Ecostani | A call to battle, and fight will be pitched - Hindustan Times

Ecostani | A call to battle, and fight will be pitched

Feb 26, 2024 08:35 PM IST

In a few weeks, the 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be announced. What narratives and strategies do the NDA and the INDIA blocs have in place?

India has a long history of all kinds of mashed-up alliances, sometimes with contrary ideologies, to garner votes. The 2024 election is one such poll where both the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are trying to get parties on their side who may not be on the same ideological page. The aim is to have India’s first bi-polar national election in the past two decades in most of the states. While the BJP has the astonishing mass appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress-led INDIA bloc without a face to counter him has therefore, decided to contest the national poll through state-specific alliances and issues.

It is still a long way off before we can call the 2024 elections. (HT File Photo) PREMIUM
It is still a long way off before we can call the 2024 elections. (HT File Photo)

In an election, where the opposition is unlikely to announce a prime ministerial candidate, a senior Congress leader said that the strategy is to put up a combined opposition candidate in most of the Lok Sabha constituencies, especially in the Hindi heartland, to raise issues that impact common people such as unemployment, paper leaks, inflation and agrarian crisis. This, they hope, will beat the BJP’s nationalistic campaign of India’s global recognition on account of PM Modi, and the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. “For us, raising the right issues and taking it to the people is most important. Only then, do we stand a chance,” the leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been promising caste census at each rally of his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, aiming to catch younger Other Backward Classes (OBC) voters, who have drifted towards the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha elections. The call for a caste census did not work for the Congress in the December 2023 state elections with the party losing badly in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The reason was the dominance of local issues and people seeing the caste census as a national election issue. The 2024 election result will tell whether the case for caste census is able to garner votes for the opposition alliance or not.

The INDIA bloc has been able to stitch alliances in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. In all likelihood, the bloc would have an alliance in Maharashtra and West Bengal by the time the schedule for the 2024 elections is announced in the second week of March by the Election Commission. Except for Tamil Nadu, the BJP swept the assembly polls in all Hindi heartland states, and opinion polls predict a repeat in 2024.

The Congress-Samajwadi alliance in Uttar Pradesh with the former contesting 17 seats and the latter 63, without Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and RLD appears weak on the ground. The 2019 alliance of SP-BSP and RLD catered to a rainbow coalition of Muslims, Yadavs, Jats, Dalits and a section of lower OBCs. Now, parties representing Jats and the Dalit-lower OBC vote are missing. The INDIA bloc is banking on a young Dalit leader, Chandrashekhar Azad, and former SP leader, Swami Prasad Maurya, who wants a few seats from Congress but does not have influence among Dalits as the BSP had. However, in the past five years, the BSP vote bank has eroded and appears to have drifted towards the BJP to a large extent.

What could help the BJP in UP is that the BSP is likely to contest on all 80 seats, making the contest triangular, even though the party’s vote share has shrunk from 22% in 2017 to 13% in 2022 assembly polls. Most political experts say that it would be difficult for Mayawati to retain its core Jatav vote-bank in 2024 and its vote share is expected to fall below 10%. For the BJP, BSP is important, as it could wean away some Muslim votes from the Congress-SP alliance. Unlike the SP, the Congress has almost no ground structure in Uttar Pradesh and may not have the ability to transfer its less than 2% votes to the alliance partner SP, as was evident in the 2017 state assembly poll, where the two parties were allies.

Unlike Tejashwi Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, Akhilesh Yadav does not enjoy mass support among youth. Rahul Gandhi has drawn a good crowd in UP during his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra even though conversion into votes remains a big question. As of now, the alliance in UP can give a semblance of a fight to the BJP, which is expecting a cakewalk in India’s most important electoral state, where Ayodhya is situated.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress officially announced their seat-sharing deal for the Lok Sabha Elections 2024 last week. The AAP will contest four of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, while the Congress will test its fate on the remaining three seats. In 2019, the BJP had won all seven seats with a vote share of 57%. In 2014 too, the BJP won all these seats, defeating the Congress. The BJP’s vote share in Lok Sabha polls in Delhi has been rising since 2014.

However, other than the national polls, the BJP’s performance in other elections in Delhi has been below par. It lost both the assembly polls and municipal corporation poll to AAP, which has contested these polls independent of Congress, whose vote share in Delhi hovered around 10% to 20% in recent polls. Translating these results to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls indicates that the contest could be close in some of the seats, a net gain for the INDIA bloc.

The decision of AAP and Congress not to have an alliance in Punjab is aimed at preventing the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from occupying the opposition space. AAP is the ruling party in Punjab and Congress, is the main opposition party. APP convenor and Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, had recently said that not having an alliance was a “strategic” and “mutual” decision of the two parties. AAP and Congress will also contest Haryana in an alliance, where the popularity of chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar appears to be on the downslide.

However, the Congress-AAP alliance in Gujarat is unlikely to have much impact on BJP, which won all 25 LS seats in the state in 2019 and may dent BJP’s prospects in Goa.

Seat sharing by Congress with its alliance partners has also been worked out in Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, thus making the contest in most of the states bipolar with the BJP.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP without its former ally, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) appears weak on the ground and in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led grand alliance without Nitish Kumar will have to work hard to prevent the BJP-led NDA from repeating its 2019 performance of winning 39 out of 40 seats.

To be announced

Congress leaders are confident of an alliance in Maharashtra and West Bengal, two other electorally important states. A senior Congress leader quoted above said that the seat-sharing arrangement in the two states would be announced in March.

So, in a way, the opposition has somewhat achieved the objective of having a national opposition alliance, except for a few hiccups. But, it is nowhere near the bigger task of building a narrative that can trounce Narendra Modi and the NDA.

The BJP has nationalist credentials, Ram Temple consecration, a stronger India globally and an aspirational developed India by 2047. It appears to be on better footing than the opposition. The silence of voters, concerns over high unemployment and “misuse” of enforcement agencies against the opposition are some topics for the opposition to take on the BJP. It is still a long way off before we can call the 2024 elections.

Chetan Chauhan, national affairs editor, analyses the most important environment story, or political question, in the country this week

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    Chetan Chauhan is National Affairs Editor. A journalist for over two decades, he has written extensively on social sector and politics with special focus on environment and political economy.

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