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With only days to go before the commencement of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it seems increasingly likely that many alliance partners will field candidates against each other.

In West Bengal, for example, the INDIA bloc, presumed to be intact elsewhere, has disintegrated completely. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) has put forth candidates in all 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Banerjee has boldly challenged the Congress stronghold of Baharampur, currently represented by Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, by nominating former cricketer Yusuf Pathan. This strategic move is believed to be calculated, considering the significant Muslim population in the area.

Even the anti-TMC, anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front comprising the Congress, the Left parties, and the Indian Secular Front (ISF) is currently negotiating to avoid “friendly contests” in some constituencies.

Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan; INDIA In Kerala 

In neighbouring Bihar, the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress, and the Left are engaged in last-minute discussions to avert a similar situation. Their coalition in the 2020 assembly elections proved fruitful, except for the Congress, which fared poorly. The Grand Alliance, consisting of various parties, including the RJD, the Congress, the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation (CPI-ML), saw significant success, particularly for the Left parties, which won 16 out of 29 contested seats. This performance gives them a rationale to vie for more seats in the upcoming elections.

In the South, INDIA bloc partners in Kerala are targeting two crucial Lok Sabha seats traditionally held by the Congress. Even before the Congress renominated Rahul Gandhi, the CPI had announced Annie Raja, a prominent leader and member of its national executive, as its candidate from the Wayanad constituency. Similarly, the Left alliance has nominated Pannan Raveendran to challenge Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor, a three-time MP, in Thiruvananthapuram. Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar is the BJP’s candidate from the same constituency. Additionally, the Congress has fielded party general secretary K.C. Venugopal against sitting CPI(M) parliamentarian A.M. Arif from Alappuzha, aiming to regain lost ground in the region.

Overall, as the electoral landscape evolves and alliances shift, the dynamics of friendly contests and strategic manoeuvres continue to shape the political landscape across India.

There are too many occurrences of friendly contests across states. Jharkhand has proved to be no exception. Here, the CPI has severed ties with the INDIA Alliance, stating its intention to contest eight out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats. Notably, the CPI does not hold a single seat in the Lok Sabha from the state.

A Contest In Haryana 37 Years Ago

The earliest instance of such a friendly contest can be traced back 37 years ago in Haryana. According to journalist and author Anil Maheshwari, Devi Lal orchestrated an alliance of all opposition parties to challenge the then incumbent Congress government led by Bansi Lal, allotting one seat each to the CPI and the CPI(M) out of the state’s 90 seats.

“The Lok Dal of Devi Lal and the BJP were the dominant partners. It was for the first and the last time that the communist parties marked their presence in the Haryana Legislative Assembly. There was a conflict between the BJP and the CPI(M) over the Fatehabad seat in Hissar, with both staking their claim to it. Devi Lal came up with a solution, and, describing it as a ‘friendly contest’, asked both the parties to contest. But he would not allow the alliance – that was arrived at after a lot of adjustments and compromises – to fall apart on account of one seat. The result was that the coalition bagged 85 out of 90 seats,” he writes in The Power of the Ballot: Travail and Triumph in the Elections, co-authored with Vipul Maheswari.

Interestingly, Balbir Singh Choudhary of the BJP defeated Prithvi Singh Gorkhpuria of the CPI(M) by 28,615 votes in the ‘friendly contest’ in 1987 in the Fatehabad constituency. 

Similar Equations

The election outcome not only marked a personal victory for Devi Lal but also dealt a blow to the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress. Subsequently, several opposition leaders called for his resignation, while the Congress high command blamed the party apparatus for the defeat. This discord within the Congress led to calls for party elections to appoint a full-time president dedicated solely to running the organisation, without the added responsibility of leading the nation as prime minister. Meanwhile, following his last term as Chief Minister, Devi Lal transitioned to central politics.

While the players may have changed, the equations remain, and countering the might and strategy of today’s BJP may prove challenging. With more “friendly contests” today, things are increasingly likely to favour Modi.

(Jayanta Bhattacharya is a senior journalist writing on polls and politics, conflict, farmer and human interest issues)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author


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