The year 2023 is expected to be one of critical electoral tests between the dominant BJP and other political parties, with elections due in a number of important states. Some observers are describing the scenario as a ‘semi-final’ before the General Elections of 2024. It is important to note that portraying the state assembly elections as a BJP versus the rest contest is a generalisation not borne out by state-specific equations. The claim by Rahul Gandhi that there is an ‘anti-incumbency undercurrent against the BJP’ overlooks this reality and, at the present time, is little more than wishful thinking.
It is a fact, though, that where the BJP is a force to reckon with, it benefits if there is more than one party ranged against it, as the opposition vote ends up divided. This is why the AAP and AIMIM, which are on a nationwide hunt to create political space, are disliked by the older parties for taking away crucial anti-BJP votes. Where there is a straight fight, the opposition has a better chance, particularly where the BJP is in power and facing natural anti-incumbency.
The Congress had much hopes of its ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ but, despite the attempts to spin the narrative, it has attracted little public and media attention. What is emerging, however, is that the leading party ideologue today is former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, who is the one interpreting Rahul Gandhi’s revelations during the walk. Certain intellectuals are also writing commentaries about the impact of this ‘change’ in political culture. It remains to be seen whether this will prove a futile exercise, or succeed in projecting the Congress prime ministerial candidate as the new messiah.
It is not in the least surprising that leaders of regional parties such as the TMC, SP, BSP are not in the least enthused about the Yatra, even though they may express appreciation of Rahul Gandhi’s efforts. They know that, before any damage is done to the BJP, it is their votebank that will be adversely impacted if the popularity of the Congress increases. In the 2024 context, the best scenario for the opposition parties would be to contest singly in their strongholds and hope for a post-poll advantage over the incumbent BJP. Some kind of a front could then be forged to choose a PM candidate. As of now, however, there are very few indications of that happening and even less of the Congress returning as the main contender.