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BJP is planning its roadmap for 2024, even 2029. The opposition is still stuck in 2018

What’s the opposition doing a year ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election that didn’t in 2018? Essentially, nothing different.

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Around this time next year, the Election Commission will have announced the dates of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Usually, with barely a year left, one would expect the opposition to be finalising their strategies and agendas. Let’s look at the summary of last week’s headlines: Rahul Gandhi returns from abroad; Disruptions in Parliament, opposition demands a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Adani, BJP wants Rahul’s apology; Trinamool Congress and Nationalist Congress Party skip opposition march to the Enforcement Directorate’s office; Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee meet in Kolkata, discuss anti-BJP, non-Congress front; Banerjee to meet Naveen Patnaik next week. There were many others, but they wouldn’t be any different from what the opposition did in the week before, or month or year.

Vyapam, Rafale, Covid-19, Chinese incursions, unemployment, price rise — they are all passe. New Parliament session, new slogans—with the same, old intent to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi down from his pedestal.

Last week, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi joined the Congress in protests against alleged misuse of Central investigation agencies and JPC committee on Adani; Trinamool Congress and Nationalist Congress Party skipped the demonstration.  In the earlier days, TMC and NCP would be with the Congress, not the AAP and BRS.

Meetings between Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, K Chandrasekhar Rao, Arvind Kejriwal, HD Kumaraswamy and others have been making headlines for years. Their agendas were the same. So were the results.


Also Read: Modi-Shah’s leadership mettle to face the toughest test yet in coming Assembly elections

Voters’ fatigue?

What’s the opposition doing a year ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election that they didn’t do in 2018? Essentially, nothing different—other than the Bharat Jodo Yatra that emboldened the Congress to claim its numero uno status in the opposition camp. But the yatra seems to be already fading from public memory, even within the Congress

Public posturing aside, ask any opposition leader about their best hope in 2024. Most of them will tell you that it’s to bring the BJP’s tally down below 250 in the 543-seat Lok Sabha. They think it will be the beginning of the end of the Modi era in Indian politics—they think. And who knows what opportunities it might offer to the Nitish Kumars, Mamata Banerjees and the rest if BJP’s tally goes down further.

And what are they doing to bring the BJP’s tally down when their past efforts only increased it — from 282 in 2014 to 303 in 2019? Well, opposition leaders say that the National Democratic Alliance has “maxed out” in many states in 2014 and 2019 elections. They bagged 73 and 64 seats out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh; 42 and 41 out of 48 in Maharashtra; 27 and 28 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh; all 25 and 26 in Rajasthan and Gujarat; 17 and 25 out of 28 in Karnataka; 31 and 39 out of 40 in Bihar; 12 out of 14 in both elections in Jharkhand; 10 and nine out of 11 in Chhattisgarh; seven and 10 out of 10 in Haryana; and all four and five in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in both elections.

In just these dozen states, the NDA has had a grip on a little less than 300 Lok Sabha seats in the past two elections. Opposition leaders will tell you that the BJP is “maxing out” in these states. They seem to be convinced that these numbers will come down by at least 20-25 per cent, bringing the BJP’s tally below 250 in the Lok Sabha in 2024. That’s also because they think the ruling party can’t significantly improve its tally in other states.

And why do they think the BJP’s tally in those dozen states would go down? First, is the maxing out theory, the seats can only go down. Second, the BJP has lost major allies—Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra and Nitish Kumar in Bihar.

The opposition is, of course, conveniently ignoring other factors. In Bihar, for instance, Nitish Kumar had split ties with the BJP before the 2014 elections. The BJP had to go with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. But the NDA still won 31 out of these 40 seats. Nitish Kumar’s popularity has only gone down since then. And Kushwaha and Chirag Paswan look all set to ally with the BJP once again in 2024.

Similarly, a grand alliance between the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal had managed to bring down the NDA’s tally to 64 in 2019 from 73 in 2014. With BSP out of this alliance, the BJP may even be looking to better its 2014 tally in UP, especially with chief minister Yogi Adityanath gaining in popularity.

Modi was the single most important factor in the 2014 and 2019 elections. and BJP’s allies gained more from their alliance than the other way around. It was evident from the performance of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United)—two seats without the BJP in 2014 and 16 with the BJP in 2019. There is no evidence of a dip in PM Modi’s popularity in these states.

Opposition leaders also are seeing some headwinds against the BJP in other states. They are expecting a dip in the BJP’s tally in West Bengal—18 in 2019—given how Mamata Banerjee defeated the party in the last Assembly election. Similarly, they see the BJP sliding in Odisha—from eight in 2019—with CM Naveen Patnaik realising the threat and fighting back.

Essentially, the opposition’s hope lies in the voters fatigue with Modi after his two terms in office. This is giving them the confidence that they can continue to do the same things and produce a different result in 2024.

Also Read:Rahul Gandhi’s ‘I, me, mine’ to Tharoor showing real crisis—3 days of Congress plenary session

BJP’s counter-measures

Opposition leaders seem to be living in a time warp. Their notion about the BJP maxing out in the dozen states mentioned above is based on optimism and, to an extent, wishful thinking. As of today, there is no indication from the ground to suggest that Modi voters are doing a re-think or that some of them joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Look at the contrast in the approach of the ruling and the opposition parties. The BJP is working on its weak areas. It has already deployed 70 senior leaders, including ministers, to work in about 144 Lok Sabha constituencies, including many that it lost. Each of them has been given a cluster of three to four seats.

The party’s endeavour to make forays into hitherto unchartered territories continues at full pace. Just look at the headlines last week and you will see the BJP laying its 2024—and even 2029—roadmap. On 12 March Amit Shah was in Thrissur, Kerala—where the BJP drew a blank in 2019—to address a rally and take stock of the party’s preparations for the next election. PM Modi is likely to visit the state this week.

On Friday, Shah met actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi, a Congressman who has retired from active politics, and his son, RRR star, Ram Charan, in Delhi.

There was nothing political about this meeting, ostensibly. But it comes at a time when Chiranjeevi’s younger brother, Pawan Kalyan of the Jan Sena, a BJP ally, is cosying up to the Telugu Desam Party. And the BJP is trying to expand its presence in Andhra Pradesh despite the ruling party, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party, being friendly and showing no intent to even meet anyone from the opposition camp.

In the land of Dravidian politics, Tamil Nadu, the BJP is still trying to find its feet. State unit chief Annamalai is seeking to chart a course independent of the EK Palaniswami-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), The Hindu reported. This came days after EPS inducted about a dozen BJP leaders into the AIADMK. While the BJP high command hasn’t taken a call on the alliance, Annamalai’s assertions show the BJP’s eagerness not to hang on the AIADMK’s coattails and make its own mark.

On Friday, Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule was quoted in The Times of India saying at a party meeting that in the 2024 assembly elections the BJP would contest 240 seats,  and Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena would get the remaining 48.

It created a flutter in the ruling coalition. Although Bawankule later sought to put a lid on the controversy, by saying that his remark had been misinterpreted and seat-sharing between the allies wasn’t finalised yet, political observers in the state saw it as an indication of the BJP’s future expansion plan at the cost of its new ally. Bawankule was obviously testing the water.

What these instances show us is the BJP’s indefatigable attempts to consolidate and expand—at the expense of both allies and adversaries. It goes much beyond 2024.

D.K. Singh is the political editor at ThePrint. Views are personal

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)


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