‘Alternative to BJP’ faces internal hurdles

opinion‘Alternative to BJP’ faces internal hurdles

State polls are entirely different from a national poll, and cannot be compared to the semi-finals in the way earlier contests are in some sports.

Commentators constantly repeat that state elections taking place less than a year before a general election are the semi-finals, with the national polls being the finals. In the sports where such a distinction is made, the semi-final stage knocks out losing teams from the finals. In the case of Bharat i.e. India, an individual or a party can do very badly in whichever state elections they contest in, and yet have the right to stand in a general election. There are criteria based on a given number of votes polled and the number of states where such minimum tallies are needed for recognition as a national party.

As yet, such a winnowing down of contestants is not taking place where national elections are concerned. However low be the tally of a political party in state polls, that party is nevertheless given the chance to contest in a general election. In case panchayats are taken as the marker in state polls, and a condition imposed that a specified percentage of votes polled is needed in a predetermined proportion of the panchayats in that state or Union Territory, there would be a substantial reduction in the number of contestants in a state poll. On similar lines, were a condition to be imposed that only parties recognized as national would be allowed to contest in a national poll, those political outfits that have a vision based solely on the interests of a particular state would not be able to compete in a national poll, leaving the field open for those parties that have an appeal spanning a specified number of states. In other words, only parties recognized as national in scope would be permitted to contest a national election. At the same time, a state party may repeatedly secure a majority in a particular state, although that party would be unable to contest in a national poll unless it were to broaden its appeal beyond a single state. All this is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that state polls are entirely different from a national poll, and cannot be compared to the semi-finals in the way earlier contests are in some sports. Given the immense latitude and power wielded by the central authorities, there is a difference not just in scale but also in substance between a state poll and a national poll. Which is why the 2024 Lok Sabha elections have the potential to change the course of societal and economic development in India in a manner seldom witnessed before.

Entirely different streams of thought and of policy are competing with each other, and a change in the control of the government from the present BJP-led dispensation to a collective of political parties chiefly united in the desire to partake in the benefits of power. Where those parties who consider themselves as the alternative to the BJP are likely to first encounter strong headwinds will be in the distribution of constituencies amongst themselves. For Rahul Gandhi, securing at least a hundred and twenty-five Lok Sabha seats will be crucial to his ability to ensure that the immense conglomerate that is the Congress Party bends to his will in the way that took place during the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi during the UPA period. In the Karnataka polls, it was the state satraps who ensured the vote, not anyone from the First Family. Similarly, a victory in Madhya Pradesh would be because of the canny strategist in Kamal Nath, rather than the three individuals who are the actual Congress high command, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. A Lok Sabha score less than a hundred seats could result in not simply a dimming but in the extinguishing of the hold of the First Family within the party. Others in the Congress ranks would be confirmed in the belief that the control of the triumvirate over their fates is in inverse proportion to the attraction they have amongst voters. Should Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot even come close to winning a majority in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, they would have a powerful influence on the candidates being put up in their respective states by the Congress Party, just as Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah have in Karnataka, a state where it is imperative from the national point of view for the Congress to get fifteen LS seats or more in 2024. How many seats would the Congress Party need to contest to secure 125, even assuming that Rahul Gandhi is right in assuming that there is an anti-incumbency wave, something not obvious to others? At least 250, but at whose expense and in what states? Regional chieftains in states such as Bengal, Tamil Nadu, AP, Telangana and elsewhere would like through numbers to dominate the alternative alliance, rather than play a lesser role in the way that took place during the decade in power of the UPA. And given the outsize influence that the UPA Chairperson had during that decade, even over the Prime Minister of India, few would wish to see a repeat through the effective leadership of the coalition once again passing into the hands of a member of the First Family.

Even if the Congress Party were to suggest Mallikarjun Kharge (a very decent individual, in the way Manmohan Singh is) as the Prime Minister in case the alternative to the BJP gets a majority in the Lok Sabha, this would not be an easy sell where others are concerned. They would worry that Kharge may not be the neutral player that a coalition expects from its PM choice, but would pay more attention to whispers from 10 Janpath rather than to loud voices from other coalition partners.

In contrast, there is no doubt about who the BJP would choose as the Prime Minister, were it to secure a parliamentary majority. 2024 is about the ten years of the Modi government, and a repeat performance of 2019 five years later would reinforce the primacy of Narendra Modi within the polity of Bharat i.e. India and further increase his importance within the world outside. Ten years of Modi have changed India. Fifteen years of Modi would transform the country. This is what is on the ballot in 2024.

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