By S. Sethuraman
Ethics and morals get pushed under the carpet as the country makes a seamless stride into the 2019 Lok Sabha Poll Campaign, the ruling majoritarian BJP bracing itself more in a fire-fighting mode while its hated adversary, the Congress is engaged in digging for more scams and policy bunglings to throw back at the Modi Government.
Whether Rafale deal or smooth exits of fraudsters – Mallya (raising more questions unanswered), Nirav Modi and M. Chouksi – under NDA watch would suffice for the Congress to counter or not, the fact remains BJP leader Mr Narendra Modi rode to power in 2014 on the back of scams and policy paralysis under UPA.
In 2018. both national parties may be finding themselves at this stage on level playing ground, at least in one respect, missing rectitude. For the present the BJP is upfront with Party President Amit Shah sounding bugle for victory wherever he goes and the Prime Minister projects a humbler image, taking the broom for ‘Swatch Bharat’ in one place and a praise for the Bohras in another to underline BJP is not for exclusivity.
For a change, RSS Supremo has also come out with liberal-sounding statements, like the Congress played “major part” for freedom and gave India “many great personalities”. He has also said that RSS stand for Hindu Rashtra does not exclude Muslims. Whatever Shri Mohan Bhagwat has said in projecting an “RSS Perspective” including the Sangh’s acceptance of the Constitution, may produce a breath of fresh air. Indirectly however, it does also provide a cover for BJP in its desperate campaign to hang on to power beyond 2019 and also project an improved image for the future, so sullied in the last four and a half years..
With such philosophical backing for the Sangh parivar, Prime Minister Modi’s campaign gets some comfort after a smudgy record of over four years in office – stunted growth, investment drought, poor job numbers, unchecked violence of vigilantes, lynchings, and farmer and Dalit distress.
In the enveloping climate, populism has overtaken Mr Modi’s “vikas” agenda and his Government has to stand scrutiny for fiscal prudence as well as reforms. At last a merger of three banks, two of them weaker, is designed to persuade international investors that Modi Government is on reform track.
But NDA has more critical challenges this year on the economic front for macroeconomic stability at risk from rising oil prices, falling rupee and capital outflows triggered by global shocks including trade wars. And the world’s attention gets increasingly riveted to India’s national elections in the coming months,
For a start, the outcome of impending elections in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh to be completed before the end of 2018 could set the pace for the royal battle for the Lok Sabha. These elections are more crucial for the morale of Congress in its direct fight with BJP to be able to steer the planned anti-BJP ‘Mahagathbandhan’.
Undoubtedly, the major role to bring down BJP is assigned for regional parties like SP and BSP in UP and RJD along with Congress and others in Bihar. Half the battle would have been won in these two crucial states for the grand alliance with more gains in other states expected to come relatively easily for the majority mark.
Here again, the BSP leader Ms. Mayawati’s conditional approach to be part of the grand alliance only if BSP gets “respectable” number of seats, has to be sorted out. As the most decisive alliance designed to tip the scales in UP with its 80 seats in Lok Sabha, SP and BJP along with Congress and other parties must soon reach an amicable understanding. It is a “Now or Never” moment.
For BJP, UP Chief Minister Mr Adityanath shoulders the burden of arresting the march of the formidable SP-BSP-Congress alliance to the extent possible. Mr Adityanath is actively promoting his Government’s achievements and announced several schemes across various districts including the most communally sensitive areas. In the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi, Mr Modi himself launched development projects worth rs.550 crores saying the city would become the “Gateway to East India”.
BJP President Amit Shah has sounded the bugle in Rajasthan where the Congress hopes to unseat the Vasundara Raje Government facing maximum anti-incumbency factor unlike the other two BJP-ruled states. An unusual aspect, activists have brought to notice in Jaipur is massive discrepancies in electoral rolls with thousands of voters not finding their names.
This is not confined to Rajasthan. In Telengana under rule of TRS, Chief Minister Mr K Chandrasekhar Rao, in a vainglorious move got the Assembly dissolved and inserted his state into the calendar of 2018 elections. Opposition parties have raised a hue and cry about lakhs of voters’ names missing in the lists which the electoral authority is trying to undo.
Mr Rao claims his regime is unshakeable because of its farmer focus, irrigation projects, and welfare programmes. He advanced the elections to test his popularity and if successful, would hand over the reins to his tech savvy son K T Rama Rao, Minister for industry, roads besides IT, after the Lok Sabha poll. He would lead his party for the Lok Sabha poll to be able to advance his idea of “Federal Front” depending on outcome of the national election.
BJP Chief Amit Shah, making a dramatic launch on September 15 for BJP to take over Telengana as the next gateway for the South – Karnataka having dashed such hopes in the May election – pricked several of bubbles floated by Mr Rao. These included a 12 per cent quota for Muslims while he also pilloried the “superstitious” CM who avoids going to the Secretariat. He ruled out any future BJP deal with Mr Rao.
For the Chief Minister the worry is not BJP, lacking any significant presence in the State, despite its talk of putting up candidates for all 119 Assembly constituencies. The real headache for Mr Rao is the Congress which has formed a “grand alliance” with TDP (Mr Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party) in Telengana and CPI. The latter will probably have a common manifesto and the Congress with the justified claim of having been instrumental in the formation of Telengana is expected to contest a majority of seats.
Congress President Mr Rahul Gandhi who had visited Hyderabad early in September to launch the party’s campaign in Telangana has now also asked his party to finalise seat-sharing with allies (TDP and CPI). He has also said any irregularities in voters’ lists should be taken up with EC and also fought legally if necessary.
Mr Chandrababu Naidu A P Chief Minister asked his TDP to walk out of NDA alliance at the beginning of the year over Modi Government’s rejection of special category status (SCS) to AP in terms of AP Bifurcation Act 2014. Talks are thus on for Congress-TDP alliance in Andhra Pradesh which has simultaneous elections for the State and Lok Sabha in May 2019. Mr Rahul on a visit to Rayalaseema (AP) has assured that if Congress comes to power in Delhi next year, it would grant SCS to Andhra Pradesh, “our commitment to the people of Andhra Pradesh” made in 2014 and would be honoured on priority. (IPA Service)