Last polls of 2022 offer no clues to 2024 prospects - GulfToday

Last polls of 2022 offer no clues to 2024 prospects

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Police frisk supporters of Congress party as they arrive to attend a rally in Ballari, in the state of Karnataka, India. File/Reuters

Police frisk supporters of Congress party as they arrive to attend a rally in Ballari, in the state of Karnataka, India. File/Reuters

A wide range of election results from different parts of India became available last week. The way political parties and analysts look at these results brings to mind the story of the six blind men who went to see an elephant.

Each man’s description of the elephant was based on the part of its body he touched. Each analyst’s assessment of the bag of poll verdict is based on the parts that appeal most to him.

On the poll calendar were elections to the State Assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, bye-elections to one Lok Sabha seat and more than half a dozen Assembly seats in different states and elections to the Delhi Corporation.

In Gujarat, where Narendra Modi had led three governments before becoming the Prime Minister in 2014, his Bharatiya Janata Party set two records. It registered its seventh successive win in the state, bagging as many as 156 of the 182 seats in the house for the first time.

In the last few decades, elections in the state were virtually direct contests between the Congress and the BJP. The communal polarisation that followed the anti-Muslim riots of 2002, soon after Modi became the Chief Minister, gave the BJP a decisive edge and enabled it to maintain primacy. But the Congress tenaciously held on. It had a vote share of more than 40 per cent last time and picked up77 seats.

Modi is now Gujarat’s favourite son. He and his chief aide, Home Minister Amit Shah, are campaigners who leave nothing to chance. After the last election, they brought into the BJP a couple of young leaders who had played a big role in the Congress party’s 2017 campaign. Ahead of this year’s election, Modi launched a slew of new projects in the state. He and Shah toured the state many times and held scores of rallies. The party owes its unprecedented victory to their efforts.

The Congress slumped to its worst ever position in Gujarat. Its vote share fell to 27 per cent and number of seats dropped to 17.

The Congress, which fought without a leader, was pulverised not by the BJP but by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party. The AAP’s 12.9 per cent vote share came at the expense of the Congress, not of the BJP.

The AAP got only five seats but its vote share was large enough to help meet the terms set by the Election Commission for recognition as a national party.

In Himachal Pradesh, which too usually witnesses direct fights between the BPP and the Congress, the AAP’s entry did not alter the nature of the contest. The Congress won 40 seats in the 68-member Assembly against the BJP’s 25, and was back in power after five years.

Three seats went to Independents, all BJP rebels. The Congress feared the BJP might poach its members to notch up a majority, as it had done in more than one state in the past. It did not happen.

Though the BJP lagged far behind in the number of seats, its vote share was just about one per cent less than that of the Congress. The AAP, which contested in HP too, could not win a single seat. How its small vote share of 1.1 per cent affected the fortunes of the BJP and the Congress was not clear.

The BJP did in HP all that it did in Gujarat, including Modi, Shah rallies. But it could not retain power. The Congress experienced in HP almost all the handicaps it had in Gujarat. Yet it was able to regain power after five years, thanks to the campaign its local leadership built around local issues like restoring an old pension scheme and relieving the distress of apple growers.

A lesson the Congress can draw from the Himachal experience is the need to strengthen the party at lower levels.

What do the results of the last polls of 2022 tell us about the prospects of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? Many states are under the sway of regional parties. Many of them have the ability to hold the national parties at bay. In the circumstances it will be unwise to look for nationally valid conclusions based on the outcome of Assembly elections in two states where the fight is essentially between two national parties. Here the outcome of the by-elections and Delhi civic poll demands attention.

Coming after its capture of power in Punjab earlier this year, the AAP’s seizure of Delhi Corporation from the BJP makes it a party worth watching. Unless it plans its strategy carefully, it may end up as a spoiler at the national level.

Many more states go to the polls in 2023. They may indicate what to expect in 2024.

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