The results of the assembly polls in four states — Mizoram’s verdict will be known today — have undoubtedly left the Congress and, in effect, INDIA, the Opposition alliance, with a poor hand to fight the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Telangana, where the Congress dislodged the Bharat Rashtra Samithi from power, offers some consolation. But that will not be enough to camouflage the party’s monumental failures, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan, given its past records, was expected to be a tough race. It is possible that the fracas between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot queered the pitch further, blunting the Congress’s welfare pledges. Could it be that internal strife — the Congress’s perpetual Achilles heel — cost the party Chhattisgarh too? The biggest embarrassment, though, must be Madhya Pradesh, where, much like Gujarat, the Congress has now failed to oust the Bharatiya Janata Party for years. It is time to change the discredited state leadership there.
What would worry the Congress and its allies even more is the likely impact of these results on the national political narrative. The belief that the Congress comes up second best in bilateral contests with the BJP would get bolstered further. This, in turn, would weaken the Congress’s negotiating powers within the fractious alliance of the Opposition which, the BJP would certainly claim, has been rendered irrelevant. An electorally weakened Congress, the only party with a national presence in the INDIA bloc, would discourage the Opposition from mounting a fierce challenge in 2024; fissures developing within the coalition cannot be ruled out either. But there is another, deeper concern. The Congress and the Opposition are yet to stitch together an alternative vision — ideological, social and developmental — that strikes a chord with the electorate. Charges of crony capitalism and corruption against the BJP fused with the pledge of inclusive, caste-based welfare may work occasionally. But the same strategy has now failed comprehensively in India’s heartland. There is a clear South-North fault line that is emerging on the Indian electoral map, with the BJP in commanding positions in the latter. The Opposition must find a way of replicating its success in the southern states on a pan India scale. But that is easier said than done. The BJP has sent INDIA back to the drawing board.