Assembly Elections 2023

Dress Rehearsal for 2024?

Ram Puniyani

The recently concluded Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangna and Mizoram have been the matter of great interest for various reasons. As the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) has been ruling at the centre for close to ten years, it has implemented policies, which have a frightening impact on the country. Be it the demonetisation, GST implementation or the sudden ‘Corona lockdown’ the average people have suffered a lot. The rising authoritarianism and decline in freedom indices is a matter of great worry. The increasing hunger index and declining wellbeing tell the rest of the story. The ruling BJP has also abrogated Article 370, with the claim that it will reduce militancy, but the results are far from what they claim. The targeting of Muslim minority continues unabated, the scattered anti- Christian violence is another painful phenomenon. It is in this background the opposition parties have been trying to form an INDIA alliance. It was expected that the opposition parties would try to preserve ‘the Idea of India’ as envisaged in the Constitution. A lot has been hoped from this alliance in the 2024 LokSabha elections.

But the assembly election results seem to have put a spanner in this hope. The Congress party state level leaderships, in a high handed manner ignored the other parties of alliance, in the process of annoying them and putting a lot of challenge to the process of resuming the journey of alliance in times to come. Congress could win only Telangana, while losing the Hindi heartland states. Though Congress lost in these three states, the results are a bit surprising. Most of the Exit Poll results were giving a fair edge to Congress in these states. So the defeat of Congress is a bit enigmatic on one hand.

True, its alliance with other national and smaller parties would have improved its performance; still, its defeat in these states is beyond logical explanation. This is the aspect which the allies of INDIA have to keep in mind while chalking out their strategy for LokSabha election.

A side aspect of these results is that now most of South Indian states are BJP mukt (free from BJP rule). Some commentators are arguing that the appeal of Hindu Nationalist BJP politics is restricted predominantly to Hindi speaking states, the Cow belt. Congress on its part and other parties have also to see that despite its claims BJP is not on a very solid wicket. In the present elections if one sees the total votes polled in the five states, Congress has polled 4.92 Crore in comparison to 4.81 Crore votes of BJP. At the top of that Mizoram, which was part of the NDA alliance has now slipped out of NDA.

Various speculations in the air are about demoralisation of Congress party workers. It may sound true as an instant reaction. As the time passes the party workers can not only feel spirited with the win in Telangana and significantly having polled more votes than the rival BJP. With time the feeling of depression will get over, as now the new leadership is trying its best to proactively deal with the situation. ‘Bharat JodoYatra’ was a major step in this direction. The background work of many Congress workers and its reviving the spirit of dynamism may yield a positive result in strengthening the spirit of the party.

The core point remains: can all those parties who committed to the formation of INDIA alliance, will repose the faith in the alliance yet again, which has partly been shaken by election results? In a way the defeat of Congress in three major states, will make the Congress leadership sit-up and try to rectify the slips due to which the parties which committed to the alliance are showing reservations. These opposition parties know it well that alone, left to themselves, they cannot take on the mighty electoral machinery of BJP, well armed with manpower, money power, muscle power and the media, which is bowing to the feet of the current ruling party at the centre.

The opposition parties also realise that BJP is not alone as it is well assisted by the Swayamsevaks and Pracharaks of RSS. They also know that all RSS affiliates, VHP, ABVP, Bajrang Dal, VanvasiKalyan Ashram and a large number of RSS affiliates make it a point to totally commit to the victory of BJP at every election. They also have realised the power of electoral bonds, the NRI support to Hindu nationalist ideology, the big Corporate solidly standing with BJP, as BJP is giving them lots of concessions, beyond what is obvious.

The opposition parties also realise that BJP has been inching towards a Hindu Nation. It has been eroding the values of the Indian constitution in an overt and covert way. The use; rather abuse, of ED, IT, CBI against the opposition parties is yet another point which will make these parties try to stick together with some give and take. It is well known that among top Congress leadership, Rahul Gandhi, MallikarjunKharge in particular, the spirit of accommodation is very high. Though this duo could not fully prevail over state leadership in the state Assembly Elections, they are most likely to put their foot down and try to stitch an alliance. Rahul Gandhi has stated that Congress will be willing to do any sacrifice for the united opposition. He has correctly stated that it is an ideological battle and not just an electoral fight.

So at the moment it may seem that different opposition parties are pulling in different directions. Much before the LokSabha election dates are announced, it is very much possible that the INDIA alliance will be stitched together with solid glue and it will make itself ready to take up divisive politics of BJP-RSS. The hatred spread by this majoritarian politics is not compatible with the survival of multi-party democracy. Opposition should be worried by the deep infiltration of Hindu nationalists in different institutions of the state, including the education system.

One can assume that putting all these things together the opposition will come together, and if that happens they will certainly be able to win the election and ensure that the first step in coming out of the grip of Hindu nationalist agenda, which is on ascendance at present, is achieved.

Cold Electoral Numbers Yogendra Yadav adds:

The next general election is not a done deal. Not yet. Unless the Opposition surrenders to this psychological warfare and gives a walkover before the match begins.

There is no doubt that the outcome in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is a setback for the Congress, and all those who wish to see restoration of democracy in 2024. The BJP’s victory in three north Indian states does overshadow the Congress party’s historic comeback in Telangana. It creates favourable optics for the BJP in the run-up to the national polls. But this does not translate into cold numbers. The outcome of these four states does not change the electoral calculus as it stood before the results.

No doubt a 3-1 victory for the BJP is a ringing endorsement of the regime by the voters. Of the 12.29 crore votes polled, the BJP secured 4.82 crore, while the Congress had 4.92 crore (5.06 crore, if one includes all INDIA parties). Except in MP, the margin of the BJP’s victory is very small in terms of popular votes. Congress’s lead over the BJP in Telangana is large enough to make up for its deficit in the rest. So the BJP has not received a massive popular endorsement in the latest round.

These states have 83 seats in the LokSabha, of which BJP had as many as 65 and Congress secured only 6 seats in the last LokSabha elections. If the citizens of these states vote exactly the same way next year as they did in the recent assembly elections, the net gainer will be Congress, not the BJP. Even after this hat-trick, the BJP’s performance is way below its post-Pulwama support in 2019. If one adds assembly-wise votes for each parliamentary seat, the tally will be 24 for BJP and 5 for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh (compared to 28-1 in 2019), 8 for BJP and 3 for the Congress in Chhattisgarh (9-2 in 2019), 14 for BJP and 11 for Congress in Rajasthan (24-0 in 2019) and 0 for the BJP and 9 for the Congress in Telangana (4-3 in 2019). In all, it would mean 46 seats for the BJP (loss of 19) and 28 seats for the Congress (gain of 22). If one merges the votes of the INDIA partners, there would be 38 seats for the BJP and 36 for INDIA. This notional calculation puts to rest the idea that the BJP has sealed its victory.

In 2019, the BJP won 303 seats, just 30 seats above the majority mark. The BJP faces significant depletions in its unprecedented tally in Bengal (where it faces a meltdown), Karnataka (where, going by assembly election results for BJP-JDS combine, Congress would gain 10 seats), Maharashtra (where it faces the MVA), Bihar (pitted against a new Mahagathbandhan) and Uttar Pradesh (even a repeat of the 2022 Assembly results would mean a loss of 10 seats to BJP). Add to it near-certain but minor losses in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Telangana and Assam. Put any number to these losses for the BJP and it is sure to exceed 30. The hard question is: Where can the BJP possibly add to its 2019 tally and make up for these losses?

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Vol 56, No. 27, Dec 31 2023 - Jan 6, 2024