The original version of the article was published on 14th June 2023 in “The Daily Guardian”
With the 2024 Lok Sabha elections less than a year away, political parties, both national and regional, are prepping to prove their mettle on the national electoral stage. Several parties have already begun campaigning for the elections in bigger states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana due to witness Assembly polls in November-December 2023. After the recent Karnataka elections, electoral equations across the country have shifted sands as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost its only bastion in the south even as the Indian National Congress (INC), otherwise struggling to hold its ground, recorded a thumping victory. In Telangana, another key state due to go to polls in December 2023, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s rising national aspirations as his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) transitioned into a national face in the form of Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) will present new politics for both the state and the national elections. The incumbent party will face anti-incumbency challenges and a strong contest from the INC, buoyed by its victory in neighbouring Karnataka. Similar trends of regional party dominance are evident in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, two other big states which will witness Assembly polls in early 2024.
We take a look at the key states that went to polls in 2023 and those that will do so before the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 to understand the trends in politics before the big national battle next year.
Setting the Stage: 2023 State Victories
Four states went to polls in early 2023 — Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Karnataka.
In Tripura, of the 60 seats in the Assembly, the BJP-Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) alliance won 33 seats, securing a second straight term as the INC-Left coalition managed just 14 seats. The state represents two Lok Sabha seats, with the CPI(M) in 2014, which shifted to the BJP in 2019. BJP National President JP Nadda will soon hold a rally in the state marking the beginning of the party’s campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In Meghalaya, an NDA government was formed by a coalition of 45 MLAs consisting of National People’s Party’s (NPP) 26 seats, United Democratic Party (UDP)’s 11, BJP’s two and remaining seats from smaller parties. The state has two Lok Sabha constituencies, one each held by the INC and the NPP in both 2014 and 2019. NPP’s victory in the state assembly, a result of the several pocket meetings and positive campaigning, is likely to leave a mark on the Lok Sabha elections as well. The BJP, keeping 2024 in mind, has announced its decision to not impose a ban on beef consumption in the state, a decision apparently aimed at the Christian and non-Christian populations of the state in good humour.
In Nagaland, which went to polls along with Tripura and Meghalaya, the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)- BJP coalition, won the election with 37 seats. The state represents one Lok Sabha MP currently held by the NDPP. Presence of numerous local parties might lead to a multipolar contest for the single Lok Sabha seat even as the BJP’s “anti-Christian” image puts it on the back footing in the Christian dominant state.
Interestingly, BJP’s development work and infrastructural push across the northeast with investments of several hundred crores will likely be the pivotal poll plank to convince the electorate to vote in favour of Narendra Modi’s national leadership.
Karnataka: Changing Winds in the South?
In Karnataka, the largest state that went to polls so far in 2023, elections were a decisive factor for both the BJP and the Congress. While the BJP lost its only bastion in the south, the INC, after a long time, recorded such a massive victory in a big state. The elections also shed light on the trends in the south before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. BJP’s continued pitch to fight state elections on Modi’s leadership proved counterproductive for it against the Congress’ localised campaign and strong state leadership which yielded results. The INC won 135 seats, and the BJP had to settle with less than half of its share at 66. However, historically, the state is known to go in different directions in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha.
In 2004, although the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the 224-member assembly with 79 seats, it had to yield power to the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) alliance. In the same year, the BJP won 18 of the state’s Lok Sabha seats defying the state assembly results. In 2013, when the BJP’s seat share fell from 110 (2008) to just 40, the Congress formed a government with 122 seats. Next year, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 17 out of the state’s 28 seats leaving Congress with just nine. This might reverse state level trends for both the Congress and the BJP as we move closer to the national elections in 2024.
Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and 54 Lok Sabha Seats
Three other big states due to go to polls before the Lok Sabha 2024 elections are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana.
In Rajasthan, the incumbent Congress’ internal contradictions are proving difficult for the party, clearly giving away several weaknesses as Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and party leader Sachin Pilot have had public standoffs on several occasions. The Congress’ inability to put its house in order might help the BJP, but the latter is not in a comfortable place itself with lack of clarity on the state leadership face for the next elections.
Rajasthan is crucial for both the assembly and the Lok Sabha, and campaigning is already under way. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is criss-crossing the state under the ‘Mehangayi Rahat Camp’, an attack on the central government, whereas BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, have already visited the state multiple times in recent months. Rajasthan has 25 Lok Sabha seats, all of which were with the BJP in 2014, even as it retained 24 in 2019. The party has an edge over the incumbent Congress with its strong retention in the last two Lok Sabha elections, but the state polls might bring winds of change if the Congress is unable to fight anti-incumbency and set its house in order.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is having a face-off with Congress’ tallest leader in the state and former CM Kamal Nath. Nath is conducting several prayers and religious events across the state to burnish the Congress party and his own credentials as pro-Hindu. The strategy is aimed at countering the BJP’s anti-Hindu tag of the Congress. As of now, the Mahakal Lok Corridor debacle is proving a challenging point for the BJP government which will face the ballot in November 2023 for the 230-member assembly. The state holds 29 Lok Sabha seats. BJP won 27 and 28 in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, respectively.
Both states together comprise 54 Lok Sabha seats, 52 of which are with the BJP currently. If the party wants to retain a large number of these seats, it has to ensure a good result in the Assembly elections as well. Moreover, the Congress’ revival post the Karnataka victory and the BJP’s own anti-incumbency in MP are two things the saffron party has to deal with before it goes to the Lok Sabha battle.
Telangana and Chhattisgarh: Battle for Odds
In Telangana, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR)’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), erstwhile Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), will face a challenge from principal opposition Congress and distant fighter BJP. The 119-member assembly will go to elections in December 2023. In 2018, we saw the TRS decimate the Congress to single digits. In the last year or so, the TRS has focused on attacking the BJP more than the Congress as the former has emerged as a potential threat to the ruling party. BJP’s victory in Hyderabad local polls and two assembly bypolls shook the TRS and opened it to the rising threat from the BJP.
The state has a total of 17 Lok Sabha seats. In 2019, the then-TRS held nine, BJP four, and Congress three seats. In 2014, the TRS won 11 Lok Sabha seats. This time, the BJP is aiming for ten out of 17 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress, on the other hand, is struggling to find suitable candidates at the local level. For the BRS/TRS, the priority is a victory in the assembly in the midst of a tripolar context with BJP and Congress.
In Chattisgarh, the incumbent Congress holds power in the 90-member assembly with 68 MLAs and Bhupesh Bhagel as the Chief Minister. Baghel’s appeal to the local “Chhattisgarhiya” pride is evident in having taken steps like declaring official holidays on local festivals to organising local sporting competitions. This has helped it retain favourable support in the local populace, support that the BJP has failed to create on the ground.
For the BJP, it is facing in Chattisgarh what the Congress is witnessing in Rajasthan in the form of internal conflicts. The party has to create on-ground support for three-time former chief minister Raman Singh, the most recognisable face of the party, if it wants to see any positive results in the 2023 assembly. Singh, has an uphill task ahead of him reconnecting with the cadre and the public on the ground. In the Lok Sabha, the state sends 11 MPs, nine of which are currently from the BJP and two from the Congress.
Battleship before Lok Sabha 2024
Apart from the above states, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are the other big states that will go to Assembly polls early next year before the Lok Sabha 2024 elections. For the incumbent BJP, winning the assembly elections in these crucial big states which together hold 156 Lok Sabha seats (including big states with polls in 2023) will be like a semi final for the party which has been contesting Assembly elections since 2014 as a referendum for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party has been using the poll plank of a double-engine sarkar and Prime Minister’s governance record in several state elections. It recorded victories in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand but lost crucial states like Rajasthan, Punjab, and Karnataka.
Notably, Karnataka’s loss is likely to have reverberations for the BJP across the south as the party viewed the Kannada state as its gateway to the other southern states. For the Congress, a second victory in Karnataka, after Himachal Pradesh last year, has added some wind to its wings. The party is now focusing on emulating the victorious Karnataka strategy in other states. In Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, it will contest to retain its government whereas in Madhya Pradesh, it will be fighting the incumbent BJP. In Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha, regional parties are much better placed than both the Congress and the BJP, but for the BJP, victory in Lok Sabha in these states is important if it wants to carry forward its 2019 tally into 2024.
Damini Mehta/New Delhi
Contributing reports by Shubhangi Jain, Swati Sinha, Sreetama Neogi and Harnoor Sandhu, Researchers at Polstrat.
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.
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