Congress' Victory in Punjab: Scenario Different in Bengal?

What can be assumed from Congress having swept Punjab Municipal Elections? Congress leaders have described the results as a big slap for BJP, Akali Dal and AAP. Certainly, the results indicate that voters have delivered a massive electoral punch to particularly BJP for not paying attention to protesting farmers’ demand. Clearly, the electoral results are reflective of voters’ decision on not being taken lightly by the central government. Akali Dal’s past alliance with BJP has apparently proved expensive for both. Had the two remained aligned; it is possible Akali Dal may have failed even more miserably. The results have strongly been decided by voters’ anti-BJP stand, in keeping with the farmers’ demand for withdrawal of agricultural laws. Regarding AAP, this party’s significance is still confined to Delhi and voters of other states don’t seem inclined to give it much importance.

Soon after results’ declaration, speculations have been voiced as it being a strong shock for BJP, “a teaser” for assembly elections in 2022 and so forth. Of course, expectations are also in the air about better political tidings for Congress in the coming days. And here is the catch. It would be wiser of Congress not to be over-confident about its political future. It is possible, if farmers’ protest was not on and if BJP-SAD alliance had not split, Congress may not have performed as well as it has. Some credit must also be given to campaigning done by committed Congress workers. Nevertheless, Congress must not ignore the fact that the negative image earned by BJP by refusing to yield to farmers’ demand has proved expensive for it in these elections. And it is BJP’s negative image which has apparently yielded positive results for Congress.

The timing is just perfect for Congress to cash in on this and continue its campaign on as extensive scale as its members can. Let us accept the hard fact that Congress needs to focus more appropriately on seat-sharing with its allies and/or probable allies as well as BJP’s rivals in forthcoming assembly elections. In this context, Bihar assembly elections’ results may be recalled. It was a tight fight between BJP and its rivals, with the result favouring the former. Certainly, it was sensible of Congress to enter into a grand alliance with BJP’s rivals. However, the same party went over-board in contesting more seats than it probably should have. It would have been politically wiser for Congress to let regional parties contest more seats than be a little uncompromising about the same.

Against this backdrop, it is important for Congress and regional parties to understand BJP’s game-plan. Clearly, BJP’s key tactic is first to build friendly ties with regional parties and leaders, turn the political tide in its own favour and then pull the rug from under the feet of its allies leaving them practically powerless in their own states. What else has BJP’s former alliance with PDP in J&K led to? Shiv Sena has apparently understood this strategy of BJP and has thus preferred alliance with BJP’s rivals to retain its hold in its home state. Nitish Kumar in Bihar is apparently trying to come to terms with this game-plan of BJP.

Congress needs to carefully plan its strategy by focussing on BJP’s agenda. BJP’s key aim is also that of limiting chances of Congress by aligning with regional parties. The regional parties have initially welcomed this move of BJP, seeing this as spelling greater power for them in their own home states. But for how long did Mehbooba Mufti remain J&K chief minister following its alliance with BJP? In Bihar, one primary motive of Nitish Kumar’s alliance with BJP was to limit chances of RJD’s return to power. The grand alliance formed against his party’s alliance with BJP lost just by a few seats. It may have won had RJD contested from more seats and Congress lesser.

Electorally, it would perhaps be wiser of Congress to try cards which would ensure anti-BJP, regional parties return to power in states where its own chances are at present quite limited. This includes West Bengal. Clearly, prior aim of BJP is to try and push Mamata Bannerjee out of power. It is playing cards to win TMC members to its camp. And of course, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going overboard in trying to present himself as Tagore.

BJP returned to power in 2019 parliamentary elections by securing less than 40% votes. Had the other 60% votes not been divided, India’s political map may have been different. Likewise, Congress may not have emerged victorious in Punjab Municipal elections had BJP-SAD not parted company and farmers were not protesting. Clearly, quite a few issues have spoiled BJP’s chances, particularly economically and people are well aware. But their votes can still get divided. West Bengal, at present, is headed for a fight primarily between TMC, Congress-Left alliance and BJP. Congress used this strategy in 2016 polls too. Hopefully, the party reconsiders this seriously and anti-BJP parties reach a silent understanding!