4 Big Takeaways From 2023 State Elections


The elections in Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Telangana and Chhattisgarh have frequently been described as the ‘semi-finals’ to the grand finale that is the 2024 national election. One can debate about the hazards of using these results to draw inferences ahead of the 2024 elections. It is true that the voter clearly draws a distinction between state and Lok Sabha elections. What transpired in 2018 clearly exposed the hazards of using these results as a barometer of what is to come in 2024. That is not to say, however, that these results are insignificant and will have no bearing on the outcome of the national polls.

There are four crucial takeaways:

South India holds key to Congress’s revival

Looking back at 2023, the Congress can draw great comfortfrom its performance south of the Vindhyas. In Karnataka, the Congress handed the BJP a thumping defeat in a direct contest. In Telangana, the Congress has managed to engineer a remarkable revival, defeating the well-entrenched BRS. These two results will give the party and its cadre immense hope. For one, it has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which spent a significant amount of time in Telangana and Karnataka. The yatra not only energised the cadre but also helped it capitalize on brewing anti-incumbency. Second, the Congress’s victory in Telangana and Karnataka was made possible by a strong state-level leadership. In Karnataka, it was the jugalbandi of Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar. In Telangana, Revanth Reddy was key to the party’s success.

Moving forward to 2024, South India could be the region where the Congress can script a recovery. In Karnataka, the BJP won 25 of 28 seats in 2019. Replicating that performance against a resurgent Congress will be a challenge. Similarly, with the emphatic victory in Telangana, the Congress is well-placed to improve on its 2019 performance. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is on the back foot following the collapse of its alliance with the AIADMK. It has opened the doors for the DMK-Congress alliance to dominate the state. If the Congress can get its act together in Kerala, South India could mark the beginning of a Congress revival.

BJP’s fortress in the Hindi heartland

The results from Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh show the BJP has managed to convert the Hindi Heartland (except Bihar) into a well-guarded fortress. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress’s inroads among the Scheduled Tribes and backward caste voters in 2018 signalled a very close fight. Several exit polls predicted a close fight with a slight advantage to the BJP. The results showed it was, however, anything but a close fight. The BJP was able to shift the momentum convincingly in the last mile. Similarly, in Rajasthan where a tighter contest was expected, the BJP managed to win convincingly. The biggest surprise came in Chhattisgarh, where exit polls had predicted a clear advantage to the Congress. This was another state where the BJP was on the back foot, but the Congress managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

As much as these results indicate the Congress’s weaknesses, they also demonstrate the BJP’s organisational strength and domination. The Congress, despite the initial momentum, failed to capitalise on the opportunity. The BJP’s vast volunteer network and organisational superiority ensured that they edged out the Congress when it came to connecting with the voters. This proved to be a decisive factor. With 2024 around the corner, the state poll results have further complicated the Congress’s job in the Hindi Heartland. The BJP seems to be on the front foot.

A setback for the INDIA coalition

The results are a major setback to the opposition INDIA alliance. A strong Congress performance in northern and central India is crucial to the alliance’s fortunes. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, the BJP clearly has an upper hand in places where there is a direct Congress versus BJP fight. The results today have reinforced the BJP’s advantage. Though it is marketed as a grand opposition alliance, the Congress is clearly the central force around which the alliance revolves. Therefore, the Congress’s fortunes are key to holding the alliance together.

The results will significantly weaken the Congress’s bargaining power within the coalition. A strong showing in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to back up its sensational victory earlier this year in Karnataka would have cemented the Congress’s position as the primary opposition party to the BJP. However, with the Congress struggling to defeat a BJP (with notable vulnerabilities) in the Hindi Heartland, the party’s claim to be the primary pan-India opposition to the BJP has been significantly undermined.

Focus on new state-level leadership

The Congress’ victories in Karnataka and Telangana were largely made possible due to the presence of strong and dynamic state level leaders. In Karnataka, it was Siddaramaiah’s mass appeal and DK Shivakumar’s organizational skills that delivered victory for the Congress. In Telangana, Revanth Reddy’s presence was critical. State level leadership is the Congress’ achillesheel in the Hindi Heartland. In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the party needs to empower the next generation of leaders. In Madhya Pradesh the party needs to move beyond Digvijaya Singh and Kamalnath. The infighting between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot cost the Congress dearly in Rajasthan. With six months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, there is no harm in empowering younger and more dynamic leaders. In Rajasthan this may mean handing over the reigns to Sachin Pilot. While this may not guarantee the Congress success, there is no harm in trying.

While these elections do not provide an action replay of what is going to happen in the Lok Sabha elections next year, there are a few trends that are crucial. As much as the BJP is strong and dominant in the Hindi Heartland, the party has its weaknesses in South India. For the Congress, this offers a window of opportunity. Their strong showing in Karnataka and Telangana has energized workers. South India could mark the revival of the Congress. In the Hindi Heartland, the BJP is a formidable force. The Congress needs a fresh set of ideas and a far more dynamic leadership to challenge the BJP. For the INDIA coalition, the results clearly show an uphill task in the north and central India belt. The results could dampen the Congress’s bargaining power within the coalition. All eyes will be on the coalition meeting expected on December 6. While these elections are a setback, the INDIA coalition will need to set these results aside and focus clearly on 2024. Taking on the BJP will require careful planning, strategising and a strong vision. Merely defeating the BJP cannot be the only agenda on which the alliance fights the elections.

The author is an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, GITAM Deemed to be University, Visakhapatnam.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *