By Nitya Chakraborty
New winds are blowing in the political landscape of the country, seemingly contradictory, for the emergence of a strong front of the opposition parties to fight the BJP in the coming assembly as also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024
The latest positive development for the opposition is the ten month old agitation of the farmers in North India against the three farm laws and this movement has imparted a new dimension to the anger against the Uttar Pradesh Government Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as also the BJP as a party, after the killings of eight farmers on October 3 violence at Lakhimpur Kheri. The post-October 3 developments have come as a big jolt to the centre as the union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra is involved and his son Ashish Mishra has been arrested. Simultaneously, the Supreme Court has taken note of the violence and is hearing petitions which are highly critical of the performance of the Yogi Government on law and order.
The assembly elections to Uttar Pradesh and four other state assemblies Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur are scheduled for February/March 2022.The impact of the farmers agitation will have political consequences in UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand during the assembly elections and now, the central leadership of the BJP is making all efforts to repair the damage that has already been done to the image of the party and the UP government by the brutal police and BJP violence. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress are making all efforts to take political capital out of the sudden windfall for them, but the final outcome will depend on the capacity of the opposition to meet the huge organisational power and financial muscle of the BJP which will be mobilised in the assembly elections in UP which is considered as the highway for travelling to Delhi for power at the centre.
This positive development for the opposition has been followed in the recent days by the spats between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, the two constituents of the 19 party opposition front which declared on August 20 at the conclave chaired by the Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi to fight BJP at every level both inside and outside Parliament. It was decided to hold agitations throughout the country from September 20 to 30 on the basis of a 11 point programme.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during her five day visit to Delhi at that time gave indication that. The leadership issue would be decided later and all the anti-BJP parties should focus on struggles against BJP and winning the coming assembly elections by defeating the BJP. In all these states, excepting UP, the Congress is the main opponent of BJP and it is the main responsibility of the Congress to defeat the BJP. In fact, on Congress depends the task of giving a big push for imparting an anti-Narendra Modi push by defeating BJP in the three states UK, Goa and Manipur ruled by the saffrons.
Herein comes the clash between Trinamool and the Congress. Mamata in her latest piece in TMC periodical Jago Bangla has openly accused the Congress of weakening the opposition for not doing enough to take on BJP in elections. She points out that TMC is more capable than the Congress to take on BJP which means that TMC can be the real leader in the fight of the opposition against the Congress. Her party leaders are now openly tweeting and writing that Rahul has failed and Mamata is the only acceptable leader in the country to take on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These TMC leaders close to Mamata are openly saying that Mamata should be the face of opposition against the PM Narendra Modi in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Because she and not Rahul has that aggression to take on a combative Narendra Modi. This is a big departure from her stand indicated during her Delhi visit in August this year.
Now what calculations are there behind Mamata’s sudden volte-face. It makes sense though apparently it means a sort of misunderstanding and rivalry with the Congress, but this rivalry has very limited impact if this can impart a sort of animal spirit in the Congress. Mamata has certainly in mind the 1996 scenario after Lok Sabha elections. In that elections, the BJP got 161 seats, Congress 140 and Janata Dal 46. Congress was the second largest party but the BJP had more numbers than the Congress and the Congress was forced to support the JD led government of non-Congress parties. Congress was quite strong at that time as it got 28.8 per cent of the votes as against 20.29 per cent votes received by the BJP.
But the scenario in 2021 and the projection in 2024 looks not that positive for the Congress while the possibilities are much brighter for the opposition parties to do better in the regions where they are ruling or in opposition. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP got 301 seats while the Congress got 52 seats with only 9.63 per cent of the votes. The Congress will have to acquire that killer instinct to take on Narendra Modi who is the main strategist of the BJP for the coming assembly elections. So far Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka who of late has emerged as the second leader in the Congress Party, have not shown that capability which can give any indication that the Congress can take the Lok Sabha figure to more than one hundred which is absolutely necessary for bringing down the BJP to less than 220 from the present figure of 303.
As against the Congress, the ground reality shows that the regional parties will continue to do better where these parties are the major ones to take on BJP and not the Congress. Trinamool surely will improve its position from the present 22 to more than its earlier 34 since the political base in Bengal has been slipping away from the saffrons. Similarly, RJD, DMK will do better. As regards the ruling regional parties, TRS, YSRC and BJD, there is no possibility of BJP gaining in these states.. In fact BJP will lose in these states compared with its present strength. Similarly BJP will lose in Maharashtra to the MVA combination.
At the same time, the Congress will lose its existing Lok Sabha seats in many constituencies to the Left Front in Kerala. The Congress has to bring about massive improvement in its tally in the states where the Party is the major opposition facing the BJP. As it seems now, it is a Herculean task for Congress to cross the figure of 100 in 2024 Lok Sabha elections from the present figure of 52. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had its lowest Lok Sabha tally at 44 but in 2004, it had 146 and in 2009, more than 200. It will require high octane organizational performance by the Congress leadership in the 2022 state assembly elections and if the Congress can do a miracle, which happens in Indian politics sometimes, the GoP will be able to gather momentum to face the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In post 1996 Lok Sabha elections scenario, the Congress was compelled to support the JD led Government from outside to prevent BJP from coming to power. But in 2024 elections, if the NDA becomes a minority, the Congress will be a part of the opposition government. Whether it will be allowed to have the PM’s position will naturally depend on the effective strength of the opposition parties in the new Lok Sabha. That is the change in perspective for post 2024 compared to 1996.The anti-Congress stance of the non-Congress opposition parties has been replaced by the anti-BJP stance. Then on Congress opposition parties firmly believe now that there cannot be any stable non-BJP government without full participation of the Congress. The 1996 experience has taught these parties this lesson.
The crucial test of the BJP is in Uttar Pradesh which is having 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. BJP got huge seats in 2019 but that was unusual and not a normal reflection of the voting base of the BJP. The assembly elections in early 2022 will give some indication and if SP can capitalise the resentment among the farmers, there is a good possibility of SP improving its position substantially. The Congress under Priyanka is trying its best to expand base, but the party organisation is in bad shape and as Prashant Kishor has said that just a single agitation against the Lakhimpur Kheri killings will not bring any major electoral gains to the Congress as this requires long term organisational work and UP is a huge state’. It would have been ideal for the opposition if the SP and the Congress could have cooperated for assembly polls, but that may not be possible finally and even then, the SP has the potential to take on BJP statewise and the Congress can focus on its limited strongholds.
Among the opposition leaders, M K Stalin and Tejaswi Yadav are both friendly with Rahul and Mamata. They can play a role in sorting out the differing perceptions of both the leaders. Earlier also the Congress and TMC had differed, but they came together against the BJP after the last assembly elections. All these criticisms against Rahul by TMC and others will stop once Rahul imparts that dynamism in the party organisation and leads the Congress to victory in at least three states including Punjab which is already with the Congress.
Rahul is only 51 and Modi is 71. He should make full use of his age advantage to navigate the Party through electoral waters to the shore. That is the only way he can emerge as the most acceptable leader of the opposition. If Mamata’s broadsides against the Congress leadership can invigorate Rahul, that will be a big addition in opposition armoury against the BJP. In the coming five assembly elections, Trinamool is not a Party excepting Goa to a small extent. Congress is the main fighter against the BJP and Rahul Gandhi is the general. He should prove his mettle on the ground to acquire the crown. (IPA Service)