NEW DELHI: Predicting that the 2024 general elections will be ''exciting'', senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has said if the Opposition by and large coalesces around one candidate in every constituency to take on the BJP, then the ruling party is going to face a ''very tough time''.
In an interview with PTI, Tharoor said it would not be easy for the BJP to replicate the pattern of 2019 when it swept or almost swept multiple states.
Asked if the Congress has to be the fulcrum of any Opposition alliance, the former Union minister said, ''De facto it (Congress) is the only party other than the BJP with a national presence and arguably we have a stronger national presence in some parts of India than the BJP has, (examples being) my own state (Kerala), Tamil Nadu.'' There is no question that the Congress is a party with a national footprint, a historic legacy, presence pretty much everywhere and, therefore, inevitably it has to figure in any calculations of an Opposition front or an Opposition government in due course, Tharoor said.
''I think that the main lesson here of course, and we have seen from the last two elections which the BJP won with 31 and 37 per cent votes respectively, is that the divided Opposition plays into the BJP's hand,'' he said.
Stressing on Opposition unity, Tharoor said it could be in various forms such as a pre-poll alliance or choosing seats wisely so that as far as possible, the strongest Opposition candidate gets a clear run against the BJP rival, and the final settlement left to after an election result.
''All of that is not within the realm of my responsibility but all I can say is that if the Opposition by and large coalesces around one candidate in every constituency, I think the BJP is going to face a very tough time in 2024,'' Tharoor asserted.
He argued that there have been very significant material changes in the country since 2019 and cited the example of Bihar where the BJP's former ally JD(U) has joined hands with the Opposition.
''Much has changed since the BJP won a record number of seats with its ally in 2019 which is no longer its ally (in Bihar). Similarly there are other states in which the BJP either had a clean sweep or won all but one seat in the state. I don't think that pattern will replicate itself so easily in 2024,'' Tharoor said.
There is inevitably some anti-incumbency in the country and the BJP may well be ruing in 2024 that it succeeded so much in 2019 that there were practically no gains left for it to make in the country, he argued.
''I think it is going to be an exciting election. I do not agree with those who have written off the Opposition prospects in 2024,'' he asserted.
Asked if the AICC presidential elections and the Bharat Jodo Yatra has revitalized the party and brought it into serious reckoning for 2024, Tharoor said he believes so and recalled that the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi had told him after the AICC presidential polls that she felt that elections had strengthened the party.
''We have seen that the public reaction to the Bharat Jodo Yatra, especially the culmination in Kashmir, was far greater than anybody, whether our critics or our admirers, had anticipated,'' he said.
The sense is that not only has it completely transformed Rahul Gandhi's image thereby the Congress party's, it has given a new self belief to the Congress workers and that certainly will contribute in a significant way to revitalizing the party to the challenges that lie ahead, Tharoor said.
The senior Congress leader also said the party's upcoming plenary session in Chhattisgarh's Raipur from February 24-26 comes at an ''inflection point'' in the party's history as it is being held after the AICC presidential polls and the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and ahead of the 2024 elections.
The session is being held to ratify Mallikarjun Kharge's election as Congress president, and the leaders would meet in Raipur to brainstorm the party's strategy going forward on the path to 2024.
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