February 13, 2023
NEW DELHI – Despite the presence of regional parties, there could be a game of thrones for the BJP and Congress in nine states going for elections this year. It is seen as the semi-final before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The results will show whether the BJP continues to sway the voters or the Congress-led Opposition can trump the BJP. Jammu and Kashmir may also go for polls, the first since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. The election-bound states are Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and the four northeastern states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura.
The polls will be in three stretches. Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura will go to polls from February to March. Karnataka will have elections in April-May. Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram will face elections at the yearend.
Both the national parties have high stakes. BJP wants to expand further while Congress struggles to raise its head. The BJP is going all out to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to perform a hat trick. “Mission 350” (to get 350 seats in the Lok Sabha) is their stated goal.
The two parties have already begun their poll exercises, with Mr Modi campaigning in the Northeast and the Congress concentrating on Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. Key regional players like Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who is hoping for a hat trick, are also preparing for the battle.
Congress would like to win as many states as possible and retain its present turf. It has already lost the northeastern states, which were its stronghold at one point in time to the BJP. The BJP has increased its foothold steadily everywhere. Even the Communists have lost Tripura to the BJP.
BJP chief J P Nadda sounded the poll bugle this month, asking the cadres to “prepare to win all nine Assembly polls this year. The party is getting votes of Backward Classes, SCs and STs and is giving them representation. This shows our resolve of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Prayas,” he said; while addressing the party’s national executive recently.
The states where BJP and Congress are the leading contenders are the big ones – Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh. Congress is ruling Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, and the BJP holds Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. A two per cent swing, either way, would change the results.
The BJP wants to focus on the South, which has 129 seats and of which the party has only 29, as many as 25 coming from Karnataka. The party wants to win at least 50 seats. But the regional satraps have a firm hold in southern states, be it Telangana, Tamil Nadu, or Kerala.
The fight is between BJP and regional parties in the northeastern states. Strangely, the CPI-M and Congress decided to contest the poll together in Tripura. “The upcoming 2023 assembly elections will be the final journey for communists, and the Congress party will become a poster”, according to Tripura’s former Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb.
After completing Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo’ Yatra a few days ago, the Congress workers are enthused. The Yatra is a ‘booster dose’ for Congress. Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, and even Madhya Pradesh face infighting. We must wait for the yatra’s electoral impact, as it depends on the follow-up steps. The party’s high command must not mess up as it did in Punjab and elsewhere. Besides, Congress has to think of the right alliance partners to win. It must assess its strength correctly. Organizational unity is a crucial challenge, especially in states such as Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Telangana, where traditionally, the Congress had done well in the past.
Secondly, it also has to project solid state-level leaders and find a balance between the old guard and younger leaders.
Thirdly, Congress must choose a new, catchy narrative to woo voters.
Fourthly, Congress should raise correct issues, particularly those of interest to the common man, like bread and butter issues.
As for the BJP, it is always poll ready. Money is no constraint, nor is the organization. The BJP depends on the Modi magic to sway the voters.
However, the saffron party is on the back foot regarding price rise, inflation, and jobs. There are no takers for its Hindutva ideology in the South. If the opposition concentrates on these bread and butter issues and convinces the voters to move away from the BJP, it would gain. The BJP also has to fight the dynasties, welfare politics, and social engineering to conquer the South. Regional satraps like K. Chandrashekhar Rao still have a hold on the electorate. Each player has to use a different poll strategy to win and go for a suitable alliance. The parties have to overcome some disadvantages to utilise their advantages successfully. Ultimately, it all depends on the voters and Dame Luck