Before the day began, Congress would have hoped for a victory in Telangana and Chhattisgarh and a close fight in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
However, even the staunchest of the Congress critics and the loyalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not have seen this mandate coming in the Hindi heartland.
In 2019, of the 321 Lok Sabha seats in the Hindi heartland (including Gujarat and Maharashtra), the National Democratic Alliance had 294 seats. The Congress had merely eight, and that too only four months after significant victories in the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh state assemblies.
The mandate today is unprecedented. No pollster expected the vote share BJP has been able to manage in Madhya Pradesh. Chhattisgarh was always on the close lines, but the advantage was with the Congress.
Further, the Congress has been stumped even in Rajasthan, where the party was banking on Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s welfare policies. Today, Congress supporters are waking up to the problem of the party going woke, relying too much on leftists for their economic policies, and fighting the wrong battles.
However, the ship has sunk; well, almost. All the lofty claims of the party and its leaders have fallen flat, and there are three reasons why the Congress will not be able to come back in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
The Invincibility Of The BJP In The Hindi Heartland
The year 2023 was supposed to be the testing point for the BJP in the heartland. After nine years of anti-incumbency in the Centre, eighteen years in Madhya Pradesh, and a testing campaign in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the BJP was expected to falter. Critics of the BJP were quick to pinpoint pages of electoral history, hoping for a change in the fortunes of the Congress.
All that has failed now. Going by the vote share in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP looks solid for 2024. If projections were to be made on December 3, BJP would start with at least 240 seats, even in the worst-case scenario, while Congress can’t even put together ten seats today. The BJP will make further gains from Bihar, Karnataka, Telangana, and the Northeast, thus making them favourites to touch the 300 mark alone.
Therefore, the arithmetic of the 2024 election is different from how many seats the BJP can win, for even a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha does not look impossible today, but in how many seats the Congress can win.
The Alliance Has Crashed Before It Could Take Off
If the Congress alliance had to work, it would have worked in the ongoing state assembly elections. In Madhya Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party requested the Congress for six seats. However, after being denied, the Samajwadi Party fought for more than sixty seats. While the saffron sweep may cloak the vote-cutting impact of the SP, it will warrant an analysis later.
In the victory in Telangana, Congress has another problem to encounter now. The rout in the Hindi belt will significantly weaken their bargaining power with the regional parties. Further, given their penetration in Telangana at the cost of minority votes, it will alarm regional parties who would have otherwise been generous in a seat-sharing arrangement for 2024.
In the Hindi heartland, the choices for the Congress are difficult. They could either let the regional parties fight their battles, but that would warrant a strategic vote transfer on the ground. If the NDA wins again, Congress would have irreversibly sacrificed its entire vote bank and existence in the North, across more than 300 seats, in a losing battle.
The other option is to bargain for seats and directly contest with the BJP. However, there is little probability of this happening after Telangana and the complications in seat sharing in Madhya Pradesh. SP in Uttar Pradesh, RJD in Bihar, and TMC in West Bengal have made it clear that they will not be supporting the Congress or sharing any seats in their respective states in 2024.
Nothing is working for Rahul Gandhi. Absolutely nothing. He needs to put in more effort, too, but it is curtains for him when it comes to the Hindi belt. Yet, Congress would want to bank on him for 2024, perhaps once more, before the party splits (that is the only rational conclusion at this point).
The Jitni Abadi Utna Haq narrative has failed. The OBCs have been further confused, given they do not vote as a homogenous group. Who knows the rationale behind proposing an idea that would only add to the insecurity of the communities?
Within the OBC ecosystem, there are several castes and communities. The caste census expected to yield big wins outside Bihar has fallen flat. However, expect the Congress to not learn from their mistakes and double down on the same narrative until 2024.
Finally, the whole Adani-Modi saga has crashed. Yet, expect the Congress to only course correct and stick to the same narrative in April 2024. There is another aspect of freebies as well.
The question is again for the Congress. How would it work across India if it did not work in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh? How can the Congress match its lofty claims and promises with the tangible deliverables facilitated for almost a decade now on the ground by the BJP?
The answer is that they cannot.
Game over for the Congress in 2024.
Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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