Less than a year is left for the Lok Sabha elections and the Opposition parties have started working out efforts to defeat the BJP juggernaut led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After few hiccups and initial cancellations, the meeting of the Opposition is scheduled on June 23 at Patna where the top leaders of the parties are to attend. So far, the likely attendees at the meeting called by Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar include Congress party’s face Rahul Gandhi and its President Mallikarjun Kharge, TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, DMK President and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, AAP Convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Jharkhand Chief Minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav, Shiv Sena (UBT) President Uddhav Thackeray, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and his CPI counterpart D Raja.
After the defeat of the BJP in the Karnataka Assembly elections last month, despite a strong campaign led by Modi himself, the Opposition parties have realised that the battle for 2024 isn’t over and the saffron party is not invincible. Obviously, the Opposition isn’t wrong to think so, but it shouldn’t forget that the first priority for them is to unite completely without ifs and buts. Is this possible?
If the Opposition has to defeat the BJP, there has to be a propercoordination among them and importantly the contest has to be reduced into one-on-one fight vs. BJP. This strategy has already been put forward by some Opposition leaders such as Mamata and Nitish. Accordingly, the dominant party in the respective State would fight against the BJP to reduce the fight into a bipolar contest in order to lessen any chances of division of anti-BJP votes. This strategy, if implemented, is likely to put the saffron party in a difficult position in many States.
As seen recently in the Karnataka polls, the collapse of the former prime minister HD Devegowda’s JD(S) dashed the then incumbent BJP’s hopes of division of anti-BJP votes and as a result, Congress won in the southern State with a comfortable majority. Importantly, BJP’s vote share almost remained the same as it got in the 2018 elections, but it was the shift of the votes of the JD(S) that made the big difference. This was completely in contrast to what happened in Tripura Assembly polls early this year where the royal scion Pradyot Debbarma’s TIPRA Motha cut into anti-BJP votes harming the prospects of the Left-Congress alliance and ultimately helping the BJP to return to power for the second time in the north-eastern State.
But the main problem is that some parties are unlikely to follow this model properly. Take the case of Congress. If this one-on-one strategy vs. BJP is implemented, the grand old party has to let go many seats. It has todo so in states like Uttar Pradesh, barring seats like Amethi and Rai Bareilly. Will it be possible for the party? Will the state Congress leaders accept this? Let’s not forget that even the grand old party itself still believes that it continues to be the only national party other than the BJP and it should be leading the fight. Moreso, after Karnataka’s big win. Both party headquarters and more particularly state Congress leaders are now having high hopes and are in a mood to go for a hard bargain with the other Opposition parties.
However, parties like the TMC and AAP are averse to any Congress dominance. This appears to be the case as both Mamata and Kejriwal give the clear impression of eyeing the Prime Ministerial post. Although TMC’s attempts to grow its base outside Bengal have failed and it suffered a setback after the Election Commission recently withdrew its national party status, the AAP in contrast has national dreams as it got a boost having acquired that status.
The AAP has been targeting the Congress voters in the Hindi belt and it’s the main rival in Punjab, where it came to power defeating the grand old party last year. On the other hand, Congress is in partnership with TMC’s arch-rival CPM in Bengal — and the state President Adhir Choudhury, who is also the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, is a harshest critic of Mamata. The Left after being reduced to zero in the 2021 State Assembly elections has been gaining strength and has been strategically targeting both TMC and BJP. So, the model of one-on-one strategy vs. BJP is unlikely to be implemented in Bengal too. Similarly in Kerala, where CPM and Congress are traditional rivals, there is zero possibility of implementation of this strategy against the BJP. Same goes for Telangana where the Congress will challenge the ruling BRS of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
Therefore, it is unlikely to be a full-fledged anti-BJP alliance in some States. This will only strengthen the perception that the Opposition is divided but united to only defeat the BJP without any alternative vision. Such an image is unlikely to sway the voters in favour of the Opposition. It also knows this reality as it’s impossible for them to unite in some States — and that’s the reason it is opting for a Common Minimum Programme.
According to reports, veteran Opposition leader and NCP chief Sharad Pawar is likely to prepare its draft — a very good strategy by the Opposition so that there exists a platform to address the concerns and differences of the parties amiably. Although one-on-one fight vs. BJP is unavoidable in some states, a better coordination, as much as possible, among the Opposition parties is likely to reduce the existing friction among some Opposition parties at the state level. Even this remains a big dream for the conflicting Opposition parties to achieve.
Even if better coordination happens among the Opposition, this won’t be enough to defeat the BJP. Elections are not just about arithmetic’s. It is also about chemistry. But it seems that the Opposition is mostly working on arithmetic’s forgetting the fact that in the last Lok Sabha elections, BJP along with its small allies secured more than 50% votes in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana and Delhi — and all these States together have 241 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Alliances or seat adjustments is likely to only reduce the division of anti-BJP votes but until and unless the Opposition is able to dent the BJP’s base, which remains strong in the Hindi belt, it won’t be able to defeat the saffron party. And for that to happen, it should have an alternate vision to draw voters towards it. Only airing anti-BJP or anti-Modi views and focussing on arithmetic’s isn’t going to help the Opposition much because the voters look for a government, which is efficient on delivery and importantly stable. —INFA