Over 90 Crore Indians will vote to elect the eighteenth Lok Sabha in less than fifteen months from now when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be seeking a historic third term.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the only Prime Minister to do so in 1962.
As things stand, the Opposition is in disarray. Its leaders are making frantic attempts to come together. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar took the first step in this direction. He kickstarted his mission 2024 by calling on Opposition leaders in New Delhi, days after dumping the BJP and swearing in as chief minister for the record eighth time in Patna on August 10.
Nitish is among the five names from the Opposition camp that have emerged as the biggest contenders against Prime Minister Modi. The other four leaders in the reckoning are Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
News9Plus conducted an exercise to find what makes these contenders tick and how are they best placed to challenge PM Modi. Will they fight together and if they do, who will lead the coalition? We approached India’s best-known psephologists: Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Pradeep Gupta of Axis My India, Yashwant Deshmukh of C-Voter and Dhananjai Joshi of Cicero. The expert panel rated the contenders on a scale of 10 on five parameters : a) Popularity, b) Public Image, c) Track Record, d) Party Strength and e) Ability to lead a coalition.
After a careful evaluation of all the parameters, the experts arrived at a conclusion in which Arvind Kejriwal emerged at the top spot among the five leaders likely to challenge Modi in 2024. The Delhi chief minister is followed by Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Rahul Gandhi and KCR in that order.
“Arvind Kejriwal has a very high popularity. The positive point is that Arvind Kejriwal’s popularity is on the rise. He is very popular within his party and in the country. AAP has expanded in just ten years. Kejriwal’s popularity has not dipped even once in the last ten years. But we need to also look at how other leaders in Opposition look at him,” Sanjay Kumar of CSDS said.
This is not the first time regional satraps have tried to cobble together a united face. The Opposition’s record in running coalition governments is chequered. Two Congress-run coalition governments – UPA 1 and UPA 2 -lasted full terms. One BJP-run NDA completed its term in 1998-2004. But between the 1970s and 1990s opposition unity efforts were short-lived, characterised by aborted Prime Ministerial stints. Before the 2019 general elections, the TMC and Congress tried to put up a united face, in vain.
The popularity of Modi’s challengers may ebb or rise ahead of the 2024 polls. What remains to be seen is, however, can any of these five contenders emerge as the nucleus of Opposition unity before 2024.