By Nitya Chakraborty
The resounding victory of the Congress Party in the Karnataka assembly elections less than a year before the holding of the Lok Sabha polls in April/May 2024 has given a big boost to the Party and its leaders the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi. For the Grand Old Party, this win was absolutely needed for establishing its credentials as the party which on its own can defeat the BJP in one of the big states. Since the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Congress lost all assembly elections excepting Himachal which is a small state. That way, the big victory in Karnataka can be considered much more thana morale booster for the Party.
Now what about the nature of future battle between the Congress and the BJP in the states in the remaining part of the year and also in the early part of 2024? The Congress has to be prepared to meet the challenge of a bruised Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has the uncanny capacity to turn a crisis into an opportunity.PM and his team will take all the right lessons from the BJP debacle and reinvent the strategy for winning both the coming assembly polls and finally the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.Narendra Modi is a great fighter and he has the organisational muscle power of the RSS and huge financial resources behind him to step up the momentum of his challenge. PM and BJP’s war room will go to any length to buck the trend indicated by the Karnataka results to keep the opposition far away from the Delhi throne after May 2024 polls. The Congress and the opposition have to be fully prepared to meet the challenge of that wounded Lion.
For the Congress, there is little time left for celebration.. By year end, state assembly elections will be held in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Then early 2024, assembly polls are due in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. The Congress is the main party facing BJP in MP. Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. All the three states were initially won by the Congress in 2018 assembly polls. Now MP is ruled by the BJP after causing defections months after the state government was formed with Kamal Nath as chief minister, but the Congress strength in all the three states has been established through the success in recent rural polls. The Party has to mobilise all its organisational resources to ensure victory in all the three states. The victory will ensure Congress’s place as the front rank leader in the opposition camp against the BJP. Before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The opposition parties are likely to meet shortly at the instance of the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna or Delhi to discuss the shape of the unity and how the parties can have maximum understanding to prevent any division in anti-BJP votes. It should be clear from the beginning that there can not be any uniform formula for such understanding, each state has its own compulsions and no political party will like to neglect its power base in the interests of the unity which may or may not fetch results. So the best course is to allow the strongest anti-BJP party in each state to get the lead role in deciding the nature of alliance
Right now, there is functional opposition alliance in four states Bihar, Tamil Nadu. Jharkhand and Maharashtra. The first three are ruling governments. This alliance is adequate to take on the BJP in the concerned states. If needed, it can be expanded by including other anti-BJP parties. Similarly, there can be no overall alliance of the opposition in Kerala, Bengal and Punjab. In Punjab, the BJP is not a threat and AAP and Congress will fight in the Lok sabha polls. AAP will certainly try to get maximum seats out of the total of 13 in Punjab to improve its bargaining position in post Lok Sabha situation. As regards Delhi, BJP is a threat and there can be an understanding between the AAP and the Congress, if it is possible to ensure BJP defeat in all seven seats.
As regards Bengal, the scenario is clear, Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee is the main party fighting BJP and it is expected to field candidates in all 42 seats. The Congress and the Left may fight against both the TMC and the BJP but the fight will be limited to TMC and BJP alone in most seats. In Kerala, the present pattern will remain. The Left Front and the Congress led UDF will fight. The Left will make all efforts to get few seats more as in the 2019 Lok sabha polls, the LDF got only one seat as against the Congress’s 15 and the UDF’s tally of 19. This was not reflective of the actual power base of both the fronts. So the LDF will certainly try in 2024 to do away with that distortion.
Then Andhra Pradesh and Odisha belong to a different category. In AP, YSRCP will fight alone against both the BJP and the Congress. In Odisha, BJD led by Naveen Patnaik will fight against both the resurging BJP and the Congress. The Odisha CM will make all efforts to protect his turf from further BJP expansion. These are ground realities in each state and the opposition leaders have to keep these in view while framing the electoral strategy. For the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Telangana is another state which will be facing assembly polls later this year with the ruling BRS, BJP and the Congress fighting separately. The assembly results will indicate whether there is a possibility of an understanding between the BRS and the Congress to meet the BJP challenge. As regards the North East states, in Tripura, BJP may lose its two Lok Sabha seats if the Left-Congress combine can have an understanding with the Tipra Motha™ which is the party of the tribals. BJP is making efforts to lure in TM in alliance to ensure its two LS seats, but there is no progress yet. The Congress may still try for an understanding with TM to corner the saffron in Tripura. In Assam, Congress is still the driving force among the opposition parties but there are a lot of problems to be sorted out for facilitating acombined opposition against the BJP. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma is a shrewed BJP leader and he has been instrumental in ensuring BJP dominance among the regional parties in the North East.
In totality, it all depends on the Congress success in defeating the BJP in its strongholds and the regional alliances capacity to further reduce BJP’s Lok Sabha seats in their respective states. The 2019 Lok Sabha polls gave huge seats to the BJP in the Hindi-speaking states, but as the situation stands now, excepting the state of Uttar Pradesh, BJP is sure to lose a large number seats. For instance, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have got 65 Lok Sabha seats out of which in 2019 elections, BJP got as high as 61 seats as against three by the Congress. The Congress tally is sure to cross minimum 30 from these three states. Similarly in Karnataka, BJP got 25 seats out of the total of 28 Lok Sabha seats.. This BJP figure is sure to be less than ten in 2024 polls. And if there is an understanding with JD(S) before the Lok Sabha polls, BJP will not get less than 5 seats out of the 28 total Lok Sabha seats.
As of now, the Congress has got 52 seats in present Lok Sabha. With proper planning under the Congress strategist Sunil Kanugolu, it is possible to raise the number of seats by 70 to 80 in the next Lok Sabha elections. That will make the Congress figure between 122 to132, after 2024 polls adequate enough to bring down the BJP to below 170 seats out of the total of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.. Once the BJP becomes a minority combination, the unattached parties like the YSRCP and BJD with adequate seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha, will be taking interest in cooperating with the opposition alliance.. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Congress got only 114 seats and in 2009 elections, this tally went up to 146.
The coming opposition meeting should discuss about the issues on which the parties will be campaigning both in Parliament and outside. Karnataka election results show that the issues of joblessness and poverty as also corruption have drawn the attention of the voters. A national campaign has to be launched by the combined opposition on the basis of the issues which may very well form the core of minimum common programme in the coming days. The political situation is fertile for the non-BJP opposition now. The next one year before the Lok Sabha elections is crucial for the Congress as also the other anti- BJP opposition parties. The Karnataka battle has been won but the opposition has yet to win the final war against the BJP in 2024. (IPA Service)