Will 2024 be a smooth sailing for BJP?

Slim electoral prospects in Bihar and Maharashtra coupled with strong anti-incumbency in Karnataka, misgovernance in MP and factional feud in Rajasthan are a cause of deep concern for BJP brass notwithstanding the calm exterior it is maintaining

Recently-held elections to the state assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) along with some by-elections to certain assembly seats in some states have been described by some experts as ‘please-all’ outcomes because there is something for the BJP, Congress and Aam Adami Party (AAP) as well as some regional parties to gloat over the victory registered by it or them. The BJP’s landslide electoral victory in Gujarat, with Congress wresting Himachal Pradesh from the BJP and AAP’s triumph in the MCD along with the BJP winning two assembly by-elections, one each in Bihar and UP, Congress winning two by-elections one each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, RLD winning one by-election in UP, BJD winning a by-election in Odisha, and Samajwadi Party winning Lok Sabha by-election by a resounding margin, have seemingly proved instrumental in spurring almost all political parties to prepare for 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Nevertheless, a clear picture can be had in the aftermath of the ensuing state assembly elections scheduled in March 2023, May 2023, and January 2024.

The BJP’s Prospects

Enthused by its spectacular victory in Gujarat, the BJP’s top brass is seemingly burning mid-night oil to raise the morale of its cadres to galvanise them for the ensuing state assembly elections in eight states as a stepping stone to the forthcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s larger-than-life and larger-than-party image has devolved upon him the onus of saddling the BJP in power at the helm in 2024. Undoubtedly, stakes in the Gujarat assembly polls were high for the BJP and Modi since losing Gujarat could have been a loss of face for Modi; nonetheless, the landslide victory added to his prestige. Nevertheless, in the run-up to 2024, Modi faces the challenge of a resurgent Congress, especially in the wake of the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) led by the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the overwhelming public response the BJY is engendering. Besides, the BJP also faces the challenge of regional satraps.

Undeniably, the electoral loss of Himachal has been disappointing for the BJP, especially as Modi had campaigned here heavily and the BJP’s calculations went awry; nevertheless, the BJP cannot be expected to be bogged down by a single defeat because the party treats even panchayat elections as important as a Parliament poll. The flurry of hectic activity in the BJP camp makes it discernible that the party is gearing up for the 2023 assembly elections and for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Media reports indicate that the BJP is eying 350 plus seats in 2024 to improve its 2019 tally.

Many experts have summed up BJP’s advantage over other political parties in terms of 4Ms – Money, Manpower, Machinery, and Media – which denotes that the BJP has immense financial resources garnered through electoral bonds relative to other political parties, manpower in terms of well-knit workforce and committed cadre, machinery in terms of official machinery at its command to get the things done through ED, CBI, Income Tax, etc., and the committed media which dances to the tunes of the BJP and denies any space to the Opposition. Besides, the BJP has also the advantage of the unflinching support from the RSS and the rest of the Sangh Parivar that work for the BJP to mobilise votes.

Keeping in view the past electoral behaviour and performance of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in tandem with state assembly polls whereby it recorded an impressive victory, some experts have predicted the likelihood of the BJP winning the 2024 Lok Sabha election by manipulating the electronic voting machines (EVMs); however, in the wake of many Opposition parties have raised the issue of the vulnerability of EVMs, the mass manipulation of the EVMs may be unlikely. Nevertheless, selective manipulation of the EVMs on crucial seats to the advantage of the BJP in view of a subservient Election Commission is not ruled out by some experts.

Certain extraneous factors like triggering stage-managed communal violence to misinform the electorate, emphasis on anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric by the BJP leaders before the election to hoodwink the gullible voters to win elections deceptively, making tall pre-poll promises to the innocent voters, which have been successfully tested by the BJP in past elections, are likely to be deployed by the party more enthusiastically in the ensuing polls. Besides, some experts who have over the years closely watched the electoral strategy of the BJP do not rule out the use of tactics such as bribes to voters, fake and illusive advertisements, corrupt media manipulation, communal hate campaigns, etc., by the BJP in the ensuing assembly polls as well as 2024 Lok Sabha election.

Congress’s Dilemma

Undoubtedly, the victory of Congress in Himachal Pradesh and enjoying power in two states of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan has enabled the party to disapprove of Modi’s prediction of a Congress-Mukt Bharat; nonetheless, the party is still not in a position to challenge BJP’s supremacy on pan-India basis irrespective of the overwhelming response it is garnering through Bharat Jodo Yatra, and it has a long way to go. While referring to the political impact of the BJY for Congress in the states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan where Congress and the BJP are pitted against each other, some experts have opined that the party is likely to give a tough run to the BJP for its money.

Despite its electoral drubbing in Gujarat and Delhi MCD polls, Congress victory in Himachal Pradesh and two assembly by-elections has boosted the party’s morale to some extent. Many experts point to the lack of a well-concerted policy or strategic design in Congress to win elections. With just a little over one year left for the 2024 Lok Sabha election and very little time for the 2023 assembly polls, some experts feel that Congress has to put its house in order, especially the internal tussle for power in the Congress-ruled states of Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,and Rajasthan, focus on its organisational infrastructure, especially in states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and other states where its presence is minimal.

While sanguine about the positive outcomes of the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi in the states it has already covered and is yet to be covered in coming days, some analysts opine that this Yatra has galvanised the Congress workers to some extent and emphasise that the follow-up action on organisational aspects and boosting the morale of Congress workers needs to be worked out on regular basis, especially in view of the ensuing 2023 assembly polls. Calling upon the Congress leadership to keep its flock together, some experts stress on projecting the younger leaders while retaining the seniors with an eye on developing second-rung leadership.

Way Ahead

The way ahead for the BJP is going to be very topsy-turvy where its electoral traverse is not going to be easy in 2024 because its traditional allies like Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, and JD (U) have already parted company and it is expected to plough a lonely furrow and consequently may not be in a position to harvest a bumper crop of seats of its own in Bihar and Maharashtra. Lean electoral prospects in Bihar and Maharashtra, strong anti-incumbency and inter-party feud in Karnataka, and misgovernance and anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh along with internal dissensions within the state unit of the BJP in Rajasthan, etc., have given rise to deep concern and discomfort to the BJP top brass which is seemingly putting up an exterior calm.

The top brass of the BJP has held two closely guarded meetings in Patna on December 21 and another in Hyderabad on December 28 where the prime focus of deliberations, as per media reports, has been on BJP’s ‘vulnerable’ Lok Sabha seats, from 144 in the mid-2022 to 160 by the end of December, based on the BJP’s internal survey. Some experts basing their surmise on recent media reports put the number of ‘vulnerable’ Lok Sabha seats at 204. Against this backdrop, it would be a herculean task for the BJP to win a clear mandate in the forthcoming 2024 Lok Sabha.

A divided Opposition has been the secret of Modi’s success until now. While contending that a unified Opposition is an answer to BJP’s hegemony, some analysts lament that at least half dozen powerful regional satraps firmly holding on to their electorates, are seemingly inclined to the idea of keeping the option of the prime ministerial candidate open, and these satraps include TMC (West Bengal), TRS, now BRS (Telangana), DMK (Tamil Nadu), JD (U) (Bihar) and AAP (Delhi & Punjab). The fact that previous efforts at Opposition unity have proved futile should not mean that non-BJP Opposition parties cannot and should not be brought on one platform. While not falling prey to the Hamletian dilemma of to be or not to be, the non-BJP Opposition parties ought to re-strategise and re-assess their political and electoral plans to forge unity. Nevertheless, 2023assembly polls may prove a harbinger.