2023 State Elections – My Takeaways!

The final round of state elections before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is over and since yesterday noon, there has been a barrage of takeaways from the results. Here’s mine:

  1. In Telangana, the BJP got what it wanted:

It is a fact that Congress managed an excellent win in Telangana. Coming from far behind and defeating BRS is not a mean achievement. But it is possible that it was the BJP that plotted the Congress win. Here’s how.

Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent by-elections, BJP has been upping its game in Telangana. Even in the Hyderabad municipal elections, it put up a pretty good fight and came a close second to BRS.  It was widely believed that the BJP would be the principal opposition force in Telangana. However, in the last 10 months, the BJP took its eye off and ceded the opposition space to the Congress.

My theory is that the BJP learnt its lessons from Bengal and realised that while it can turn around its fortunes in urban pockets against BRS, it cannot do so in rural areas. Just like in Bengal, it would have even found it difficult to put up worthy candidates in all the 119 seats. The result would have been similar to what happened in Bengal – An exponential growth in vote share and seats and yet a distant No. 2 to BRS.  For the BJP, this means a dent in its prospects for 2024 in Telangana where it is aspiring to pick up more seats.

By ceding the space to Congress, it has achieved two things. One, it has dislodged BRS from the state – a scenario which looked impossible a few months ago. Now in the Lok Sabha polls, it has a better chance to win more seats when Modi is on the ticket against Congress. The opposition vote will get divided between the Congress and the BRS which is to BJP’s advantage. If the BJP ties up with BRS, then also it is advantage NDA and therefore BJP.

Even now, contesting alone, the BJP has managed to win 8 seats with a double-digit vote share. With this base, it becomes easier to challenge the Congress in the next assembly elections and defeat it with or without a tie-up with the BRS.  For all the euphoria over the Congress win, it is just 4 seats above the majority mark! Because it is the Congress, the win is labelled as a historic win. For any other party, it would just been a scrape through win!

Therefore, my conspiracy theory if you like that the BJP plotted this Congress win and achieved what it wanted.

Commentators now say that the BJP made a series of blunders in Telangana by changing Bandi Sanjay and ceding space etc… My question is knowing the BJP’s way of approaching any election, why would it not see these blunders when you and I can see them?

  1. The North-South Divide Bogey:

Immediately as the results became clear of a 3-1 score, Praveen Chakravarthy of the Congress who is part of the inner circle of Rahul Gandhi tweeted out this North-South Divide theory. This was picked up quickly by commentators who also started parroting the same. This is to conclude that after Congress’ win in Karnataka/Telangana and its defeat in the Hindi heartland, BJP’s influence is only in the North of India and the South prefers Congress. There cannot be a more fallacious argument than this.

In Karnataka, though the BJP lost the assembly elections, it maintained its vote share of over 36%! In Karnataka, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls it swept the state and it won’t be a surprise if the BJP repeats its performance in the 2024 polls! In Telangana, as mentioned earlier, it is now poised to increase its Lok Sabha seats tally. Therefore, come 2024 May, this North-South divide theory will face a quiet burial just as Chakravarthy’s “Black Swan Moment” theory for BJP’s 2014 win got buried when BJP improved on its tally in 2019.

  1. Anti-incumbency as a theory has reached its expiry date:

In general, commentators quote “Anti-Incumbency” as the main reason when governments get voted out. In my opinion, voters don’t vote against a party just for the sake of it. Governments get voted out due to poor performance or the emergence of a better alternative and not just due to Anti-Incumbency. Voters also do not vote out governments just because of fatigue factor as was said about Madhya Pradesh.

Many commentators are now talking of the fact that Congress cannot retain its states. I have been saying this for quite a while now. While BJP and regional parties like the AAP, TMC, BJP etc… can come back to power, it is only the Congress that isn’t able to do so in the Modi era. Therefore, it is high time that commentators stop using Anti-Incumbency as an accepted excuse if governments are voted out.

  1. Guarantees are no guarantee:

Spurred by the success of its “Guarantee” strategy in Himachal, the Congress went a step further in Karnataka by issuing Guarantee cards to voters. It worked. However, it didn’t take long for the BJP to copy/paste the idea and package it as “Modi Ki Guarantee” in the Hindi heartland and counter the Congress. So, it became a battle of “My Guarantee Vs Your Guarantee”! Since only one worked, it is clear now that Guarantees are no guarantee for success. It can be just one of the factors.

  1. TRS to BRS to VRS:

AAP tried it and failed. Encouraged by his success in the Delhi state polls in 2013, Arvind Kejriwal tried to take AAP national in 2014 and came a whimper. He tried again to expand to states like Gujarat, Goa etc… with no success. AAP could however succeed in Punjab only after concerted efforts for more than 10 years. Similarly, TMC tried to expand into Goa and failed. No regional party with linguistic and local identity has managed to succeed beyond its states yet.

For KCR to recast TRS – a party born thanks to its agitation to form a separate Telangana state into BRS (Bharatiya Rashtra Samiti) was hara-kiri! In the summer of this year, in my travels to interior Maharashtra, I was perplexed to see banners and posters of KCR all over as it was obvious even for a novice to think that a non-Marathi party could make any impact in Maharashtra! It’s good to be ambitious but better to stay within your limitations and succeed a la Navin Patnaik’s BJD or Stalin’s DMK.

By changing TRS to BRS, has KCR signed his VRS form involuntarily?

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