By Nitya Chakrabory
Now that the poll strategist Prashant Kishor has finally dissociated himself from the Congress Party’s plans for the next state assembly elections culminating into the Lok Sabha polls in March/April 2024, the Congress Party has to focus fully on how to make optimum use of the strategic planning for defeating the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in cooperation with other anti-BJP parties.PK has submitted a blueprint many parts of which have the endorsement of the Congress high command. Those can be implemented by the Congress leadership itself provided the state leaders including the present chief ministers are fully utilised to implement the programme in practice.
There are three elements in PK’s election strategy which the Congress leadership must have taken note. The first is, the Congress has to bring out massive improvement in the grassroots organisation in the states where the Party is the major challenger to the BJP in the elections. This means these are the states where the Congress performed miserably in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and without big improvement in the tally from these states, the Congress will never be able to cross the figure of 120 which is the minimum base mark for the non-BJP opposition to come to power after 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In last 2019 Lok Sabha elections, out of the 52 seats won, the Congress got only 6 seats out of the 250 seats where it challenged the BJP on its own. These are one in UP with 80 seats, one in Bihar with 40 seats, one in Madhya Pradesh with 28 seats, one in Jharkhand with 14 seats, and two in Chhattisgarh with 11. In other states of this 250 seats group, the Congress drew blank in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In HP, however in a later by election, the Congress won the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. So right now, the tally is 7 out of 250 block of fighting BJP singlehandedly.
Secondly, there are 543 Lok Sabha seats. The perfect strategy for the Congress should be to vastly improve its tally in these block of 250, in some states like MP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh on the basis of its own strength and in some others like Jharkhand and Haryana and Bihar, to explore for alliances against the BJP. The target should be to win at least 80 seats from this block. This is a tall task but it can be achieved. Congress have got leaders like Bhupesh Baghel and Kamal Nath. They have the capacity to increase the seat tally substantially provided full infra support is given. The Congress will never be in the reckoning in the post poll scenario if its tally is less than 100 seats.
Thirdly, there will be some states, where the regional parties are the dominating parties and the Congress can only be minor part. The Party has to be prepared for that and should not bargain for more not warranted by its ground level strength. The prime objective to minimize the areas of differences over seat allocation so that the non-BJP votes are not divided. Then there are states where the Congress will have to work for long term organizational expansion without hoping for much results in the immediate future like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
Now what about Southern states? Out of 53 Congress seats now in Lok Sabha, 28 are from South. There are 15 from Kerala, eight from Tamil Nadu, three from Telangana, one each from Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry. In South, the Congress tally may go down in Kerala and the Party may lose Puducherry. In Karnataka, the Congress has to tie-up with JD(S) and bid for more seats. Karnataka is the only state from where the Congress can hope to bridge the deficit due to its loss of seats in Kerala. In AP and Telangana, it is a tough fight, TRS chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is in a strong position and he will not allow the Congress to have any fresh break through. He is now equally fighting BJP in his turf. So the Congress will have a tough task on hand in both Telangana and AP. It will be difficult for the Congress to stick to the current tally of 28 in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections from the Southern states
Let us look at Eastern India. In Odisha, BJP is the main party fighting the BJD led by the chief minister Naveen Patnaik who is still comfortable in his position as the latest municipal and rural polls showed. The Congress state leadership is divided and the organisation at grassroots level is in a very bad shape. The BJP has worked very hard in the state and the RSS cadres have expanded their work to the remotest villages including tribals. BJP is emerging as the principal rival of the BJD in the next Lok Sabha poll, leaving the Congress far behind. In Bengal, the Congress has got two seats and trends are that the Party will loose both bringing down the GOP tally to zero in the new Lok Sabha. The BJP will also lose its seats from the existing 18. There is every possibility that Mamata Banerjee will again sweep the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 just like Trinamool did in 2014 elections by getting 34 out of 42 seats.
The North East region was a seat of power for the Congress Party till 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Things drastically changed after that. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in a planned manner have expanded the base of the BJP and established relations with the regional parties. The Congress made a mess of its state units in the region. Assam Congress is in a crisis. Meghalaya Congress is leaderless. Majority of the Meghalaya legislators have defected to Trinamool Congress. There is no direction from the Congress high command. There is little possibility of the Congress increasing its seats from the NE region unless some miracle happens.
Less than two years are left for the Lok Sabha elections. The next round of polls will be held in Gujarat and Himachal by the end of this year. Gujarat has the big potential for the Congress but this has not been tapped. PK was earlier talking to some senior Patidar leaders. The Congress leadership will have to pursue that. In the last assembly elections, the Congress just missed the mark. All attention has to be focused on Gujarat and Himachal as also other state assemblies due for polls in 2023. The BJP’s war room for both the states has been working 24×7.The booth level planning has been finalised. The Congress must swing to concrete actions instead of only discussions day after day.
The BJP is preparing for the elections with big advantages at every level – organisational power, financial muscle power and booth level preparedness. The Congress has to match it and it can do so provided the entire organisation is mobilised at the optimum level to achieve the end. The Congress has to be reconciled to the fact that it should not consider it as the natural party of governance or as a natural leader of the non BJP opposition. The 137 year old party can only establish its supremacy on the basis of its performance. The party has lost heavily in the last round of assembly elections. It can only prove its worth to the opposition by winning some states in the next round of state assembly elections.
In fact Prashant Kishor will be more useful to the non-BJP opposition after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections if the BJP fails to get majority on its own. PKis working with a large number of non-BJP parties which are expected to do well in their respective states. PK with his relations with both the Congress and these regional parties can facilitate the formation of a non-BJP front, the leadership of which will be decided on the basis of the performance of each in the Lok Sabha polls. For the Congress leadership, performance and only performance in the next round of elections is the key to remain as a relevant opposition party in the evolving Indian polity. (IPA Service)