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  Opinion   Columnists  28 Jan 2024  Will the strategy of ‘small is beautiful’ work for Congress in LS polls run-up?

Will the strategy of ‘small is beautiful’ work for Congress in LS polls run-up?

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
Published : Jan 28, 2024, 12:17 pm IST
Updated : Jan 28, 2024, 12:17 pm IST

A good general knows when to retreat. And this is not really a retreat, but a withdrawal for tactical advantage in the electoral battlefield

The BJP felt that there was no one in the ranks of the Opposition who could take on Vajpayee. Sonia Gandhi was dubbed as a reader and not a leader. —  PTI
 The BJP felt that there was no one in the ranks of the Opposition who could take on Vajpayee. Sonia Gandhi was dubbed as a reader and not a leader. — PTI

Only time will tell if this year’s Lok Sabha polls will be a “David vs Goliath” tussle or simply a one-sided affair giving a third term for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. Mr Modi, with the tag of “Hindu Hriday Samrat” after the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya on January 22, may be raring to shake off the Opposition challenge but could meet stiff resistance if, and it’s a big IF, the INDIA bloc strategy, especially that of the Congress, succeeds. India’s politics will see a strange phenomenon this time: the country’s second-largest party contesting only half the seats that the ruling party plans to do.

The wonder is that a “lean” Congress is happy about it. And so are its allies in the I.N.D.I.A. bloc. Like superstar Shah Rukh Khan in Zero, the beleaguered Congress is like a pygmy in the polls amid reports that the Grand Old Party plans to focus on some 255 of the total 543 seats in the Lower House of Parliament.

If that happens, it would be the lowest number of seats being contested by the oldest political party in the country since Independence. In the last 2019 polls, the Congress had contested 421 seats and won just 52, a strike rate of barely eight per cent. Its lowest tally was just 44 in 2014, which had seen the emergence of Narendra Modi on the national scene. Political pundits say that at the end of the pulls and pressures over seat- sharing with 27 other constituents of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, the Congress may end up contesting around 300 seats, which would also be its lowest.

The bold move initiated by Congress president Malllikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi could prove a boon to take on a resurgent BJP seeking to whip up a “Ram lahar”. The “out of the box” thinking behind it is to raise the Congress’ strike rate on its turf, taking on BJP unitedly. “Strategy 255” could be a blessing in disguise for the Congress, which has been suffering a funds crunch, being out of power for a decade. In such a situation, the best option is not to spread far and wide and spend your resources on limited seats and regions for a better play.

A good general knows when to retreat. And this is not really a retreat, but a withdrawal for tactical advantage in the electoral battlefield. It is also aimed at spurring the “Index of Opposition Unity’ so that the nonCongress parties in the INDIA bloc could put up a fierce fight against the ModiShah duo in their areas of influence. The “carrot” of prime ministership is being dangled by remaining ambivalent on the matter. The message from the “Strategy 255” is that the Congress has no plans to play “big brother” amidst a desperate and difficult situation, and its main aim is to see the back of Narendra Modi.

For the BJP, which boasts of being the world’s largest political party and has declared its intention of winning 400- plus seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress’ move may emerge as a googly. In the campaign, the BJP’s buzzword appears to be “bigger is better”, while the Congress vouches for “small is beautiful”.

Interestingly, the Congress won over 400 Lok Sabha seats in the 1984 polls, riding a sympathy wave after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 2004, the BJP under the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in equally high spirits and talked of the “feel-good” factor and “India Shining”. In its overconfidence and complacency, the ruling party ignored the desertions of some halfdozen allies and the proactive role played by Sonia Gandhi in uniting the Opposition.

The BJP felt that there was no one in the ranks of the Opposition who could take on Vajpayee. Sonia Gandhi was dubbed as a reader and not a leader. At present, there is no doubt that Narendra Modi is head and shoulders above any Opposition leader and his hold over the BJP has grown since the party’s victory in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

But tomorrow could be another day. There is more than a bit of disquiet in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan after the new governments were formed, sidelining several seniors like former CMs Shivraj Singh Chouhan of MP and Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan. The BJP faces a huge challenge in the South, which has some 130 seats. This is especially so after losing power in its only southern bastion of Karnataka last year.

The Congress’ strategy is clear. It knows that 272 is too steep a target to aim at. It equally understands that to humble the BJP, it needs just 100-plus seats. The more the Congress tally goes above 100, it will tear apart the BJP’s plans for a sweeping majority. It feels the “small is beautiful” strategy could destabilise the BJP, which considers itself invincible.

The Achilles’ heel for the Congress is its organisational strength. It has failed to make the organisation shipshape despite being in the political wilderness since 2014, its biggest dry spell since Independence.

Rahul Gandhi’s stature has grown after the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the response so far to his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra makes him the principal challenger. At such a time, the BJP will be working overtime to drive a wedge in the INDIA bloc to lower the Opposition’s morale.

The Opposition’s failure to finalise seatsharing so far leaves an eerie feeling. But if a “lean and mean” Congress and its allies succeed in putting up a united show, along with a strong narrative, the BJP will have a real fight on its hands.

The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

Tags: lok sabha polls