By Harihar Swarup
The BJP’s winning streak that seemed to have got a boost in North-East, after the setback in Rajasthan, has hit a wall in Gorakhpur, a party bastion for nearly three decades and chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s constituency which elected him to Lok Sabha for five successive terms. The results from Gorakhpur and Phulpur (which was once Jawaharlal Nehru’s constituency)—wrested by SP-BSP alliance from the BJP—and from Araria, Jehanabad and Bhabua from Bihar—the RJD held on to its seats despite Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) having alliance with the BJP have sent shock waves to the BJP leadership.. Even though Lalu Prasad Yadav is still in jail, his hold over voters has not waned.
Bye poll results in U.P. and Bihar have set a trend which may have far reaching impact on 2019 Lok Sabha election. What looks almost certain is an alliance between the BSP—SP which is likely to be joined by the Congress. This alliance will give BJP a tough time and may end its hegemony over UP, having 80 Lok Sabha seats.
In Bihar an alliance between the Congress and Lalu Prasad’s RJD has already been firmed up. The bye elections in the state demonstrate that the voters disapprove Nitish Kumar’s alliance with the BJP, ditching the Grand Alliance, which brought him to power. Had Nitish not joined hands with the BJP, he would have emerged as a front-ranking national leader. Opportunism does not always pay in politics; so is the case with Nitish. U.P. and Bihar are India’s heartland where political parties will be looking to strike gold in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
With Karnataka elections barely two months away and general elections(in 2019) looming large on the horizon, the BJP believes it will come back to power again. But the bye poll results from U.P. and Bihar have acted as damper. Forthcoming elections in Karnataka are crucial, but pollsters are divided whether the BJP will be able to oust the incumbent Congress party. The elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, where ruling BJP and the saffron party’s chief ministers suffer from heavy anti-incumbency, may set the tone for general elections. According to reports, the BJP may find difficult to stage a come back in three states.
Strong regional leaders are convinced that they hold the key to Centre in 2019. There is a talk non-BJP, non-Congress third front but it may be a non-starter like past years. Significantly, leaders of 20 opposition parties last week laid the groundwork for a broad strategy to tackle the ruling BJP in Parliament and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at a dinner hosted at her residence by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The leaders of the TDP, the BJD, the AAP and Shiv Sena, among others, were not invited.
How this meeting influences the coming poll is to be seen. The dinner meet, however, created goodwill among leaders of 20 political parties. As the Congress spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala puts it “the dinner was all about amity and friendship”.
The position as it obtains now, BJP, despite setback in Rajasthan and U.P is the strongest party. Its strength is three-fold: a leader, an ideology, and a cadre. But with all this, BJP tacticians knew that the magnitude of victory in 2014 may be difficult to achieve.
In the states— largely confined to Hindi heartland—where the party garnered maximum possible seats, there is an undeniable erosion of support. This was evident in the recent assembly elections in Gujarat where, although BJP won, it faced a far more robust challenge from the Congress.
The BJP is likely to face same challenge in Rajasthan, where in 2014, it had won all 25 seats. The margins with which the BJP lost Rajasthan bye elections this January are a pointer to this. Pressures of anti-incumbency could operate in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Haryana too.
In the key state of UP, where BJP got an unbelievable 71 out of 80 seats in 2014, the tally could change dramatically in 2019 with SP and BSP and, may be the Congress, joining hands. In Bihar one wonders if the BJP will gain with its alliance with Nitish. The strength of RJD’s Muslim, Yadav combination cannot be written off.
In Bengal—where Mamata Banerjee reigns supreme and in Odisha—where Naveen Patnaik is still dominant– BJP could gain marginally, but not in numbers that can compensate for what it could lose in its principal catchment areas. South of the Vindhyas CPI-M is likely to retain its hold over Kerala, the sole state in which it is now is power.
In Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana a new situation is evolving, and a lot depends on which party makes the right alliances. In Maharashtra an alliance between Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Congress—with some support from BJP’s disgruntled ally Shiv Sena—could pose a challenge to the present BJP government.
Over all, the BJP could well find that the wave of 2014 has ebbed by 2019. If not merely posturing for greater negotiating strength in case the BJP’s tally is significantly reduced, angry allies like Shiv Sena and BJP could be an additional liability.
But it is hardly time for the opposition to feel elated. The important factor in all this is BJP’s organizational strengths. The party has a powerful electoral machine which, no opposition party, including the Congress possess. Nobody should underestimate the energy, planning and instruments it can bring to play to win an election. Its stunning performance in just held elections in Tripura and Nagaland is testimony to that.
If the Opposition believes that it can come to power merely by riding on discontent against BJP, it is far from reality. What voters will look for when they cast their votes is whether a creditable alternative exists or not.
Congress, which could emerge as the single largest party within current opposition, must acquire the organizational strength to manage election of this magnitude. It should have maturity to build alliances with other parties on a proactive, timely and accommodating basis.
In 2014, Modi’s BJP was the crystal clear alternative to a hapless Congress. In 2019, who’s the alternative to Modi’s BJP is the biggest question? (IPA Service)
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