Opposition can rout BJP in 2024 by playing to strength in each state
The Opposition parties must have a pre-poll strategy wherein the dominant player in a particular state gets to call the shots in forming an alliance to take on the BJP in the 2024 General Election
The positive response received by JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar to his appeal for unity from Opposition leaders during his recent meetings with them is expected to pave the way for the formation of a joint front to take on the NDA in the 2024 General Election, due in just eighteen months.
Apart from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar held talks with NCP president Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, JD(S) president HD Kumaraswamy, CPI general secretary D Raja and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Incidentally, the wholehearted endorsement of his efforts by INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala held a special significance. The BJP won all the 10 Lok Sabha seats from Haryana in 2019, though its influence in the state has since waned. It will be interesting to see whether it would be possible for the Congress to have an understanding with the INLD to take on the saffron party in the state in the coming polls.
Nitish also had a fruitful discussion with Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of CPI(ML) Liberation. He is well aware of Bhattacharya’s role in the forging of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar before the 2020 Assembly polls, in which the CPI(ML) Liberation won 12 seats, the largest among the three Left parties. Bhattacharya can potentially play a important role at the national level in organising an alliance of anti-BJP parties in the run up to the 2024 polls.
The most important issue which seems to have been threshed out is that there is not going to be any ‘third front’; there will be only one front and that will include the Congress. And there would be no electoral front at the national level; the anti-BJP electoral front will vary from state to state, its composition depending on the respective strength of the constituent parties.
The ground political reality in the states is so varied that any talk of a joint front of the Opposition against the BJP in the 2024 polls at the national level will only spoil their efforts to achieve minimum achievable unity in the run up to it.
The other significant point is that no need is being felt to project anyone as the prime ministerial candidate before the polls or drawing up a common minimum programme (CMP). These issues will be relevant only if there is a hung Parliament or the NDA is routed; if the BJP and its allies manage to get a majority again, any such exercise before the polls will be futile.
Meanwhile, for the Opposition, some other positive developments are also taking place. The 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' launched by the Congress on September 7 has the potential to generate a tsunami of enthusiasm among the party’s cadres and the people of the country. The Congress is the only pan-India Opposition party and is supported by at least 20 per cent of the country's electorate.
AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal is going ahead with his own programme, ‘Making a Mahan Bharat’, aimed at exposing the BJP. Both the developments can help counter the BJP’s propaganda juggernaut.
It is no coincidence that the BJP high command led by Home Minister Amit Shah himself got into a huddle on September 6 to discuss the party's plan of action for the 2024 polls. They went on to identify 144 seats which the party did not win in 2019 and worked on a strategy on ‘retrieving’ them.
The BJP is on a backfoot because it has lost powerful allies in the Hindi-speaking heartland. It was especially jolted by the JD(U) and the SAD snapping ties with it.
The saffron party is hoping to keep the losses from its existing 303 seats to a minimum and try and mop up those which it had lost in the last round. But this is not going to happen if the Opposition parties deploy a flexible electoral strategy, ensuring maximum mobilisation of anti-BJP votes in favour of the strongest Opposition party in each state. This will entail giving a free hand to the strongest Opposition party in each state.
As of now, the political situation in Bihar and Tamil Nadu is fairly clear.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, the Congress is the major Opposition party which takes on the BJP in a straight contest each time the states go for polls. As such, if at all the Congress feels it necessary to have an alliance with smaller anti-BJP parties, its decision will be final regarding the same.
In Karnataka too, the Congress is the major Opposition party, but the JD(S) is influential in some districts. It will, then, be in the best interests of the Opposition for the Congress and JD(S) to join hands to take on the BJP both in state Assembly polls in 2023 and for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
In Jharkhand and Maharashtra, the Congress is already an active part of a viable political alliance.
In Assam too, the Congress is the main Opposition party, and it will be in the best interests of the Opposition if there is a united alliance against the BJP comprising of the Congress, the TMC, the Left and the other anti-BJP regional parties. If Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma is made to bite the dust, the BJP will lose control over the entire North Eastern region in no time at all.
In West Bengal, the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee is sufficiently strong to take on the BJP on its own.
In Kerala, the BJP has no presence at all and communism rules the roost.
The political situation in Punjab is a little murky at the moment, with the emergence of the AAP as a significant political player in the state. It remains to be seen if AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal signs up for an Opposition front taking on the BJP.
In Telangana, the TRS led by K Chandrasekhar Rao is firmly with the anti-BJP Opposition. But the party might fight the Lok Sabha polls on its own against both the BJP and the Congress, as will the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh led by Jagan Mohan Reddy.
In Odisha too, the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik is likely to fight both the BJP and the Congress in the polls to maintain control over its regional domain.
In the scenario of a hung Lok Sabha in 2024, the fence sitters like the BJD and the YSRCP would end up playing the role of ‘king-makers’.
All eyes are now on the major Opposition leaders to make tangible moves to give shape to a united front to get the BJP to move off the treasury benches in Parliament in 2024.
Views are personal