The BJP is keen on making Rahul Gandhi a hero, according to Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister Image Credit: ANI

It is a universally acknowledged truth in Indian politics (with apologies to Jane Austen) that Rahul Gandhi, former Congress President, is the most dogged rival to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Gandhi and Lalu Prasad Yadav are perhaps the only two leaders in India who will not compromise with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under any circumstances.

Yet there is another truth universally acknowledged in Indian politics. Gandhi is the preferred rival to Modi, which makes any election a presidential style face-off - with Gandhi inevitably getting a drubbing.

BJP has got better strike rate

Let me now my dear readers of SWAT ANALYSIS give you data for the point I made above. In 2019, the Congress party had a direct face off with the BJP in 186 Lok Sabha seats.

The BJP won 170 seats of those seats, which is 91 per cent strike rate. The Congress Party actually performed worse in 2019 than 2014 where the BJP had a strike rate of 84 per cent, winning 162 of the same seats in a direct face off with the Congress Party.

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BJP prefers Rahul as its key opponent

So if you were the BJP electoral totem, like Amit Shah, union Home Minister, wouldn’t you want to keep facing off against a rival you could wipe the floor with. In comes the BJP’s preferred candidate against Modi: Rahul Gandhi.

Clearly India’s non-Congress opposition has bought in to the presidential type of elections that the BJP wants, which is why Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief who is currently holding a party session in Kolkata said, “The Congress will have to decide the role they want to play in the opposition”.

Yadav is a soft-spoken leader who has disastrously allied with the Congress in his home turf of Uttar Pradesh, so he was rather polite.

A battle for opposition leadership

Mamata Banerjee, three-term Chief Minister of West Bengal, seven-term Lok Sabha MP and three-term union minister was less polite on the subject of Gandhi as she tries to helm opposition unity in the general elections now less than 300 days away.

The Congress promptly hit back, calling Banerjee’s party - Trinamool Congress, BJP’s “B” team. This insult by the Congress is reserved for parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which it claims is playing footsie with the BJP and is a silent partner to help them.

State-first opposition

Banerjee who comes from the Congress stock and was a favourite of the late Rajiv Gandhi bristles at the attack. Banerjee, who hero-worshipped Rajiv Gandhi and gets along well with Sonia Gandhi, does not think much of Rahul Gandhi — at whom she takes frequent jibes.

Banerjee and like-minded opposition leaders want a state/region first opposition to the BJP in 2024, with each opposition party being the primary opponent in each state.

So for example in the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, the TMC wants to take on the BJP. Whereas in the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, the Uddhav Thackeray wing of the Shiv Sena should take the lead, working out oppositions share in an intra party understanding.

Zero graciousness in 2024

In states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Congress should be the lynch pin of the opposition.

However, the Congress Party wants to be the pivot of a grand alliance with a lion’s share of the seats. Banerjee who has also roped in KCR, the Chief minister of Telangana, wants to empower regional challengers to Modi.

Banerjee chafes that even personal graciousness like her sending over fine cotton kurtas to top leaders has been made in to a political point to score at rallies.

Make no mistake, graciousness will be absent from the 2024 battle but, which model will prevail? That perhaps is the biggest question for BJP's challengers.