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Lok Sabha 2024: Why complacency of own leaders and voters may be a bigger challenge for BJP than the dysfunctional, broken Opposition

Similar to the sentiment expressed in the old adage, 'Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,' the I.N.D.I. alliance is teeming with a dozen leaders who harbor ambitions for the Prime Ministerial post. Yet, it lacks credible leadership.

With a week remaining until the first phase of voting in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections begins, the battle between the NDA and the I.N.D.I. alliance is becoming increasingly skewed in favour of the former, with PM Modi exuding confidence with his slogan, ‘Abki baar, 400 par.’ In contrast, several I.N.D.I. alliance leaders have already conceded that the BJP-led NDA holds the advantage and will likely emerge as the single largest party

Assured of a third term for the BJP government, opposition alliance leaders have pointed out that their main strategy is to prevent the BJP juggernaut from securing the coveted halfway mark of 272 seats on their own. Instead of winning, they hope and pray to dislodge PM Modi from office with an “acceptable” face from within the BJP or extended NDA.  

After multiple electoral drubbing, around 28 opposition parties, many of whom were longstanding rivals, came together to form the I.N.D.I. alliance. However, the opposition bloc had a fatal flaw, which is becoming glaringly evident with each passing day. Driven by hatred for Narendra Modi, the I.N.D.I. alliance lacked Neta, Niti, and Niyat to override their personal differences, egos, and selfish ambitions. This has hindered their ability to mount a considerable challenge or even emerge as a credible and principled opposition in these polls.   

The alliance is plagued by internal chaos, confusion, rivalry, and a propensity to undermine its own partners within the coalition. Consequently, despite delays and repeated pleadings for cooperation, the opposition bloc failed to field a joint candidate in several crucial battleground states, including Uttar Pradesh, which holds the highest number of Lok Sabha seats, and West Bengal, which ranks third in terms of seat count.

The I.N.D.I. alliance’s diminishing political stature can be highlighted in a multitude of shortcomings –

Structural/Organisational Failure – Coordination Committee?

After multiple inconclusive opposition bloc meetings, the I.N.D.I. alliance announced a 14-member coordination committee in September last year in a meeting held in Mumbai. However, the committee, if it is functional at all, has proved ineffective as a structural unit, being unable to address the chaotic and fragmented handling of organisational matters such as seat-sharing, inter-party coordination, and the mitigation of escalating internal conflicts. The central committee relegated every strategic decision to regional subcommittees, which lack structural existence and operate as a flexible coterie of “chosen” elites. 

Conspicuously, the stark contrast in electoral strategies of the alliance partners became apparent during Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Nyay Jodo Yatra. Evidently, the alliance partners questioned the logic behind holding the Yatra during the election period, when parties needed to focus on making crucial organisational decisions related to the elections, predominantly candidate selection.

Nonetheless, after missing the coveted 31st December deadline for the seat-sharing deal, the remaining members of the I.N.D.I. alliance finally agreed on a seat-sharing formula for Maharashtra, Bihar, and Jammu and Kashmir this week. This development comes just a week before the first phase of polling, leaving candidates with considerably less or virtually no time to prepare for the campaign trail.

Strikingly, in the nascent phase of electoral politics, to present a united front with ‘strong joint candidates’ in at least 400 constituencies against the BJP, the I.N.D.I. alliance suffered significant blows. These setbacks included the departure of several key alliance members from the bloc, notably TMC in West Bengal, the CPI(M)-led LDF/Congress-led UDF in Kerala, AAP in Punjab, PDP in Kashmir, and JD(U) leaving the opposition bloc to join the NDA fold. Furthermore, efforts to court ‘third front’ parties, particularly the sought-after inclusion of BSP in the grand alliance, ultimately proved futile. Overall, the alliance has failed to meet its initial objectives, as it has yielded hardly any tangible gains despite suffering multiple casualties.  

Incidentally, the striking lacunas in the intra-party organisational structure of I.N.D.I. alliance members got exposed after the two senior-most alliance partners Samajwadi Party and Congress recalled several of their Lok Sabha candidates within hours after making the public announcement. 

Notably, dubbed as SP’s musical chair, the party announced as many as 17 candidates for 7 seats and, in a major embarrassment changed its candidates 10 times. As per reports, the party has changed candidates in at least eight Lok Sabha constituencies namely Rampur, Badaun, Moradabad, Meerut, Baghpat, Misrikh, Bijnor, and Gautam Buddha Nagar.  

Needless to say, the trials and tribulations claimed to be undertaken to quell dissent and negative feedback around the winnability of a candidate unravel the party’s self-doubt in these polls. It brings into the spotlight a lack of preparedness, inadequate ground connection, poor bottom-to-top feedback mechanisms, and fear of an inevitable defeat.

In another ominous development, Shivpal Yadav, the senior-most SP leader and Akhilesh Yadav’s uncle, had announced his decision to replace himself as Baduan candidate to make way for his son, Aditya Yadav. 

Similarly, on at least two occasions, the Congress party had to recall its declared candidates merely hours after their announcement. The candidates reportedly lacked association with the Congress or had affiliations or inclinations toward right-wing organisations or their rival party, BJP, exposing its candidate screening process and basic political background check. The grand old party replaced its Jaipur candidate Sunil Sharma after trolls targeted him over his purported association with a right-wing channel, Jaipur Dialogues. In Bengal, it withdrew its Ghatal candidate Papiya Chakraborty following a massive backlash as it was alleged that she is a BJP member. 

Meanwhile, in states like Maharashtra and Bihar, the alliance has opened Pandora’s box of rebellion against the ‘alliance candidate’ under the guise of ‘friendly fights’. Simply put, in each constituency, at least four or five parties see themselves as contenders and have their own supporters eager to enter the electoral fray, but a joint candidate deprives them of this opportunity. However, ‘acceptance’ or absence of strict action to prevent these ‘friendly fights’ before the first phase of voting will signal approval for candidates from other parties to test their luck, thus undermining the original intention behind fielding a joint candidate against the BJP.

Counter-intuitive ‘nation-wide’ alliance

The fractured pan-India alliance has failed to achieve a multiplier effect, underscoring the fact that the nationwide alliance was counter-intuitive. Barring Congress, which itself is losing political relevance at a brisk pace, the alliance partners hardly had any sway outside their pocket boroughs. 

They have failed to add to each other’s strength, instead directly or indirectly hurling serious accusations against their alliance partners on their own turf, besmirching their partners, such as CPI(M)-Congress, AAP-Congress, and TMC-Congress amongst others. 

Incidentally, except for a few I.N.D.I. alliance rallies in support of the corruption-accused and lofty extremist notion of ‘Democracy under threat’, the opposition bloc leaders have not held joint rallies.  

Regarding the ‘joint rally’, the Samajwadi Party and Congress had recently held talks to discuss campaign strategy after which they stated that joint rallies will be held “very soon”.   

Vacuum of credible leadership

Similar to the sentiment expressed in the old adage, ‘Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,’ the I.N.D.I. alliance is teeming with a dozen leaders who harbor ambitions for the Prime Ministerial post. Yet, it lacks credible leadership, particularly at a time when elections are assuming a presidential-style format. 

No I.N.D.I. alliance leader has proved to be a vote-catcher or worthy leader outside their limited pocket boroughs, while Congress leader Rahul Gandhi leads the race amongst the alliance leaders. This pits him against the incumbent PM Narendra Modi, prompting BJP to launch the ‘Naamdaar’ vs ‘Kaamdaar’ pitch, the most favourable scenario the saffron party would want in its fairy tale.

Apart from a positive agenda for development and a plethora of achievements during his tenure, PM Modi attained an unassailable advantage in the Presidential-style election, thanks to the opposition’s strategy of shooting themselves in the foot. Whether opposing emotive issues like Ram Mandir, Article 370, counter-terrorism strikes against Pakistan, or backing anti-India forces, by being a cynical opposition, they have reinforced the well-established notion of the TINA factor—there is no alternative to lead the country on the road to development.

No appetite for risk bleeds self-doubt and realisation of defeat

Let alone considering that they are in the race to form a government, the I.N.D.I. alliance has exuberated utter distrust even on their yesteryears’ safe bastions.

The once high and mighty Gandhi family has now lost trust in its bastions and has deserted them to seek safer options for their political careers. These options include Rajya Sabha seats or constituencies dominated by their lone vote bank, Muslims. Notably, Rahul Gandhi has abandoned Amethi, and Sonia Gandhi has moved to the Upper House. The Congress is still hesitant to declare candidates for these seats, with reports claiming that several party members have turned down offers to contest there.

Additionally, several I.N.D.I. alliance leaders left their respective parties despite the announcement of their candidature in the upcoming polls, exuberating no-confidence in winnability on the opposition’s ticket. 

In an alive contest, teams play with a strategy of men-to-men marking, i.e., to not give away any seat easily and to give a symbolic but strong fight, putting their political capital at risk. In simple terms, the BJP has fielded its senior leaders from perceived ‘weak seats,’ such as Kerala BJP President K Surendran against Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad, L Murugan in Nilgiris, MoS IT Rajeev Chandrashekar against Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram, and Madhvi Lata against AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi in Hyderabad. In contrast, the Congress has abandoned its ‘bastions’ let alone offering a symbolic fight against senior BJP leaders.

The last resort of the defeatist I.N.D.I. alliance has been to evoke the surprise defeat of the BJP in 2004, claiming that the 2024 scenario under PM Modi’s leadership could resemble a redux of ‘India Shining’. They forget that both the BJP and Congress have undergone organizational changes, and with a trajectory spanning more than a decade, the BJP has supplanted the Congress as the central force in Indian politics. 

Alliance’s leading party takes a radical left turn and divisive agenda

With divisive ultra-leftist agendas like ‘Wealth redistribution’, caste census, emboldening tukde tukde, Islamists and anti-India forces in the cloak of ‘Secularism’, Congress has publicly taken a radical left turn threatening the country with violence and anarchy in case of electoral defeat. The development comes at a time when the left has minuscule political relevance in India and is shrunk to limited places, they now find space as hasslers in debate shows, JNU, and Kerala.  

Without learning lessons from past defeats, the Congress and I.N.D.I. alliance took a public stance against Ram Mandir, made uncalled-for personal attacks against PM Modi, and gave a clarion call for “eradication of Sanatan Dharma” and “fighting Shakti as ascribed in Hindu dharma”. 

However, there are no takers for the divisive agenda as the same has been outrightly rejected by leaders from within the Congress party and the I.N.D.I. alliance including leaders like Anand Sharma and Abhishek Manu Singhvi who have vehemently opposed divisive casteist agenda and Rahul Gandhi’s slogan, Jitni Aabadi utna Haq

Ideologically, the I.N.D.I. alliance is fighting the war with used cartridges, an apt strategy of political harakiri to cry foul and play victim later. 

A more potent threat to ‘Abki baar, 400 paar’

Having said that, the phrase “2024 is a done deal” could pose a threat to the saffron party hoping to script new records. For both its supporters and detractors, the contest is largely predetermined, Modi 3.0, with only the extent of victory being speculated.

However, this perception might breed complacency among party workers and voters, potentially resulting in a drop in vote share or even the loss of a few close seats for the BJP.

Nevertheless, the new BJP leaves nothing to chance. It approaches every election, from municipal to Lok Sabha, with unwavering intensity and sincerity. By introducing innovative concepts such as “panna pramukh” and “Mera booth, sabse mazboot,” the new BJP has revolutionized election campaigning in India. The ambitious target of 370 seats for the BJP and 400 seats for the NDA serves to reinvigorate the cadre, infusing even more energy into their efforts.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Paurush Gupta
Paurush Gupta
Proud Bhartiya, Hindu, Karma believer. Accidental Journalist who loves to read and write. Keen observer of National Politics and Geopolitics. Cinephile.

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