Who will be the face of opposition in India in 2024—Mamata Banerjee or Arvind Kejriwal?
After the dismal performance of the Congress Party in the recently held assembly elections to the five states, the opposition seems to be in a state of complete disarray. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) emerged as the clear winner.
This has prompted PM Narendra Modi to make the audacious statement that the parliamentary elections of 2024 is a done deal, and the BJP will be winning that election if the present trend continues.
It will be a very tough fight for the opposition to be able to challenge PM Modi in any way. The BJP is the leading contender. The penchant critics of Narendra Modi are in a state of disbelief and shock at the results.
They are exhibiting signs of psychological trauma and depression at the prospect of another five years of Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs.
For democracy to remain healthy and functional, the presence of a viable alternative in the form of an effective opposition is indispensable.
The present political scenario does not present a very optimistic picture in this regard, especially after the complete decimation of the Congress, with no hope of revival in the near future under the current leadership. But all is not lost for the opposition.
They can take solace in the emergence of AAP as a challenger to the BJP hegemony of Indian politics. The AAP(Aam Aadmi Party) won handsomely in Punjab by defeating the Congress and the Akali Dal. This was AAP’s first victory outside its home state of Delhi. This has given it the hope of emerging as a national party.
Just a year ago, Mamata Banerjee handed a resounding defeat to the BJP in the Bengal assembly elections and thus halting the invincible election juggernaut of the BJP.
This raised hopes that she might emerge as the face of the opposition on a national basis as her party, the TMC, is recognized by the Election Commission as a national party with footprints in more than one state.
But the AAP victory in Punjab seems to have disturbed her apple cart. It is now an ongoing debate as to who between the two would be best suited to take on PM Modi in the 2024 general elections. Kejriwal seems to have an edge in this regard.
The BJP-led NDA currently rules 17 states in India, representing more than 40% of the country’s population. Presently, most of the regional parties are confined to their home states. The TMC (Trinamool Congress) is present only in Bengal, the TRS in Telangana, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the DMK in Tamil Nadu.
The AAP is the only regional party present in two states, Delhi and Punjab. This makes their victory in the election far-reaching in its consequences.
The Congress, which till now carried the mantle of the main opposition, is down to two states, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. This is a massive decline from its position in 2014 when it had its government in nine states.
The space vacated by Congress is being taken up by the AAP. Wherever the Congress is declining, the AAP is doing better. Apart from winning Punjab, it also opened an account in a significant way in another state, Goa.
It was contesting in Goa for the first time and managed to get two seats there and more than 6% of the vote share. This assumes significance as it reflects a trend visible in other parts of the country also.
Wherever the Congress vote share is declining, it is being taken up by the AAP, and its vote share is increasing. This happened in Goa, Punjab and in Delhi where the entire Congress vote bank shifted en masse to the AAP.
A similar phenomenon happened in Punjab where the people were so dejected by the governance of both the Congress and the Akalis that they shifted en masse to AAP. This is how the AAP swept the elections.
The Punjab victory has motivated Kejriwal to make inroads into other states starting with the upcoming elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. These two states are going to have elections by the end of this year.
Traditionally, both these states have experienced bipolar electoral politics with a straight fight between the BJP and Congress. There was no third player. But things might change with the advent of AAP in Gujarat.
The Congress in Gujarat has not been able to win an assembly election for the last 25 years, and there has been a BJP government in the state since 1996. In the 2017 assembly election in Gujarat, Congress give the BJP a run for its government but was unable to cross the finishing line.
This severely demoralized its cadre who are now looking for greener pastures. Last year, the AAP contested the civic elections in Surat and Gandhinagar and managed to get more than 20% votes in both the seats, again eating into the vote share of the Congress.
It did not translate into a large number of seats for the AAP, but they did manage to open their account. This is of significance in the light of the fact that the AAP did not have any presence in Gujarat before that.
After winning Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal is upbeat about Gujarat and fancies his chances. At the very least, AAP could emerge as the main opposition to the BJP replacing the Congress in the state.
This itself would be a big leap forward for Kejriwal in taking him closer to fulfilling his national ambitions. Moreover, this election will help the AAP to get the status of a national party by the Election Commission, which presently it does not have.
National parties get land or buildings from the Election Commission to set up party offices, and their election symbols cannot be used by anyone else. They can also have many more star campaigners during electioneering as the expenses incurred on star campaigners is exempt from the expenditure limit set by the EC on money that can be spent by candidates for campaigning.
That expense is borne by the party. Thus it would allow the candidate to bring in more people for campaigning and reach out to wider sections of the society. There are three conditions laid down by the Election Commission for a party to be recognized a national party.
The party should win at least 11 Lok Sabha seats in three different states. The party should get at least 6% vote share in 4 states along with 4 Lok Sabha seats. The party should be recognized as a state party in four or more states.
A political party has to fulfil any one of these conditions to be recognized as a national party. Presently, the AAP does not qualify as it does not fulfil any of these three conditions. Hence, these upcoming elections are very important for AAP to become a national party.
The TMC has a national party status after winning the West Bengal assembly elections for a second time by a landslide margin. Mamata Banerjee resoundingly defeated the BJP and was termed as the giant slayer as PM Modi was very actively campaigning in Bengal for the BJP.
This emboldened her to embark on a massive expansion program for the party by contesting in Tripura, Goa and Manipur assembly elections. The plans backfired, and the TMC lost the elections in Tripura as well as Goa.
In Manipur, they lost the one seat they had in the state assembly. The dismal performance of the Congress fueled Mamata’s national ambitions as she wanted to fill the political vacuum created by the secular decline of the Congress, but it got a rude shock even before it started.
This became evident once the results of the recent assembly elections started pouring in. The streetfighter that she is, Mamata has continued to be vocal with her criticism of the Prime Minister.
She has given back to the BJP as good as she has got. She is vocal as any opposition leader should be. She is willing to take the fight to PM Narendra Modi. But the recent poll debacle seems to have put a lid on her national ambitions.
On the other hand, Arvind Kejriwal seems to have learnt his lessons the hard way. After winning the 2013 Delhi elections, he got so excited that he decided to scale up and contested 400 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections. He personally contested against Modi from Varanasi.
In the end, the AAP ended up winning only four Lok Sabha seats, all from Punjab, and Arvind lost from Varanasi. This was like baptism by fire in Indian politics for Arvind Kejriwal.
After some introspection, Arvind decided to focus on Delhi and put in place a development plan called the Delhi model focusing primarily on education and healthcare.
They took this to Punjab in 2017 but could not win it, but the response was encouraging. Now, they are taking one state at a time. Arvind Kejriwal has adapted his politics to appeal to the voters in these polarized times by mixing religion with politics openly.
He now wears his religion on his sleeves and takes a very calibrated stand on issues relating to minority communities so as not to antagonize the majority Hindus. He also stopped criticizing the Prime Minister as he did previously at the drop of a hat. He has adopted a more conciliatory tone with the centre and focuses primarily on governance.
This strategy seems to be working for him, and Kejriwal seems to have an edge over Mamata. If things continue at this rate, Kejriwal is most likely to emerge as the face of the opposition in Indian politics but not before 2029. It is a long haul, but success in politics is always a long-drawn battle.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma