BJP’s best chances of winning are in those states where Congress is powerful.
With the three large states in the Hindi heartland – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – going out of their hold, the BJP’s slogan of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ suffers a setback.
Very few slogans have had a game-changing effect in elections in the last 70-odd years of our democratic experiment. Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi hatao’ was one such slogan. In 2014, BJP’s ace campaigner Narendra Modi enthralled his audience with another such powerful slogan: ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ or an India free of Congress. Neither political analysts nor the Congress party took it seriously.
But an overwhelming majority of the voters seemed to have taken a fancy for the slogan and punished the Congress with 44 seats in Lok Sabha, lowest ever for the more-than-a-century-old party.
The Congress’ slide continued further and at one stage, the Congress is believed to have represented less than six per cent of the population and ruled over just two states, Karnataka and Mizoram. The BJP, on the other hand, had a free run in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Assam. Incidentally, all these were states ruled by the Congress. The only states where the BJP did poorly or had to share seats with allies were Punjab, Odisha, Bihar, and West Bengal.
Here is the catch. There is no BJP government in many of the states where the Congress is weak or the party is totally marginalised. States like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh are the ones where the Congress has been a no-show for quite some time now. Strangely, these are the very states where the BJP’s prospects too have been marginal or next-to-nil. In the recently held 2018 assembly elections, the BJP has won one seat each in Mizoram and Telangana.
What could be the political lesson for the BJP in this? Electoral arithmetic clearly proves that the BJP’s best chances of winning are in those states where the Congress is powerful and/or is in direct contest with the BJP. As for the Congress, the best bet for winning, as in the case of recently concluded elections, is in BJP-ruled states. It has drawn little or no support in Telangana in its fight against the regional party TRS and has lost to another regional party MNF in Mizoram.
The BJP too stands a better chance to defeat the Congress than wrest seats from a regional party such as TRS, TDP, AIADMK or BJD. Strange as it may appear, both the Congress and the BJP stand to gain only when they are pitted against one another. Both parties seem to draw a blank when they are faced with regional parties.
The need for partners for the NDA and UPA will probably be more pronounced after the 2019 elections. The BJP will require a larger NDA coalition than it has now with just three parties.
The unwelcome fallout of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ for the BJP would be to have a direct contest with regional parties sporting regional identity and endowed with strong local leadership. A quick reality check would reveal that the chances of BJP trouncing the local leadership and competing with regional (read parochial) identity are bleak. It is more or less the same with the Congress too.
What is the way out then? Should the BJP still continue with its slogan (and strategy) of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’? BJP strategists may like to deliberate on this and reframe their slogan to something better than eliminating the Congress. The slogan, despite being catchy, is detrimental to its own prospects.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’.