Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
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In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress had a historic, humiliating defeat. It was the first time it didn’t win triple digits in the Lok Sabha. The 44 seat-tally couldn’t even get it the post of the Leader of Opposition in the House of the people.

Yet, Congress members and leaders consoled themselves by saying this was an aberration. The party’s chief data analyst propounded the “black swan” theory.

The party expected to win around 100-150 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. This would have shown incremental progress, making the Congress’ return to power in the 2024 Lok Sabha election look like a matter of course. The line of thinking was that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power for 10 years, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would similarly get two terms, and the pendulum would swing back.

This theory had some backing in the Congress party’s state election victories in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Puducherry. In Modi’s home state Gujarat, it gave the BJP a tough time returning to power. In Karnataka, it managed to keep the BJP out of power till at least the Lok Sabha election. The state elections suggested that the idea of a dominant, single-party Modi era could be a tad bit exaggerated.

Alas, history doesn’t owe it to anyone to be so linear. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress stood more or less where it did in 2014, with 52 seats, still not enough for the Leader of the Opposition post. Its vote share remained rather strong and stable, increasing from 19.5 per cent in 2014 to 21 per cent in 2019. The Modi-led BJP crossed the psychological barrier of 300 seats, increasing its tally from 282 to 303, and we’re not even counting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies yet.


Also read: NDA is sacrificial horse as Modi-Shah complete their Ashwamedha & redefine Indian politics


A great new churning

The 2019 Lok Sabha election has led to a great new churning in Indian politics. This churning has only just begun, but begun it has.

This churning has absolutely nothing to do with the BJP. It is a churning within the opposition. It is a conversation that non-BJP voters are having among themselves. Is it time to look beyond the Congress? If yes, what are our options?

In state after state election, voters are asking themselves this question. The result is not just that regional parties are asserting themselves and finding greater traction among voters, but also that new parties and formations are coming up.

Since the 2019 Lok Sabha election, opposition leaders who’ve managed to distinguish themselves in electoral and political battles include Hemant Soren, Dushyant Chautala, Arvind Kejriwal, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, Asaduddin Owaisi, and even Tejashwi Yadav. What’s common in these names is that none of them belong to the Congress.

Kejriwal tries again

The significance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opening its account in Gujarat through municipal elections cannot be overstated. Having failed in its strategy to win one state at a time, the AAP has decided to contest as many elections as it can, going all-in. In the next 2-3 years, the AAP could well return to its old levels of noise and national attention-grabbing tendencies.

As Gujarat shows us, the AAP’s purpose is to try and replace the Congress where it is weak. If you have been a Congress voter in Gujarat, you haven’t seen your party in power since the 1980s. It is easy to make you try another party. Arvind Kejriwal is second only to Hindutva icon Yogi Adityanath in all-India popularity ratings measured by India Today’s bi-annual national survey. Using the (true or false) hype around Kejriwal’s success in Delhi, the AAP is going to make a Himalayan attempt to replace the Congress as the main national opposition force.

The AAP may not succeed very much in the short run. It may not win a single assembly election beyond Delhi. In Punjab, the Congress has swept urban municipal polls. If the AAP loses Punjab again, its national expansion plans may not see overnight success of the kind it saw in Delhi.


Also read: State of Congress has reached such a low that it’s showing in its Assam, Bengal, Kerala plan


Owaisi pulls away Muslim votes

But the churn isn’t happening on account of the AAP’s efforts alone. Arguably, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s meagre victories here and there are one of the most significant elements of this churn. Much of the Congress party’s solid vote share despite low seats comes from Muslim voters. The Congress takes Muslim voters for granted, and the AAP wants to (foolishly) position itself as a centre-Right party. The very significant Muslim vote is thus up for grabs. The Muslim vote shifted away from the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the ’90s, and it now threatens to do so throughout the Hindi heartland. Asaduddin Owaisi is being kind to the Congress by contesting only a handful of seats in every state. He fights to win. If he decides to actually play the ‘vote-cutter’, which the Congress accuses him of being, the Congress will start losing even its respectable vote shares in many states.

We saw this most starkly in Bihar, where the Congress party’s low voice against CAA-NRC-NPR cost it Muslim-dominated seats to the benefit of AIMIM. Now, the AIMIM has marked an entry in Gujarat.


Also read: Owaisi’s AIMIM eats into ‘secular’ parties’ votes but not enough to help BJP win, data shows


Vacuum will create many new forces 

The AAP and the AIMIM are only two signs of the great new churn. There are more: From the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in Haryana to the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal in Assam. In Telangana, as the BJP moves in to replace the Congress, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s sister Sharmila has announced her own party. If the Left wins Kerala, the Trinamool wins Bengal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) wins Tamil Nadu, we will see an even greater assertion of regional parties in the national opposition space, at the cost of the Congress.

Whether it is CAA or the farm laws, the people today protest on their own, unable to use the opposition parties to fight on their behalf. Such is the vacuum today in the opposition space that young activists have to fight and go to jail for sedition because the opposition parties are too weak to perform their job of acting as a check and balance to the excesses of the executive.

This means that there will be more such Congress-replacement efforts in the next 2-3 years, in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election. These efforts may come from forces that are not even in politics right now, forces that we may not even know of today. Since the political vacuum the Congress has created is visible to everyone, we could have something akin to a Lokpal movement, or a V.P. Singh may emerge, perhaps a Jayaprakash Narayan. In Modi’s first term, the emergence of new political formations was halted by the thought that the Congress party’s 44 seats could be an aberration. Now, as the Congress crisis seems so long-term that Rahul Gandhi can’t even be party president while acting like one, the public increasingly wants to give new political experiments the green light.


Also read: Congress done with, BJP plans to demolish regional parties’ fortresses brick by brick


The deciding factor 

None of this means that the Congress will be a walkover. A 125-year-old party doesn’t just down its shutters one fine day. What it means is that the 2019-24 period is one where the Congress will fight for survival.

Modi’s first term was the period when the Titanic called the Congress was hit by an iceberg. In Modi’s second term, the Congress Titanic is trying not to sink. From Kerala to Karnataka, from Punjab to Assam, the party will do all it can to keep the hope alive for itself.

The next few years will thus see increased political competition within the opposition space. In the short run, by which we mean until 2024, it won’t result in any broad change in the BJP’s dominance. If anything, it will only help divide opposition votes and give easy victories to the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, the BJP is very keen to see multiple opposition parties divide the opposition vote. The same will happen nationally too.

It is only after the 2024 Lok Sabha election that a clearer picture will begin to emerge. Whether the picture is one of a post-Congress era or a coalition era of some sort or a magical revival of the Congress — we shall know only after 2024.

The deciding factor will be the 2024 Lok Sabha election itself. The great churn we have begun to see in Indian politics will mean that there will be multiple efforts at giving voters a national narrative. Which of these narratives, faces and formations click with voters, we shall know with the vote shares, seats and mind space that the 2024 election bestows upon these opposition forces.

2024 is likely to be a boring election in the sense that the BJP, most people would agree, is likely to see an easy third term. However, 2024 will be a landmark election in deciding the future course of opposition politics in India.

The author is a contributing editor. Views are personal.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Even after CAA NRC, Note bandi, Farmers protest, inflation, none of modi’s promises were full filled, do you still think modi will win 2024?? come on…

    • With 39 percent vote share,by people who support CAA-NRC and all ideological BJP issues-Ram Mandir,370,UCC etc

  2. A great new churn has begun in Indian politics basically led by the G-23 with a cumulative age in excess of 1800 years. 2024 is still four years away and the ageing process is normally much faster after 75. The famous comment of the RANCID PICKLE does apply here.
    Modi has set bar very high after 12 years in state and 7 years at the center. He is not a legal eagle, nor a great economist nor a combination of the two. He seems to be a man with huge common sense that is all. Unfortunately all 1800 years do not come anywhere close to his image of personal integrity and vision with capacity to realize it.
    Most of his projects are successfully implemented with logical and honest changes to whatever was conceived or started by previous governments.
    Beyond this what the new churn?

  3. What this writer says after 2024 things will “churn”, is he alluding to the stupendous increase in Muslim voters, since their numbers will swell exponentially as middle class and lower middle class Hindus go for max 1 kid, two at the most and thousands of Hindus foolishly join ranks of DINKS (Double Income No Kids).

  4. That is preposterous. Shivam Vij is a Sanghi, paid media or Modia. The Congress is going to come back with more than 280 seats under the leadership of Sri Rahul Gandhi ji. He’s reaching out to people everywhere and people love him. He has the charisma, power (including 6 packs) and intelligence to outwit Modi, who has become old. Congress comeback will begin with big win in Kerala. Rahul ji is the future of India and he will bring back the golden days.

  5. Omg! Even Shivam is not hoping for any chance for Congress in 2024. Very funny that he is contradicting his own write ups advising on how to defeat BJP! Talking of other regional and small parties like AAP and AIMIM, I don’t see any strong and influential leader with pan India acceptance for any foreseeable future. And also your assertion that someone will emerge post 2024 is rather laughable as leaders don’t emerge like that. It takes years of ground work and ability to connect with common man to be accepted as a leader. Remember Modi served 3 terms in Gujarat before coming to national politics and BJP had all India network of workers which none of the regional parties have at present. Winning few seats in municipal election doesn’t mean people are accepting you all over the country.

  6. That means Modi becomes a PM again with even lesser votes than before. May be 30% this time. Only in India, following stupid UK election rules!!

  7. the AAP wants to (foolishly) position itself as a centre-Right party.

    So by your logic AAP will do great by becoming a soft islamist party like Congress and thereby losing the Hindu vote which will enable their rival BJP to win all elections? Hindu votes matter more in this polarised time, as Hindus will no longer vote for those parties which appease fundamentalist Muslims. Moreover, the progressive and liberal Muslims are joining AAP in large numbers just like their Hindu counrerparts. AAP does not need to be vocal for shariah to get Muslim votes, They will lose more Hindu votes that way.

  8. Abki baar 400 paar, if Modi gets his act together on the economy front and shun socialist policies. If he continues with socialist policies then there is no difference between BJP, Congress, AAP, AIMIM etc.

  9. The only truth in this article and very important thing to understand is ,
    **. Much of the Congress party’s solid vote share despite low seats comes from Muslim voters. The Congress takes Muslim voters for granted**
    Congress is a Muslim party , this is the naked truth from 1947

  10. Has Shri Shivam Vij actually given up his agenda of regime change or is this article an aberration? The way he is predicting BJP’s victory in 2024, he runs the risk of being called Godi Media or worse by self certified independent journalists, including several in this portal itself.

  11. Speculative article at best Mr Shivam Vij. All that the third front is doing is getting the same votes that the Congress is getting or if they come to power continue to pander to Modi and help him pass twisted laws in Rajya Sabha. Kejriwal is celebrating coming (a distant) second in one city in Gujarat elections. Owaisi is happy to be a Muslim representative and is making no effort to be a representative of the rest of his constituents. KCR and YSJ Reddy are bending over backwards to help BJP garner more power at the cost of everyone else. None of your worthy “Congress replacements” has any idea how they are going to reconcile the grievance of various communities against each other, get Indians jobs and reduce the negative sentiments among common people. In the absence of all this, whatever “churn” will happen will be meaningless – just one opposition party being replaced by a bunch of smaller parties. All having the same handicap – no clue of how to solve the problem that the BJP under Modi has created for them.

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