By Nitya Chakraborty
Two phases of polling for the seven phase assembly elections to the five states have been over by now and the third phase is due on February 20. By then in three states Goa, Uttarakhand and Punjab, the polling will be completed. Only two states Uttar Pradesh and Manipur will be left. Already, the top leaders of the two national parties BJP and the Congress have covered the poll bound states and with the covid curbs easing, offline rallies are witnessing the presence of both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress MP Rahul Gandhi in their respective party rallies.
Narendra Modi is the principal speaker in the BJP rallies both online till a few days back and now offline. He is the natural leader of the BJP and the undisputed crowd puller of his party. .He is attracting huge crowds in his recent rallies arousing big hopes in the BJP ranks about positive prospects on the polling day. But an in depth analysis of the speeches of the PM indicates that Modi is not just talking of the assembly elections, he is making points for preparing the voters in these five states for the Lok Sabha elections due two years from now, in April/May 2024.
Narendra Modi’s main attack is against the Congress, mainly Rahul Gandhi. Modi deliberately is trying to make the next Lok Sabha elections as a sort of referendum against Rahul Gandhi. This positioning suits him from his own calculations which have been worked out by the party’s think tank after lot of research and analysis. Modi is targeting the Congress and Rahul in the state assembly elections speeches but these have implications more for 2024 polls.
Whatever may be the general perception about the decline in the Congress strength, the ground reality is that the Congress is the most broadbased national party which is challenging the BJP in the electoral field. In the current round of elections, Congress is the main challenger to the BJP in four states Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Manipur. Only in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party is the main challenger to the BJP. Then later this year, in the assembly elections in two states, Himachal and Gujarat, Congress is the main party. Then in 2023, Congress will be the main national party challenging the BJP in most of the states which will go to the polls.
In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress got only 52 seats as against 303 seats of BJP, but in 209 seats, the Congress got the second position. In these seats, in many of the seats, the Congress can win provided there is an understanding between the Congress and the non-BJP parties. Even a partial understanding will help in enhancing the Congress seats. Prime Minister’s strategy is to debunk Rahul Gandhi as a leader and Modi is continuously talking of dynasty. Congress is already divided and despite all efforts at reconciliation, the gap remains. PM’s strategy is to make moves to widen that space and weaken Congress organisationally. BJP’s think tank will take moves to get in touch with the disgruntled elements in the Congress who have genuine reasons to be aggrieved with the Gandhi family.
In the pursuit of the strategy of divide and rule, PM is making efforts to create a division between the Congress and the regional parties. Already fissures are there. There are compulsions in state politics. But still efforts are on to unite the non-BJP opposition parties including the Congress, PM strategy is aimed at ensuring a second front of anti-BJP parties and to ensure that the rift between the regional parties and the Congress remains.
The proposed meeting in Mumbai between the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao with the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday assumes special importance in this context. KCR of late has taken a position against the BJP and he has talked of leading a front of the non-BJP parties against the BJP. He is talking of removing Narendra Modi from power in the next Lok Sabha elections. He is feeling threatened by BJP’s communal card in Telangana. He feels that the communal environment can be transported to his state by the BJP from Karnataka on hijab issue.
KCR’s worries are genuine and his meeting with the Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav may form the base of an understanding which can be shared by both the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin. Already there is a talk of the CM’s conference in Delhi on the issue of the centre-state relations and this conference can be extended to include Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and also the Congress CMs.
Here comes the ego clash between Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata and Rahul Gandhi for which both have to share the responsibility. Mamata has said that the Congress CMs will not be the part of the proposed CM conference, the Congress can go its own way. This only helps the proposed strategy of the Prime Minister to keep the non-BJP opposition divided. As of now, in the current assembly elections, the Congress and the TMC have taken positions by not aligning in Goa. TMC is aggrieved with the Congress for supporting BJP ministry in Meghalaya and rightly so. It is no use dealing with these now. A fresh review can be made after March 10, when the results are out and the contending parties know their respective strengths.
For the Congress and also the regional parties, especially Mamata, there should be clarity on two issues. First, no front of combined opposition parties is possible without the participation of the Congress. And secondly the Congress has to be prepared to reconcile itself to the changed political reality on the ground and adjust its electoral ambition accordingly. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is defunct and after March 10, the Congress as also the regional parties should sit together to work the details of a new alliance replacing UPA.
Earlier NCP leader Sharad Pawar acted as a bridge between the regional parties and the Congress. Pawar is not keeping well now. So the best course is that the Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin and the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray take the initiative in holding the conference of the parties who are ready to fight BJP jointly in the Lok Sabha poll. Both these leaders have got good equation with Rahul and Mamata. Both believe in a total front of opposition including the Congress. Their combined action can only remove the ego clash between Mamata and Rahul, thereby foiling the strategy of the Prime Minister and the BJP to retain power at the centre again by dividing the opposition. (IPA Service)