Welcome to The Election Fix. Every Monday, Thursday and Sunday until the results of India’s Lok Sabha polls are declared on May 23, we will bring you all the news, analysis and opinion worth paying attention to.

This week, we take a look at whether the Congress is right not to ally with the SP-BSP alliance, what research says about the BJP’s support base and why a BJP MP thinks there will not be elections after this one.

In case you have suggestions or I’ve missed something, please email me at rohan@scroll.in. I’d like to thank Sparsh, Samarth, Sherna, Christine and Rajesh for sending notes and suggestions about previous issues of the Election Fix, which you can find here. And if you haven’t already, subscribe here to get the Election Fix in your inbox, and also pay for quality journalism by subscribing to Scroll+.

The Big Story: Fork in the road

What does the Congress hope to get out of this election? It may seem as if the answer is obvious – coming back to power. But the question actually underpins one of the key dilemmas the principal Opposition party has been struggling with.

Should it cede space to other Opposition parties with the singular aim of defeating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party? Or should it work on its successes in the three North Indian states last December, and attempt to revive the party for the future?

Though the question comes up in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere, the crux of the debate revolves around Uttar Pradesh. Should the Congress give up its ambitions in the state and support the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party combination, which is better placed to take on the BJP? Or should it make efforts to build its own base with the 2022 state elections in mind?

Earlier, BSP chief Mayawati ruled out an alliance with the Congress anywhere, though the BSP-SP combine left the two Nehru-Gandhi seats of Amethi and Rai Bareli out of their own candidate lists. On Sunday, the Congress announced that it would not put up candidates in seven other seats, those where senior leaders of the BSP-SP alliance are expected to contest.

But that still leaves 71 Lok Sabha seats that might face a tri-cornered contest. Any splitting of anti-BJP votes is expected to benefit the saffron party, especially if margins end up being tight. Despite this, the Congress and the BSP-SP alliance have been unable to come to an arrangement.

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar has argued that the Congress has gone from a catch-all party to being one which doesn’t have the allegiance of any particular broad group. Yet research has shown that voters are ideological. This may explain the Congress’ concerted effort to double down on its entitlements-based vision, while attempting to shed its corruption-tainted past.

But arresting its decades-long decline and rebuilding the party will take time. If the Congress believes Modi is most likely to return after these elections, why shouldn’t it work towards that end rather than cede space now? The answer, for many in the Opposition, has been to insist that this is no ordinary election and that Modi’s return could be an existential threat for all of them.

Rumours persist that the Congress may still make a deal, in UP and elsewhere, at the last minute, so as to keep the BJP on its toes. But even so, the question about which approach would have been ideal will remain – at least until the voters offer their opinion.

Is the Congress making the right decision or a terrible mistake? Send thoughts and feedback to rohan@scroll.in

Policy & politics:

  1. The Congress is promising a “Right to Healthcare” to provide minimum healthcare to all. As with the party’s promise of a universal income for the poor, details of this proposal remain scarce.
  2. A paper by Abhijit Banerjee, Thomas Piketty and Amory Gethin in the Economic and Political Weekly argues that, contrary to claims about voters choosing the BJP because of economic interests and not social ones, the data suggests caste and identity is still key. (Paywall)
  3. In 47 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 constituencies, the Muslim-Yadav-Dalit population is higher than 50%. How the BJP fares in these seats will be key to its overall fortunes, find Kumar Ashish and Poulomi Saha in India Today.
  4. Mint looked at the results of state elections between 2014 and 2019, and factored in an erosion of votes for incumbents over time, finding that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could win 252 seats, 20 short of the halfway mark.
  5. Esha Roy in the Indian Express heads into the little villages of West Bengal to get a sense of what development means to them.

Poll toon

Elections 2019 on Scroll.in

Political titbits

Weekly WhatsApp forward

The meme adds up several dates of the elections to total “56”, a reference to Modi’s boast of having a 56-inch chest. o

Opinion & analysis:

  1. “The present moment affords an opportunity, for whichever government assumes office after the General Elections, to enact a Freedom to the Kisan law, giving farmers unfettered rights to sell any quantity of their produce to anybody, anywhere and at any time,” writes Harish Damodaran in the Indian Express.
  2. Shivam Vij in the Print says that, in Uttar Pradesh, the third Modi wave is as strong as 2014 and 2017.
  3. Can Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party hit the double-digit mark in Lok Sabha seats? Faisal Malik in the Hindustan Times examines the question.
  4. Rajan Pandey says, in the Wire, that the Congress-led Gathbandan cannot afford to ignore the Left parties in Bihar and Jharkhand.
  5. “This is not the time for opposition parties to think in terms of the next assembly elections or expanding their base, however marginally,” writes Yashwant Sinha for NDTV. “The Modi-Shah duo must be defeated decisively in 2019 in order to save the country. Nothing less will do.”

    Did we miss any reports or op-eds that you thought were relevant? Send thoughts, suggestions and WhatsApp forwards to rohan@scroll.in.