Political strategist Prashant Kishor met the Gandhi family in Delhi recently to discuss strategies to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2024 general elections. All the three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — were present at the meeting.
Prashant Kishor has been working to put together an anti-BJP front for the next general elections consisting of the Congress and regional parties.
BJP axed Kishor after the successful 2014 campaign and the two have fallen apart since then. Kishor is out there to prove a point and has extracted revenge by advising Nitish and Mamata to defeat the saffron party. He has twice held meetings with Sharad Pawar fuelling talks of a combined Opposition strategy to defeat Modi in 2024.
But he has dismissed talks of a Third Front. Talking to he said, "I don't believe a Third or Fourth Front could emerge as a successful challenge to the current dispensation." His meeting with the Congress leadership assumes significance in this context.
What is ‘Half of Half’ Formula?
Kishor has floated an idea: ‘half of half’. In the Lok Sabha, 273 seats is the magical figure a party needs to form the government at the Centre. According to the plan, half of this half, meaning around 136-137 seats, has to be won by anti-BJP regional parties and the other half by the Congress.
Both these groups, winning ‘half of half’ each, will enable them to secure a simple majority and thus topple the BJP to form a government.
The Congress is engaged in a predominantly direct contest with the BJP in states like Rajasthan (25), Chhattisgarh (11), Madhya Pradesh (29), Haryana (10), Himachal (4), Uttarakhand (5), Goa (2), Karnataka (28), Gujarat (26), Punjab (13), Jharkhand (14), Assam (14), North Eastern States (11), Delhi (7) and Union Territories (5). This constitutes around 205 seats.
On the other hand regional parties like Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh (80), Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar (40), Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal (42), National Conference and People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir (6), NCP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra (48) and DMK in Tamil Nadu (39) are the main contenders against the BJP. This constitutes around 260 seats.
A party which is strong in a particular area / state / region would contest against the BJP. Others would back it to prevent a split of the Opposition vote.
Anti-BJP, anti-Congress parties could spoil the game
On around 65 seats, regional satraps — K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana Rashtriya Samiti in Telangana, Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and Jagan Mohan Reddy of YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh — are strong but they have a policy of keeping equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress.
In fact, they have bailed out the BJP on many contentious bills in the Rajya Sabha. Prashant Kishor is advisor to Jagan. Can he bring him on board? Or will he jump ship and back Chandrababu Naidu? Only time will tell.
In Kerala, two anti-BJP groups, the CPM and Congress are locked in a head to head battle in 20 seats.
Even if we include Kerala to regional parties' portion of seats, out of 280 odd seats, they need to win 136-137, which is a strike rate of 50%. This is not unmanageable. The regional parties can improve their tally in UP, Bihar, and Maharashtra. Currently, regional parties have 80 MPs from these states.
Congress strike rate a concern
The issue is with Congress quota, the party is expected to win 136-137 seats out of 205, a strike rate of 67%. That is 2 out of every 3 seats it would contest. That is asking too much from the Congress party. Currently, it has less than 25 MPs from these states.
On 70 other seats it might get to contest, it has been reduced to a fate similar to that in UP, Andhra and Odisha. In Telangana, too, the BJP is fast taking over its space.
Congress could face dissatisfaction in ranks due to fewer seats it contests
The other issue is this formula means Congress can contest on a maximum of half of the seats, that is 270-275, leaving the other half for regional parties.
This would be a big climbdown for the party which contested 422 seats in the 2019 general elections. That could leave 150-odd candidates looking for other opportunities, turn rebels and thus harm its prospects.
Congress doesn’t gain much
The other big question is what does the Congress get out of this reciprocity. It still has some votes in UP, Bengal, Bihar — vote share of around 5%. These votes can be transferred to regional forces. This could help the regional parties win a few more seats.
However, none of these parties have any votes in states where it is locked in a two-way contest with the BJP. The Congress doesn’t get any help from these parties, except moral support. The Congress gets nothing out of the alliance/informal understanding, except for a shot at denying BJP a hat-trick in 2024.
Other bigger questions remain
The other questions about leadership, common minimum program, formal alliance/informal understanding remain.
To sum up, the odds are stacked heavily against Kishor’s ‘half of half’ formula, unless there is a drastic fall in ratings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government over the next 2.5-3 years.