December 13, 2022
NEW DELHI – The recent Assembly poll results are a wake-up call to the BJP, the Congress, and other Opposition parties as the signals were mixed. Each had some gains and also losses.
The BJP won a spectacular victory in Gujarat and is the only party other than the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to have won seven straight Assembly elections in a state. The CPI(M) ruled West Bengal from 1977 to 2011. AAP snatched the Delhi Municipal Corporation, and the Congress won Himachal Pradesh from the BJP.
With these, the Opposition got some moral boost to face the upcoming Assembly polls in 2023 and the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
Being Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state and a BJP bastion, Gujarat has held particular importance in national politics since Mr Modi took over in 2014. The stakes were high as losing his home state would have been a loss of face for Mr Modi, but the record win has added to his prestige.
BJP has broken some records in the past eight years. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also made history in last year’s UP Assembly polls. It was the first time since 1985 that a government had been repeated in UP. Congress had no concerted policy or strategic design to win Gujarat. The indifference of the Congress’ top leadership also helped the BJP. Strangely, the Gandhis had kept aloof.
The disaster was inevitable. The Congress performed well in 2017 by drafting young icons like Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakur in Gujarat. But they had all left the party in the interim. The Congress had no strong state leaders. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, in charge of the Gujarat campaign, was preoccupied with his fight with Sachin Pilot, who was eyeing his chair. Rahul was busy with his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.
Himachal Pradesh was a different story. Traditionally, the state has not returned the incumbent, and it was the turn of Congress to snatch the state. Despite all odds, the Congress defeated the BJP in Himachal.
The Himachal victory was significant. Candidates fought for themselves, with the Gandhis avoiding the campaign. Priyanka Gandhi, in charge of the Himachal campaign, did the bare minimum. Rahul Gandhi barely campaigned in Gujarat and skipped Himachal.
This was their answer to detractors demanding a non-Gandhi party president. It was the rebel candidates within who sabotaged the BJP. Even when Mr Modi phoned a rebel candidate directly asking him to withdraw, he did not do so. The party must address the rebels’ concerns before the 2024 polls.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal got a big boost after winning five seats in Gujarat. AAP rules two states – Delhi and Punjab. The ten-year-old party is spreading its wings in other states and wants to emerge as a challenger to Mr Modi in the 2024 polls.
The AAP also won the prestigious Municipal Corporation of Delhi. BJP has held the MCD for the past fifteen years. Mr Kejriwal now will have the government and the corporation under his control, which should help his administration.
As for the byeelections, the ruling BJP in UP lost to Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and wrested the Rampur Sadar assembly seat. The Samajwadi Party retained the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat. The BJP also won the Kurhani constituency in Bihar from the ruling Nitish Kumar-led alliance. The Congress held its two assembly seats – in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
BJP President J.P. Nadda had already called a “massive” meeting of all national and state level office bearers in Delhi on December 5 and 6. He discussed preparations for the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2023 assembly elections. These 24/7 preparations are BJP’s strength in winning polls.
The Opposition wakes up at the last minute and dreams of unity. It has a decisive disadvantage as it is still searching for a challenger to Mr Modi. Most opposition chief ministers want to keep the choice of the prime ministerial candidate open. At least half a dozen powerful regional satraps firmly hold on to their voters by offering freebies. The list includes West Bengal (Mamata Banerjee), Odisha (Naveen Patnaik), Telangana (K.Chandrashekhar Rao), Tamil Nadu (M.K.Stalin), Andhra Pradesh(Jagan Mohan Reddy), Bihar (Nitish Kumar) and now Delhi (Arvind Kejriwal).
Regionalism began in the eighties and is growing as charismatic and articulate leaders have emerged in states. It is they who challenge the BJP in the states.
After the Himachal win, Congress might claim leadership of the Opposition by seeking to bring all the anti BJP opposition parties on one platform. Congress may need help to unite influential and egoistic regional leaders. But before that, it has to set its own house in order.
The secret of Mr Modi’s success is the divided Opposition. It is up to Congress and the Opposition to prepare for the battle in 2024. There are still 18 months, but if they want to perform, they must re-strategize and assess their electoral plans.