhya Pradesh should be the guiding light of the party in the coming general election.
INC’s treatment of its allies was unfortunately appalling. The party should have done better. Being the biggest party in the alliance, the Congress party should act magnanimously towards the smaller partners. Unless INDIA Alliance fights as one entity with an all-India game plan to oust the BJP, they have no chance.
Coming back to these just-concluded elections in the Hindi heartland The vote shares of BJP and INC are:
Chattisgarh: BJP 46.27%, INC 42.23%
MP: BJP 48.55%, INC 40.40%
Rajasthan: BJP 41.69%, INC 39.53%
While these figures clearly underline the fact that the BJP is well ahead in this region, they also show that INC still has a strong base in this part of the country. It is not like the Congress Party has totally lost out to the BJP. This may not be the case in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but in those states, RJD-JD (U) combine and SP are strong enough to give BJP a run for their money in their respective states, especially in Bihar, where I believe the INDIA Alliance is much better placed.
Good news for the opposition alliance is that apart from the states mentioned in the beginning of this article—that’s the Hindi heartland states, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the north-eastern ones everywhere else- BJP and allies are on the backfoot. The entire south has been cleansed of BJP; in Odissa and Andhra Pradesh, Patnaik and Jaggan still hold sway, and Modi has a near-zero impact. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, BJP might not even open the account. Karnataka, too, doesn’t hold much hope for Modi and Co. In Bengal, Ms. Banerjee looks all set to defeat Modi. Punjab is most likely going to be a battle between the AAP and Congress. Even in Maharashtra, the combined forces of the NCP (Sharad Pawar), Shiva Sena (Uddhav), and Congress can dent BJP’s chances substantially.
The point being made here is that BJP’s chances in the states where they are not strong are much worse than the INDIA Alliance’s chances in the Hindi heartland. The BJP will get most seats in this region; there’s no doubt about that. But if they play strategically, the opposition can bring down BJP’s seats in the Hindi heartland. The goal should be to minimise the loss by focusing on areas, communities, and issues that will bring maximum benefit in the form of seats. If we bring down the seats in the Hindi heartland, then there’s no place from where they can compensate for their loss. In other words, the India Alliance should minimise the loss in the Hindi heartland and maximise the gain in the rest of the country.
To maximise gains in states where the BJP is weak, the opposition will have to work smart and hard. The aim should be to reduce BJP’s tally in these states to the minimum. Whatever electoral arithmetic is required for this should be adopted, and whoever needs to be brought in should be brought in. It may not be possible to bring Jaggan and Patnaik into the INDIA fold, but if the opposition parties can manage to get these two to support their alliance from outside, it will be more than enough. Yes, it’s not easy, but everyone knows that if BJP comes back to power, India, as we have known, will cease to exist. Moreover, it will only be a matter of time before BJP devours both the parties.
To put it briefly, the strategy of opposition parties should be to minimise losses in the Hindi heartland and maximise gains in the rest of the country. All is not lost as far as the anti-BJP alliance is concerned; if they play their cards well, they may still be able to stop Modi from coming back to power in 2024.
Shakeel Mohammed is a social activist based in Kochi. He is a Trustee of Manav Migrant Welfare Foundation.