How to defeat the BJP in 2024

Opposition must convert Lok Sabha poll into aggregate of state elections, target government on price rise, unemployment

The year 2023 will be a lot like 2022. The first week into the new year and media channels and the eco-system that sustains them are spreading the myth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is invincible — that 2024 is already a done deal for him. The only point of debate, according to this flawed narrative, is the margin of his party’s victory. Simply put, this is a (mis)reading of the political tea leaves.

The BJP can be defeated in 2024. The way to do this is to convert the 2024 Lok Sabha polls into an aggregate of state elections. Let’s look at the data: The BJP has fared poorly wherever it has faced a strong party in a region (no, I’m not using the term “regional party” because some of these are, in fact, recognised national parties). If you extrapolate the assembly results of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, or Telangana to the national level you’ll find the BJP struggling to touch the 240-seat mark.

Of course, he is beatable. You all know what happened in May 2021 in West Bengal. Make no mistake, the faces of the BJP campaign were Modi and Shah. The near three-fourth majority that the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) won, immediately energised the opposition ranks, which had turned listless and despondent after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Bengal win showed quite unequivocally that the BJP election machine could be made to stall by focusing on local issues and by delivering on promises made and kept to the electorate of the state.

The BJP won 18 seats in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. You don’t need to be a TMC partisan to wager that “the world’s largest party” will be lucky to win half-a-dozen seats from Bengal in 2024. That’s minus 12 for BJP and plus 12 for the Opposition, a net gain of 24 seats. The prognosis for the BJP in Bihar is similar.

The results in these two states alone will take the BJP’s tally below the majority mark. You do not need a grand one-size-fits-all opposition alliance with a “face” at the national level. You need strategic alliances with the right parties in different states. For example, in Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray must be the face of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance. In Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin and the DMK must be the lead player in a combine that includes the Congress and the communists. Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party will have to be the pivot in Uttar Pradesh. And in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress will have to take on the BJP. It is also an important, almost necessary, condition for the Congress to win the Karnataka assembly polls in 2023. They will. A win in the southern state in 2023 will be just the tonic the Opposition needs before 2024.

“Team Opposition” has the broad contours of a strategy in place for 2024. Strong competent chief minister(s) or ex-CMs versus a Prime Minister who has failed to deliver on his promises, all of which missed the self-declared deadline of 2022: Houses for all, a five trillion-dollar economy, the bullet train, electricity/water in every house and more.

Let’s examine the broken promise to double farmers’ income by 2022. To achieve that, incomes needed to grow by 10 per cent every year from 2015 to 2022. Adjusted for inflation, the actual growth in farmer incomes has been just three per cent. Or take the hot air on jobs. The reality is that 22 crore people have applied for government jobs since 2014, and only seven lakh got jobs. These are not my numbers; these are figures tabled on the floor of Parliament by the Union government.

Even as the faces that confront the PM will vary from state to state, the issues raised will be the same — price rise, unemployment and the lack of communal harmony — all of which add up to incompetent governance. This will be the primary messaging from the Opposition. For any kind of communication, political or brand, or public service, there cannot be two primary messages.

The opposition parties would also need strong secondary messaging (don’t get me wrong when I say secondary, it is an equally important issue but has less mass appeal) which will be the breakdown of institutions: Parliament, investigative agencies and the media to name a few.

So, these will be the two focus areas when the opposition parties take the BJP government head-on in 2024. There will be naysayers who say this cannot be done. I will only point them in the direction of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. That, too, was an aggregate of state polls. Then, like now, there was no “national face” to take on Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was at the peak of his popularity and widely expected to return to power. There’s another similarity. BJP’s “New India” slogan now is eerily similar to its “India Shining” slogan then. The people of India had then rallied to defeat the BJP. Narendra Modi would not have forgotten that.

[This article appeared in The Indian Express & The Shillong Times | Friday, January 6, 2023 & Thursday, January 19, 2023]