India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting, at the party headquarters, in New Delhi on Thursday. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP National President JP Nadda are also present. Image Credit: ANI

In India, the Congress Government in Himachal Pradesh is on daily wages and could collapse any day in a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-engineered coup. Rahul Gandhi, former Congress President, has taken a Yatra break for a pit stop in Cambridge, England.

The Congress party is unable to find a candidate to stand from the erstwhile family bastions of Amethi (formerly Rahul Gandhi’s constituency) and Rai Bareilly (Sonia Gandhi’s seat. She is now in the Rajya Sabha). Even notional seat-sharing against the BJP is a hard ask of India’s current opposition.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which is the main rival to the opposition, has announced its candidates for 195 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP is repeating 108 of its MPs in the first list of 195 but, following the Amit Shah formula of ruthless culling, has dropped many sitting MPs. The big fight that is the gladiatorial contest of the general elections is now barely a month away.

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Readers of SWAT Analysis would know that the above are pointers to the nature of the fight being put up by the opposition in the face of a third-term Modi electoral juggernaut.

Even while knowing that a third straight defeat would be a career-ending existential crisis for them, our endemically squabbling opposition is virtually conceding a walkover to Modi. The opposition’s inept challenge is a pointer to the way the BJP is the overwhelmingly perceived winner, dominating voters, opposition leaders, and the media mind space.

Modi has repeatedly signalled that he is now ready for his next agenda for 100 days, treating the big fight as a mere formality before he returns to his corner office in South Block atop Delhi’s Raisina Hill. BJP top brass like electoral totem Amit Shah and party President, J P Nadda, publicly set targets of winning 400 seats. “Abki baar 400 paar” is the slogan.

The BJP’s optics of an inevitable win have unnerved the opposition to the extent that Gandhi, who projects himself as Modi’s most fierce rival, is still to announce whether he will even contest again from the erstwhile pocket borough of Amethi.

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His sibling Priyanka Gandhi, who in 2019 had publicly teased a contest against Modi from Varanasi, is still to make a public declaration of her contesting a Lok Sabha seat. Earlier, the Congress had hyped a Gandhi entry from Rai Bareilly in place of her mother, Sonia Gandhi.

With 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh has an outsize say in who sits in the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha. Priyanka Gandhi, earlier projected as the Congress party’s so-called “Brahma Astra” (ultimate weapon), has proved to be a political dud. Gandhi has had an underwhelming political stint after entering politics as Congress general secretary for Uttar Pradesh.

Congress is virtually a non-player

The big ask for her was to revive the party in UP. Gandhi proved to be an election tourist in UP, not even bothering to get a home in Lucknow, the capital of UP. Voters in UP clearly didn’t like to be taken for granted and soon enough Gandhi dropped the UP suffix from her party job.

The other leader tasked to revive the Congress along with Gandhi in UP, Jyotiraditya Scindia, is now a Modi minister after he flipped and joined the BJP. Perhaps both Scindia and Gandhi realised the impossibility of reviving the Congress in the heartland of India.

Trouble is that if the Congress can’t win in UP, it can never get a shot at ruling India. Sonia Gandhi leaving her UP seat for the safe passage to the Rajya Sabha has showcased the party’s lack of any political capital in UP.

As whispers do the rounds that Priyanka will replace her mother, it may be a case of wasting yet another political opportunity to showcase flex. Gandhi could have touched an emotional chord by saying she was sending her daughter to replace her in the letter she wrote to her constituents, saying she was bowing out because of ill health.

The Gandhi family today doesn’t seem to understand political opportunity or how to grab it with both hands. UP continues to be the biggest nightmare for Rahul Gandhi who, having lost Amethi, doesn’t seem to want a rematch. Gandhi will not be taken seriously as a political vote-winning leader unless he wins Amethi again.

The Congress party had a compact with the Gandhi family: the family would be the supreme leaders of the party and they would win the party elections. The second part of the pact seems to have broken with the Gandhi family being unable to perform as match winners. In UP, it is now a straight contest between BJP’s Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

The Congress is virtually a non-player. As the Congress Government totters in Himachal Pradesh, the Gandhi family, all three of them, must be bracing for the results of the big fight of 2024. Perhaps, it may mean curtains for the Gandhis’ active role in politics. As the party loses election after election, it may now mean an outcome that their faithful will embrace.