The original version of the article was published on 6th January 2023 in “The Daily Guardian”
Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh threw up an interesting development towards the end of 2022 in India’s political journey to the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) consolidated its mandate in the country by securing a landslide victory with 152 out of 182 seats in Gujarat. In Himachal, the party lost to the Indian National Congress (INC) by a marginal gap in vote share, as the latter appears to be reaping the gains of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Assembly polls helped add one more party to national politics in India in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Telangana’s K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) also moved closer to his national political aspirations as his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) became Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s move away from the BJP alliance and indications of his new alliance partner and deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) taking over the reins in the state point towards Kumar’s move to Delhi, the centre of national politics.
As we enter into 2023, closer to the crucial battle for the Lok Sabha, the 12 months leading up to 2024 will witness elections in nine states and possibly in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir. In the first three months of 2023, elections will be held in three northeastern states — Nagaland, Tripura, and Meghalaya — whereas the middle of the year will see Karnataka go to polls. By the end of 2023, election results will have decided the fate of Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The BJP is already in poll mode as it patches up another rejig in both the organisation and government at the centre and in some poll-bound states over the course of 2023. We take a look at the major developments likely to impact the 2024 polls.
2023 Assembly Polls: North-East Sisters
In Nagaland, the battle will be for 60 assembly seats as poll partners Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and the BJP (under a People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA)) look to secure another term in the state. After the last polls in 2018, NDPP’s Neiphiu Rio became the Chief Minister (CM) with the BJP’s 12 seats. This time around, factors such as the Naga Peace Accord signed in 2015 and the demand for ‘Frontier Nagaland’ by Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation, representing the state’s backward, hilly regions, will impact the polls in the state.
In neighbouring Tripura, 2018 raked up a unique alliance between the BJP and the Indigenous Front of Tripura (IPFT) with their 43 seats in the 60-seat assembly. In May 2022, BJP CM Biplab Deb was replaced by Manik Saha amidst rising anti-incumbency. In 2018, Deb had taken over the reins from CPI (M)’s Manik Sarkar, the CM for almost 20 years as the Left Front dropped its tally by 33 seats. This time around, the CPI(M) and the Congress may form an alliance to dethrone the ruling BJP-IPFT combine in the state. The assembly term in Meghalaya ends in March 2023, and the state is currently under the National People’s Party (NPP) rule with Conrad Sangma as the Chief Minister. In 2018, the INC emerged as the largest party with 21 seats but NPP, backed by the BJP and regional parties, formed the government under Sangma. In an interesting turn of events, Sangma has announced that it will fight elections alone for 58 out of 60 seats but added that the party will remain in the NDA.
The last state in the northeast to go to polls in 2023 will be Mizoram with its 40 seats up for grabs. Elections in the border state will be held in December 2023. In 2018, Mizo National Front, led by Zoramthanga, defeated the Congress, in power in Mizoram for two terms under Lal Thanawala. The Congress came in third place with five seats behind local player Zoram People’s Movement which clinched victory on eight seats.
Elections in the South: Karnataka & Telangana
Karnataka is the first big state to vote for a new assembly in 2023. Developments in the southern state have changed the face of not just state politics but also the dynamics of south Indian politics as the BJP has made Karnataka its route into the south. The party is attempting to appease the state’s influential voting communities, namely Lingayat, Vokkaliga, and Kurubas. Past election results suggest that Lingayats have been steadfast in their support for the BJP. The party is also attempting to pierce the Janata Dal(S) and the Congress’ dominance in the Old Mysore region, a sore spot for it.
In 2018, the Congress-JD(S) alliance clinched victory to form a government, only to lose it to the BJP just 14 months after the elections. BJP and Lingayat stalwart BS Yediyurappa became CM only to be replaced with a relatively junior Basavaraj Bommai in July 2021. The development is still creating rifts in the party. Bommai is appearing to make amends by communicating the policies of the government at the grassroots while balancing altered caste equations in LingayatVokkaliga communities following the recent government quota rejig.
Telangana will go to poll at the end of 2023 amidst state CM KCR’s rising national aspirations. His control over the state remains intact after a landslide victory in 2018. However, intense rivalry among party leaders at the district level has worsened internal dynamics in the thick of KCR’s efforts to increase the party’s strength in the assembly through defections. Besides, the BJP is set on making the state its second stop in the south, boosted by victories in Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and a recent bypoll. The Congress is gearing up under the leadership of Revanth Reddy with its ‘Haath se Haath Jodo Abhiyan’, as it seeks to spread the message of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and gain some lost ground before 2024.
End of 2023: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh
In Madhya Pradesh, political manoeuvring helped the BJP form a government mid-term after a loss in the elections to the Congress in 2018. In March 2020, the Kamal Nath government fell as Congress stalwart Jyotiraditya Scindia left with 22 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to support the BJP’s three-time CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s return to power. There are murmurs of a new CM face for the BJP before the 2023 polls and adoption of the ‘Gujarat Formula’ — replacing the entire cabinet before the assembly election and withholding tickets to sitting MLAs — all to overcome the anti-incumbency in the state. In the Congress, even after the March defection, the party still has many powerful leaders including Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. The Bharat Jodo Yatra’s focus on Malwa-Nimar during its state leg might help the party revive its organisation at the grassroots as the INC rolls out a ‘Vachan Patra’, or election manifesto, not only for the state level but also for each district based on local issues and demands. In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, both currently under Congress rule, internal party dynamics might damage the prospects in 2023.
In Rajasthan, the party is facing trouble with constant sniping between CM Ashok Gehlot’s and Sachin Pilot’s camps which will have an impact come election day. The opposition BJP is also grappling with internal factionalism and is trying hard to downplay the differences between former CM Vasundhara Raje and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat by using anti-incumbency and the Gehlot-Pilot fissure as its poll pitch.
In Chhattisgarh, the 2018 elections were the Congress’ most decisive victory in recent years as it won the state under Bhupesh Baghel. Baghel has since grown in stature and has helped the party retain seats in several bypolls, the most recent being Scheduled Tribe (ST)-reserved Bhanupratappur seat. The loss was the BJP’s fifth consecutive in a by-election in the state. The BJP is making organisational changes to its party unit both at district and state levels to tide over bypoll defeats. In October 2022, it changed 13 of its district presidents in an attempt to woo the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), evident from the decision to make Arun Sao the state president and Narayan Chandel the leader of the opposition. The party is proactively using social media to bolster its presence, emerging as a more prominent force against INC’s clear absence from the media limelight.
Prepping for 2024
Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has rallied a mixed bag with victories in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand and losses in other fields like West Bengal, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu. The party has been in constant poll mode making changes at the organisational level and in governments across the country. Speculations are rife about a Union Cabinet reshuffle, likely to be the last before the 2024 polls. According to party insiders, organisational and cabinet reshuffles in the party will be done keeping in mind three end goals — balancing caste equations in the Council of Ministers and in the organisation, phasing out “non-performers”, and inducting leaders of regional camps such as Shinde’s Shiv Sena faction to send the right message to its smaller partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) across the country. The party is focusing on 160 seats including the 140 it lost in 2019, attempting to clinch an even bigger victory this time. INC’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, the appointment of a full-time president after a long gap, and likely victories in the 2023 assembly polls to continue a winning streak from Himachal Pradesh might help it in the 2024 elections. Murmurs of a united opposition coalition against the BJP might not have a major impact as most regional leaders, from Nitish Kumar, Mamata Bannerjee, and KCR, to Arvind Kejriwal, appear to be lacking a national appeal to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to the electorate.
Damini Mehta/New Delhi
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.