Monoj Kumar Hazarika
The opposition’s INDIA alliance seat-sharing conundrum continues amidst the ‘give and take’ formula. Initial alignment was spontaneous with the common discontent against the incumbent BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, as soon as the seat-sharing discussions and deliberations came to the table, things started looking complicated as the idea of ‘Give and Take’ fizzled, giving way to the significance of’secure oneself’. The fact is that although the Congress is the biggest among the alliance, it is badly placed to ‘give’ much and therefore can only ‘take’ or ‘ask’ more. On the other hand, the regional parties restricted to their respective states don’t have much to ‘give’, therefore making the idea look like a fallacy. Let’s analyse the situation in the contentious states to understand the ‘givers’ and ‘takers’.
West Bengal: The ruling TMC already has a tough task to check the emergent BJP in their state. In the last general elections (GE) of 2019, they could win 22 seats out of 40, which was down by 12 seats compared to the 2014 GE. They would like to increase their tally this time to maintain their dominance in the state as well as to claim a bigger stake in the event of a coalition government formation after May 2024! If they manage 30 seats, they could even become the second largest or on par with the DMK of Tamil Nadu, as no other party has the potential to reach this level! With Congress’ dwindling fortunes both in the 2019 GS and 2021 state assembly elections (AE), with vote shares of 5.67% and 2.93%, respectively, allocating seats to them might be futile and unfavourable for themselves. They’re also aware that the BJP’s vote shares of 40.7% and 37.97% in 2019 and 2021, respectively, are relatively consistent, and with 2024 being a GE, the Modi factor will be compelling. Congress has rejected TMC’s 2-seat offer because they want more. Therefore, Congress in West Bengal is primarily a‘taker’.
Uttar Pradesh: The Samajwadi Party (SP) is fighting their own battle of survival against the humongous BJP, which has won two successive state elections with an overwhelming majority. With the consecration of Ram Temple on January 22, 2024, the BJP is expected to further strengthen its ground. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), being non-committal to the alliance, will make things more competitive for the SP. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP was at number two with 10 MPs and a vote share of 19.43%, pushing the SP to number three with 5 MPs and a share of 18.11%. The Congress could manage one seat with a meagre 6.36% share. Therefore, SP have to fight both BJP and BSP with their own strength, as Congress’ pathetic performance both in 2019 GE and 2022 AE doesn’t guarantee any help. In this scenario, SP has to make an intelligent decision while accommodating space to their allies and can only think about it miserly. Therefore, in the biggest electoral state of the country, Congress has relegated itself to a humble ‘taker’.
Bihar: In this Hindi heartland, state power has been enjoyed mostly by the JD (U) and RJD with convenient coalitions for the last three decades. Congress has been a small partner attached to coalitions at different times, and their single MP and a vote share of 7.7% in 2019 aptly describe their position. This time, with the ‘Mahagatbandhan’ again in place, they expect to get some benefit. Initially, JD(U) has made it clear that they don’t want to compromise anything on their existing 16 MPs, and accommodating seats to Congress will depend on RJD’s grace. RJD, after a shocking NIL in the 2019 GE, gained significant ground, returning as the number one in the 2020 AE. They are in power now and want to do better than JD (U) in the 2024 GE. Here, Congress can expect some largesse, as RJD’s priority is getting the Chief Ministerial berth. But, with fast-changing dynamics and continuous posturing by JD (U) for the convener’s position and considering the surreptitious nature of Nitish Kumar, things might alter suddenly! The alliance is also aware of the impregnable Modi factor in the Hindi heartland. The latest proposal of 17 seats each for JD (U) and RJD and 4 for Congress has yet to receive reactions from the congress.Therefore, in Bihar, RJD can be a benevolent ‘giver’ and Congress a humble ‘taker’.
Maharashtra: This western state has mostly been a multi-party affair and time and again presents blockbuster multi-starrer dramas akin to Bollywood! Since 2019 AE, two coalitions with changing combinations have been ruling the state, and each constituent party claims to be the biggest in the state. After the split of the Shiv Sena and NCP, the number of ‘big’ parties increased in the NDA and INDIA alliance, making the situation more complicated for both camps. Although Congress’ performance in the 2019 GE and AE later in the year wasn’t good, they still consider themselves better placed in this state. The weakened Maha Vikas Agadi (MVA) alliance with smaller fractions of Shiv Sena (UBT) and NCP (Sharad Pawar) has made Congress the ‘giver’. Initially asking for 23 seats, SS (UBT) mellowed down later and is now waiting eagerly for Congress’ Delhi diktat. But the latest news of Congress inviting aspirants for all 48 seats has again created a sense of scepticism. Here, Congress is expected to behave as a supercilious ‘giver’!
Punjab and Delhi: Development in the two Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-ruled states depends much on Arvind Kejriwal’s fate with the Enforcement Directorate’s repeated summons. So far, the bitter tussle between the state leadership of the AAP and Congress is imprudent. If differences could be ironed out, seat sharing looks possible only in Delhi, as both are on weak ground. For Punjab, the scuffle might continue considering AAP’s somewhat secure ground. Congress may also go solo, believing it to possess a good base, although many of its influential leaders have parted ways. So, Delhi is the only state where actual ‘give and take’ seems feasible.
Kerala: This southern state is different as the ruling Left Democratic Front is in direct contest with the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the Congress. Therefore, no question arises for any ‘give and take’.
Amid this perplexity and swaying affairs, the opposition alliance’s efforts need to be more mature and accommodating! Meanwhile, all aspirants in the alliance can keep their fingers crossed!