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If Congress Wins 90 Seats, Politics Can Be Rocked

By Shekhar Gupta
May 28, 2024 09:24 IST
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If the Congress reached 90, it would have a pretty good chance of holding the BJP below the 272 mark.
A hundred seats will rock national politics, argues Shekhar Gupta.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav at an election meeting in support of Anshul Avijit, the Congress candidate from Patna Sahib, left, at Khusrupur in Patna, May 27, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has just given us the cue to look at the prospects in the ongoing general elections in a teasingly counterintuitive manner: By focusing on the Congress party's likely numbers instead of the Bharatiya Janata Party's.

In a detailed interview with ThePrint, Mr Reddy said his party only needed 125 seats to form the next government, while the BJP would need a minimum of 250.

I know, I know, so many of you are triggered already. From where will he get these numbers? What kind of fantasy is it? Please stay with me for a bit.

This National Interest is written by me, not ChatGPT, and you can expect complexities as we go along.

There are no presumptions made, and we never predict an election, forget the numbers.

His argument is that the Congress now has allies and also their confidence. The BJP doesn't have either. We can also add that history tells us a party can lead a coalition with a sub-150 score.

The Congress won 145 against BJP's 138 in 2004 and formed the first United Progressive Alliance government because more allies were willing to join it over the BJP.

Once again, it is fair to ask: How does anybody in the Congress imagine reaching even 125?

There is, however, a way of approaching the biggest question today by stepping off the beaten path.

With just days to go for the counting of votes, the discussion about the outcome continues to boil in the cauldron of expectations: "What will be the number, you think?"

The 'number' they are all talking about is the BJP's. Can it be 370, the target that Narendra Modi initially set, with 30 more for allies, taking it '400 paar'?

Will it be 20-30 plus or minus 303 (the 2019 score)? Can the party fall below 272?

It is as if you know who's going to win the final match, and are only debating by how many runs, wickets, or, if it's a football game, goals.

What if we turned the equation inside out, and asked about the performance of the loser?

Now, this will trigger the Congress and Modi critics.

We can't see the Congress coming out on top because it is contesting only 328 seats, the lowest in history.

In 2014 and 2019, the Congress won 44 and 52, and the BJP 282 and 303 seats, respectively.

Given how the contests stack up state-by-state, we can safely say that if the BJP has to add to its 303, most of these will have to come from non-Congress parties: NCP, Shiv Sena, AAP, TMC, BRS, BJD, even DMK and then the YSRCP in Andhra.

Against the Congress, it has already maxed out, winning 92 per cent of the seats where they were rivals in 2019.

The Congress, therefore, has almost nothing to lose to the BJP.

Now, reverse this equation. Instead of the BJP, what is it that the Congress can win back?

Beginning north in Himachal, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and moving west and south to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, the Congress lost almost every seat to the BJP.

In fact, it won only nine out of a total of 241 seats in these states.

It has nothing more to lose. Large chunks of the seats it won were where the BJP wasn't its rival. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for example.

In the 328 seats the Congress is now contesting, its main rival is the BJP. What this means is that the onus of stopping the Narendra Modi-BJP Ashwamedha short is on the Congress party.

Any seats it can win back will strain the BJP's final tally. It doesn't need 125 when 90 seats are enough. Here's how.

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi being felicitated during a public meeting in Mirzapur, May 26, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The equation, actually, is linear. If the Congress goes to 80, the BJP will fall by 25-30 over its 2019 tally.

Of course, the BJP and its backers would say that it will gain in Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, and Andhra from non-Congress parties and they may be right.

Contrarily, the BJP has some stresses against Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and Tejashwi Yadav's parties.

For the sake of this argument, we can safely say that any 10 additional seats for the Congress above 52 will mean 10 fewer for the BJP.

If the Congress reached 90, for example, it would have a pretty good chance of holding the BJP below the 272 mark.

A hundred seats will rock national politics.

I am not saying this will or can happen. I am underlining a basic equation that the loser needs much less to make a difference than the front-runner.

Or, let's put it another way. An additional 30 seats for the BJP, going up to 330s, won't make any difference to the strength of its next government.

Thirty fewer will have several substantive consequences.

The only way this can come to pass is if the Congress adds at least 30 or more seats.

Every Congress seat above 70 will rebalance national politics. Whatever the party's claims, it is a big ask.

Especially because in most of these, they will need to beat the BJP, or more precisely, Mr Modi.

The difference in the relative vote counts of 2019 means it will be starting with a large deficit.

Where will the Congress conjure up these 30 additional seats, which is the minimum, to make a difference?

It will look at the states where it lost everything to the BJP in 2019 and either has alliances now, or powerful state governments.

Karnataka and Telangana come up first, where it had just 1 and 3, out of 28 and 17, respectively.

Then Maharashtra, because the BJP's allies are broken and the Congress has a new ally in the Thackeray Shiv Sena.

Now, we come closer to the Hindi states.

In Bihar, the BJP's ally is weaker and the Congress would believe its own (Tejashwi) is stronger. In Jharkhand, again, the ally factor could work.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav at an election rally in support of Kajal Nishad, the INDIA bloc candidate from Gorakhpur, May 25, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Then you leapfrog Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, whatever the Congress party's claims, and come to Haryana, Delhi, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh.

Currently, the party has only one seat out of 22 in these.

The BJP won all but one of these with more than 50 per cent vote share.

The Congress and the AAP are, however, in alliance now. Will that, and the absence of a Pulwama-Balakot like fervour, flip a few now, especially in Haryana?

If you run your eye over this list again, an addition of 30 or even a bit more is not an impossibility.

Remember, I didn't say likely. For all I know, the Congress could end up with fewer than 52 as well.

It is just guessing the BJP's final numbers is less fun than the Congress party's.

Now, you know why I described Revanth Reddy's cue on this election outcome as spicily counterintuitive.

By special arrangement with ThePrint

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Shekhar Gupta
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India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024