By Nitya Chakraborty
The year 2021 ended with a significant outcome of civic polls in Chandigarh where the Aam Admi Party (AAP) emerged as the single largest party pushing the ruling BJP to the second and the Congress to the third position. This was followed by a survey of Times Now projecting AAP as the single largest party in the new assembly in Punjab, followed by the Congress while the Akalis and the BJP-Amarinder combination will be far behind.
The Times Now projection in its survey may be a bit optimistic but the signs are clear that AAP is making inroads among the electorate in Punjab on the eve of the 117 member assembly poll in February/March this year and that has ominous signal for the Congress which is the ruling party in the state and has won convincingly in the recent elections to the rural and urban bodies placing Akalis and BJP far behind.AAP could not do well in these polls.
For Congress, among the five states which are going to assembly elections in the next two months, Punjab is the only state the party is ruling. All other four states- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, are ruled by the BJP. So for the Congress led by de facto president Rahul Gandhi, the retaining of Punjab is a must if the GOP wants to play any dominating role in the front of the opposition parties that are taking shape to fight the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If Congress by any means loses Punjab or even fails to get majority, that will give a big jolt to its stature and bargaining power with the other leading regional parties which are having better strike rate against the BJP compared to the Congress.
In fact, this issue of the Congress losing against the BJP where the competition is between these two national parties, is the root cause that has led the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to take on the Congress and challenging its supremacy as the natural leader. Sharad Pawar is also equally jittery that the Congress is not doing enough to defeat BJP in the states where it is the main challenger. In the assembly elections, the scenario is changed compared to the last assembly elections as the other regional parties are in the fray and in Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur, Congress, though remains as the main opposition party against BJP, has been losing its base.
In Goa, the Congress legislators number has been reduced to two now and both Trinamool and the AAP are posing as challengers to both the Congress and the BJP.. It is not clear whether Trinamool will have an alliance with AAP, but there are reasons to believe that both these new comers have created some big hype in the political landscape of the tiny state of Goa. Whether this will be translated to enough votes, remains to be seen. But the problem for the Congress is that the Party has not taken enough organisational steps to rejuvenate the party in the state and challenge the ruling BJP. P. Chidambaram is in charge of Goa from the Congress high command but his efforts have met limited success in tapping new support base in the state to make up its recent loss.
Similarly in Uttarakhand, AAP is making moves and putting all focus on about ten constituencies. This will hit both the Congress and the BJP as AAP campaigners are saying that their target is the disillusioned voters from both the two national parties. It is a tough task for Harish Rawat to ensure Congress win though there is big resentment against the ruling BJP. Congress has to mobilise more resources in the coming weeks to improve its position as the BJP is flush with funds. In Manipur also, the Congress has taken no major initiatives and political observers say that the state party is already having the feeling that it can not win.
The present mood of the Congress workers in the five poll bound states has to drastically change if the Congress has to get back one or two states out of the three smaller states. In Uttar Pradesh, still the Congress is far behind the Samajwadi Party though Priyanka Gandhi has certainly galvanised the women of the state by a number of programmes. SP has been far ahead in organisation and campaigning. Even if the SP may not finally beat BJP, the contest will be tough. The Congress has not that organisational muscle to take on SP and BJP and the performance may not show more than a few seats.
That is the real problem with the Congress at the moment. If the Party fails to get back at least one state, apart from Punjab in the coming assembly elections, Congress’s bargaining power against the regional parties including Trinamool and AAP will be going down and the other opposition parties will be more responsive to the strategy of the TMC supremo. But if the Congress does really well, the mood will change and the Congress will emerge as the leading driver of the front of the opposition forces. It is true that there can be no opposition front against the BJP without the Congress but for that the Congress will have to increase substantially its striking power against the BJP in the coming assembly elections.
The Congress claims that the Party is in direct fight with the BJP in around 250 seats and it is the only national party, apart from BJP to have roots in every village of the country. That is true, But the 2019 and 2014 election results show that the BJP achieved most success in the seats where it fought Congress directly. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, figures show that the Congress won only six seats out of the 250 direct fights and that was one of the major reasons for the massive victory of the saffrons. The regional parties, especially did much much better and that included the TRS of Telangana, YSRCP of Andhra Pradesh, and BJD in Odisha which are outside the anti-BJP opposition front, but now showing signs of aligning with anti-BJP regional combination.
Congress has to take note of this stance of the three regional parties which may not like to align with the Congress but may be part of the wider combination against the BJP for 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The opposition parties, taking into account the outcome of the assembly polls must harness their efforts to shape the unity of the opposition parties keeping scope for the participation of the TRS, YSRCP and BJD. The front has to be much wider than UPA to take on Narendra Modi in the 2024 polls. There has to be a solid unity of the regional parties and the Congress and both sides must recognise the ground realities. A combined leadership guided by the veteran like Sharad Pawar can emerge after the assembly elections to chart out detailed programme and roadmap for 2024 poll. (IPA Service)