INDIA bloc’s 2024 bid also a race against time - Hindustan Times

INDIA bloc’s 2024 bid also a race against time

Dec 18, 2023 05:13 PM IST

INDIA bloc's metaphorical train is already behind schedule and will now need to accelerate at least three-fold to reach their intended destination.

Will the “INDIA bloc” be able to offer voters a blueprint of its plans for India at its meeting tomorrow? Recent meetings of the alliance have left much to be desired on this front. I wonder if the alliance leaders realise that failing to present a clear agenda this time might lead to a larger defeat at the next general elections. Time is not in their favour.

INDIA bloc held a meeting in Mumbai in September. (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
INDIA bloc held a meeting in Mumbai in September. (HT PHOTO)

The announcement of assembly election results in the Hindi heartland on December 3 astonished political pundits and data analysts alike. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s strategy of sidestepping the regional leadership resulted in resounding success in states that it had lost in 2018. Post-Indira Gandhi, the idea that a majority in state elections could be won solely on the Prime Minister (PM)’s performance and reputation — bypassing regional figures — had been forgotten.

The electoral outcomes in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan reflect an intriguing trend. Over the past decade, there have been notable instances where voters favoured one party at the state level while aligning with another at the national level. This dynamic was showcased in these three states five years ago when, despite losing in the assembly elections, the BJP secured 34 out of 36 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Such patterns resonated across other regions in North and West India, significantly bolstering Modi’s electoral success in May 2019.

The BJP aims to not only replicate its past success in securing a majority independently but also to enhance its performance. The new chief ministers might actually benefit the party as there’s no evident disillusionment with them among the public. Their willingness to adhere to directives from New Delhi remains strong, working in the party’s favour.

I wonder if the Congress leadership has fully considered this perspective. They failed to explore a strategy similar to the one adopted in the case of Revanth Reddy in the Hindi-speaking states. The persistent indecision and aversion to change became stumbling blocks for the Congress. The internal conflict between Ashok Gehlot, who is 72, and Sachin Pilot predates the party’s last stint in Rajasthan and remains unresolved.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress placed its bets on the 77-year-old Kamal Nath, who failed to effectively harness anti-incumbency. My observations during travels across rural Madhya Pradesh before the elections revealed an interesting sentiment — not necessarily anger towards Shivraj Singh Chouhan but a palpable desire for change, a classic case of the political “fatigue factor”. Wouldn’t a younger leader replacing Kamal Nath have better connected with and capitalised on this prevailing sentiment for change? Kamal Nath’s struggle to unify the party further exacerbated the challenges.

In Chhattisgarh, the Congress’s internal discord and Bhupesh Baghel’s overconfidence led to its downfall. The Congress overlooked the growing desire for change in Chhattisgarh. It’s a double defeat — failing to grasp the shifting tide and missing the opportunity to capitalise on the populace’s craving for new leadership. The BJP, by embracing fresh faces, did precisely what the Congress should have done six months earlier.

The repercussions for the oldest party in the country might surface regarding its share in the INDIA bloc. The Congress possibly anticipated positive outcomes in the five states, positioning itself as the alliance’s leader. Yet, even if its size prevents it from being relegated to a minor role, it may lack the authority to prevent others from equal standing. Since December 3, all allies have been on the offensive for a reason. Akhilesh Yadav and other prominent leaders from different parties have raised concerns about the words and actions of the country’s oldest party following the resounding defeats in the three Hindi belt states. The meeting’s success hinges on the Congress providing satisfactory answers to these questions.

The BJP, without doubt, appears to be heading for its third consecutive triumph under PM Narendra Modi’s leadership. However, politics thrives on potential outcomes. The leaders of INDIA are convening for the fourth time. If they replicate past mistakes at this meeting, their credibility will take another hit.

Their metaphorical train is already behind schedule and will now need to accelerate at least three-fold to reach their intended destination.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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