By S. Sethuraman
The poll battlefield for Lok Sabha 2019 has become wide open in the aftermath of Kairana, the third script-changing by-poll loss for the ruling BJP in its heartland (UP). This was on top of other countrywide reverses the party suffered over recent weeks.
It may be somewhat early to read in all these a nation-wide anti-incumbency wave against the majoritarian Modi Government. There is, however, no mistaking the widespread dissatisfaction over the four-year clumsy record of BJP with signal failures in meeting the promises held out by Narendra Modi in 2014.
It was writ large in the manner of economic management, which did not help to revive private investment for four years and thereby worsened the outlook for job creation. The “achhe din” for millions of aspirant youth are yet to come. Instead, the Modi Government allowed the economy to remain mired in stunted growth while the health of the public sector banking system continued to deteriorate with non-performing assets peaking to above 11 per cent by end of fiscal 2018.
All this notwithstanding, Prime Minister Modi may still be looking taller than his party as one capable of swinging fortunes for the RSS/BJP dispensation for a second term. But the Modi magic did not deliver a strong comeback in his own home state Gujarat and it failed pointedly in Karnataka, where he did extensive campaigning and sounded the death knell for Congress.
The emergence of the new Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka after BJP’s failed man oeuvre to form a government without the numbers, depending on the Governor’s patronage, has given an impetus for both Congress and regional and state-level parties to forge stronger bonds to defeat Modi in 2019.
A great challenge for them is to agree on the stronger party in each state and seat allocations among the alliance partners. Then, firming up credible agendas for governance and meeting expectations of farmers, weaker sections, Dalits in particular, and economic and industrial revival to generate employment on a mass scale are also big challenges.
Congress has shown its willingness to work with other parties on the basis of their relative strength so that alliance-making at the state and national level (in second stage) could be accomplished as smoothly as possible. Congress will give immediate focus on regaining power in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and possibly in Chhattisgarh. Congress will have alliance with BSP led by Mayawati in Madhya Pradesh.
The ushering in of the Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka, with Congress yielding the chief ministership to the JD(S) leader not only gave a dramatic twist to the opposition build-up but also brought together leaders of almost all opposition parties, with one or two exceptions, to watch the swearing of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.
Congress led by Rahul Gandhi worked hard to ensure non-BJP rule for Karnataka, which the saffron party regards as its “southern gateway” from where to make greater thrusts for political space in the four other southern states – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala,
It was not conceivable till a year back that the Modi Government, with all the prestige that the Prime Minister enjoyed in his relentless perambulations within and abroad, would come to such a pass that its re-election in 2019, so glibly assumed, has become insuperable.
For the Modi-Shah duo, marching from victory to victory in state after state over the last three and a half years, the juggernaut stands halted. With reaching the goal itself – the majority mark – thrown in doubt, master strategist Amit Shah has begun the hunt for a durable alliance build-up afresh. He would be the first to know that arrogance breeds backlash.
He is now seeking alliances to ensure that BJP-led NDA at least does not miss the majority mark. Strangely for BJP, Congress-linked opposition alliances are “unholy” but would be a “gift” for BJP, as one of the party leaders claimed. Be that as it may, Shah has conceded that for 2019 the party would be on a losing trend in the North and East and even in other BJP-ruled states where recent elections have reduced the party’s vote share.
Therefore, Shah rightly recognises that overall, far from his last year’s ambitious target of 350 for BJP-led NDA in 2019, BJP might be struggling to hit the half-way mark of 272 (as against the 282 it has in the present House). For the party, with all its majoritarian approaches and policies, does not hope to repeat its 2014 performance in Lok Sabha seats in states, especially in the North like UP, where it had bagged 73 seats and 31 in Bihar.
After last year’s Gujarat elections, BJP does not hope to capture all its 26 seats. Similarly, with Rajasthan – where Congress expects to win handsomely, without alliance, BJP will be unable to hold the 25 Lok Sabha seats it had in 2014. The position likewise will be disappointing for BJP if it loses Madhya Pradesh as well to Congress in the Assembly election due in November.
Shah is keen to see that southern states make up, to some extent, for the party’s likely losses in the North, East or Central India. In 2014, BJP gained 2 seats in Tamil Nadu with an alliance with PMK of Dr Ramadoss and two in Andhra Pradesh in alliance with Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Naidu has walked out of NDA over the Modi Government’s firm denial of ‘Special Category Status” to A P, the truncated state in the wake of UPA’s bifurcation of integrated AP in 2014 with an assurance of special status. BJP is known to be forging an alliance with YSR Congress, the opposition in AP Assembly led by Jagmohan Reddy. Elections are due in 2019 for both AP and Telangana Assemblies and would be simultaneous with Lok Sabha elections.
In Tamil Nadu, BJP has limited political presence but in the aftermath of passing away of Jayalalithaa, it is nursing hopes of playing an influential role for securing the return of ‘Modi Rule’ in 2019. It is also counting on super-star Rajnikanth leading the campaign for BJP because of his claimed “spiritual” approach to politics. Although a section of late “Amma’s” AIDMK is the ruling faction, it is perceived as the “puppet” of the Modi Government. The ruling dispensation had come under severe tests and scraped through for the present but these may have a fall-out on stability in days to come. (IPA Service)