The December 3 results of four Assembly elections have lessons for the victorious Bharatiya Janata Party, down but not totally out, the Congress and badly bruised Bharatiya Rashtriya Samithi as well as its partner All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen.
First, let us start from the Telangana verdict. It has shattered the lofty, but misplaced ambition of both BRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao and AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi. The former was so sure about his capability to emerge as a national-level figure that only some time back he changed the name of his party from Telangana Rashtriya Samithi to Bharatiya Rashtriya Samithi. He did not join the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance and number of times supported the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, especially in the Rajya Sabha.
Setback to Owaisi
Owaisi whose party had to struggle to retain its seven seats, has been nursing the dream of becoming a pan-India Muslim leader. In the process, he had in the last about decade ensured the defeat of several secular parties’ candidates in Assembly elections in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Maharashtra. His critics would often call his party the B-team of BJP, though they have no problem in AIMIM contesting from Muslim-dominated seats in Old Hyderabad. What irks his opponents in the non-BJP party is his deliberate strategy to weaken parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress, and Samajwadi Party whose record in fighting the communal forces cannot be overlooked.
Incidentally, his changed stand against secular parties and Congress coincides with the rise of Narendra Modi at the national level. Needless to say, AIMIM had a close relationship with Congress between 1994 and 2012 that is since the immediate post-Babri Masjid demolition years.
Today BRS and AIMIM bigwigs are licking their wounds. Perhaps in the coming Lok Sabha poll they—at least BRS—may openly join hands with the BJP as Congress has eaten into their vote bank.
The problem with the AIMIM is that it has failed to woo Muslim votes in favour of ally BRS outside Old City and the rest of the state, which has about 12.7%population of the community. If it cannot attract Muslim votes in Telangana, how can it do so elsewhere in India?
For the Congress party Telangana has come as a small but significant consolation as the defeat in all the three states, especially Chhattisgarh, was somewhat unexpected. The Bharat Jodo Yatra which started from the southernmost tip of India on September 7 last year appears to have a slow, but steady impact in south India. The party has first won Karnataka and now Telangana. The outcome in these two states may certainly consolidate its position in all the five states of the south. But is it enough for the Congress to win the parliamentary election as they have just 130-odd seats?
Regional parties alarmed
The results have come as an alarm to other satraps, especially in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and even Odisha, where Naveen Patnaik has, like Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, grown quite old.
The latest result in Telangana may go a long way to confirm that it is not only the BJP, but the Congress too which can fill the vacuum created by the weakening of any regional outfit.
The BJP has indeed done very well in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan but the problem with it is that in the coming Lok Sabha poll this performance is not going to make any impact. Along with these two states and Chhattisgarh, the National Democratic Alliance had won 62 out of 65 Lok Sabha seats both in 2014 and 2019 elections. So, there is no scope for improvement.
The other noticeable fact is that even in these three Hindi heartland states, the percentage of Congress votes has not declined, in one case it has increased slightly. It is only the BJP votes which have gone up. So, Congress cannot be ruled out in these states which have long history of voting for different parties in the Assembly election and Lok Sabha polls held immediately after that.
Limitations of Personality
What many experts tend to forget is that notwithstanding the presence of personality like Narendra Modi the BJP on its own got only 31% and 37.36% votes in the 2014 and 2019 polls respectively. It used to get seven to eight percent votes of regional parties. This helped it to completely demolish Congress and its allies.
But in 2024 this may not be the situation. This is simply because three of its oldest and most powerful allies Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United) and Shiromani Akali Dal have deserted the saffron camp. The first two parties have crossed over to INDIA and are posing a serious threat to the BJP in Maharashtra, Bihar, and Jharkhand, where the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha dissociated from the saffron camp a long back.
Besides, INDIA has over two dozen big and small parties other than Shiv Sena, JD (U), and JMM.
The NDA is now for all practical purposes one-party alliance. This is going to pose a challenge to the BJP, which may face an uphill task even if it gets 40% votes instead of the 37.36% it secured in 2019. This is obviously because INDIA may end up getting even more than the BJP.
One must not forget that unlike in Assembly elections where the BJP had got more than 50 % votes in several states in the Lok Sabha polls the saffron party alone has never polled more than 37.36% votes. In its heyday till 1984 Congress had got much more votes than this. Thus, nationally the BJP is more prone to defeat.
But for this Congress may have to abandon old and hackneyed horses like Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh (both upper caste leaders) in Madhya Pradesh and bring to a complete end the infighting between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. They need Anumula Revanth Reddy like fresh face in these two states.
Apart from this INDIA may have to fight as a cohesive force. The defeat of Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA in 2004 to the rag-tag army under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi only proves that personality has its limitations.
But at the same time, one must understand that in 2004 the Congress formed a very solid alliance with DMK in Tamil Nadu and RJD, LJP, and JMM in Bihar and Jharkhand.
If INDIA does not fight unitedly then 37.36% votes is enough to ensure victory of the BJP.