North-South Divide Risky Strategy For Congress In 2024

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The 3-1 scoreline of state elections 2023 has been extrapolated by some leaders in the Congress and its allies as the trailer of what’s in store for the battle of 2024.

With the “South of India being BJP mukt” – as claimed by some opposition leaders – the stage is set for a battle between the North and the South in 2024.

Speaking on the election results, DMK MP Senthilkumar made a controversial “gaumutra” comment in Lok Sabha.

He later apologized and the comments were expunged. Karti Chidambaram, the son of P Chidambaram, proclaimed on X (formerly Twitter): “The SOUTH!”.

The Chairman of Congress’ data analytic department, Praveen Chakravarty, wrote, “The South-North boundary line is getting thicker & clearer!” He subsequently deleted the post, but screenshots remain readily available.

The people advocating this theory of “North versus South” battle in 2024 give the example of the 1977 general elections when the Congress which was wiped out in the North by the Janata Party, but held onto its fort in the South.

Of the 154 Congress MPs elected, 94 were from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and UTs Andaman and Lakshadweep. The Janata Party could win only three seats in 1977.

The Southern part of India sends 132 MPs to Lok Sabha (1/4th of its overall strength): Telangana (17), Andhra (25), Karnataka (28), Tamil Nadu (39), Kerala (20), and Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep one each.

The Congress party and its allies of UPA (DMK, CPI, CPM etc) have already maxed out in Tamil Nadu, winning 37 of the 39 seats on offer in 2019. In Kerala, Congress won 19 of the 20 seats on offer. So there is no scope for improvement there, losses cannot be ruled out.

In Telangana in 2019, BRS won nine, the BJP four, Congress three and the AIMIM one seat. The state elections have given hope to the Congress to better its performance in 2024. While the Congress recorded a 39.4% vote share, the BRS still has 37.4%, and the BJP 13.9% showing a triangular fight cannot be ruled out.

While Congress supporters hope this could have a rub off impact on Andhra, it seems like a wish list at this moment. In both state and Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress party has been reduced to a nought with less than 1.5% vote share.

Unless it allies with the TDP, it cannot hope for a miracle there. However, the question is why the TDP would seek an alliance with the Congress, as it has been making overtures to the BJP in the state.

In Karnataka, riding on its impressive victory in state elections, the party hopes to make substantial gains banking on its Vokkaliga and AHINDA (an acronym of minorities, backward classes and Dalits) coalition and the delivery of its promises. In 1999, the Congress party had won 18 of the 28 seats on offer.

However, since 2004, the BJP has led in all four Lok Sabha elections in this century so far, winning the maximum number of seats. With BS Yediyurappa’s son as state president, it hopes to bring back the Lingayat voters, and negate some losses of state elections.

So it is not going to be a cakewalk for the Congress in these 132 seats, of which it had won 63 seats in 2019, along with its allies.

The Congress or the INDIA bloc cannot hope to win 2024 only banking on the South, as other regions account for 75% of seat strength.

The Congress party and the BJP were locked in a direct contest in 190 seats in 2019, of which the BJP won 175 and Congress only 15. 115 of these seats (60%) are in North India. The state elections 2023 results show that Congress could struggle to win these seats, as it lacks the narrative and leadership to match the BJP in 2024.

In these seats, regional parties of the INDIA bloc have a limited role, which makes it even tougher for the grand old party. It is here where the sanatan dharma, and the recent gaumutra remarks are politically damaging for the Congress party.

The DMK may not take flak for this as it is not present outside Tamil Nadu and Puducherry – just 40 seats – but the Congress has to contest, even in the worst case, 250 to 300 seats, and it would have to bear the consequences.

The BJP could drive the narrative that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking of inclusiveness, the Congress is talking of dividing the society on caste and religious lines.

While the fact that southern states have higher per capita income is correct, the key to the chains of power in Delhi run through the north, and it will be political harakiri to make 2024 a “north versus south” battle.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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