By Sushil Kutty
Votes will be counted for the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections on December 3. The record turnout, spearheaded by women voters, is keeping both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress on tenterhooks. Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “face” make a difference? The BJP says the electorate cannot have enough of Narendra Modi’s charisma. The Congress believes December 3 will see the BJP routed in Madhya Pradesh and losing miserably in Chhattisgarh.
That being said, December 3 will also be a make or break day for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). Depending on the results, INDIA will start its course for alliance talks for Lok Sabha polls. Whether the Opposition’s one try at unity paid off or not? That’s because after a highly encouraging start, INDIA was consigned to the backburner when the Congress chose to go it alone in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, refusing to “accommodate” INDI-Alliance constituents eager to test the unity experiment.
While in Madhya Pradesh the Congress gave the ruling BJP a run for its money, forcing the saffron party to fight on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face and name, at the same time, the Samajwadi Party’s demand for seat-sharing was denied outright. Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav called the Congress “Chalu party” and Madhya Pradesh Congress strongman Kamal Nath returned the compliment by calling SP “Chirkut party”.
Since then the INDIA bloc has been straining at the bits. There is also Rajasthan waiting to say its piece. The built-up euphoria points to the Congress winning all three states. Congress victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will prove the Congress is a force on its own while cementing the reality that the INDIA bloc cannot do without the Congress leading from the front.
December 3 will also decide whether the INDIA bloc stays relevant — whether it will be the defining alliance for the 2024 general elections. BJP victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, on the other hand, will rip apart the INDI-Alliance. An unsuccessful start is the last thing that the INDIA constituents will want.
That being said, the reason the INDI-Alliance looks fragile and feeble is the Congress. The whole idea of the INDI-Alliance was to stand as a single bloc, and post single INDI-Alliance candidates against BJP candidates for a one-on-one fight in every constituency. The Congress betrayed on both scores. Refusing to part with a few seats in Madhya Pradesh , Chhattisgarh as also in Rajasthan to its allies was a majoritarian act.. INDI-Alliance did not function in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
A Congress victory in Rajasthan will be another assertion that the Congress does not need the INDIA bloc, and that INDIA cannot do without the Congress leading the bloc. Only the Congress among INDI-Alliance parties can defeat the BJP. That is the reality; therefore, all the more reason for the INDI-Alliance to be built around the Congress if defeating Narendra Modi is a goal in itself.
The BJP is banking on the women ‘Labarthis’ of the Prime Minister’s various welfare schemes. Did the women voters deliver on the Prime Minister’s call to vote BJP? Prime Minister Narendra Modi while electioneering announced that the Centre’s free ration scheme will be extended for another five years. It was out and out inducement. Women voters of average Indian families value food security unlike male counterparts who find a bottle of whisky more enticing.
December 3 will also reveal whether the INDIA bloc’s demand for ‘Caste Census’ had found acceptance among the electorate. Congress victories will be endorsements for the need for a Caste Census. BJP victories will be an indication that people have had enough of caste playing a devious role in elections. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been most vocal on the Caste Census. If the Congress loses, Rahul Gandhi will stop talking of ‘Caste Census’.
That being said, the demand for a ‘Caste Census’ is closely linked to the Opposition’s insistence that Other Backward Castes get their fair share of participation in governance — “jiski jitni abaadi, uski itni bhagidaari”. Again, Congress victories will prove that the days of ‘Mandal’ are not yet over and that Mandal can still give the BJP’s ‘Kamandal’ a tough fight.
With the demand for a ‘Caste Census’, and the promise to carry out a ‘Caste Census’, Rahul Gandhi majorly departed from earlier Congress thinking. If this has struck a chord with the electorate, it will reflect in the December 3 results besides proving that the Congress is the lynchpin of INDI-Alliance.
The Congress In its current avatar has been waging a struggle to restore Congress to its previous glory with nothing much to show. But the timing now is perfect. The electorate has had a bellyful of Modi rule. Also, the anti-BJP electorate is happily engaged with the thought of INDIA. For the first time in 10 years, the Congress has a surging winnability rating. December 3 is D-Day, the day when many arguments will be settled. (IPA Service)