By Harihar Swarup
With the alliances having been firmed up and battle lines drawn up, the Election Commission announced the 2019 Lok Sabha Schedule—which will stretch between April 11 and May 19 across seven phases—campaigning is expected to climax in the weeks ahead. Five years ago, the UPA-II was on its last legs while the BJP was resurgent with Narendra Modi hitting all the right noises.
The BJP then had a certain newness that caught the imagination of the people. It was speaking the language of development and sabka ka vikas, sab ka sath while touting Modi as a strong leader who could take India to great heights. Many promises such as Rs. 15 lakhs in every bank account from return of the black money, stashed abroad find great attraction in voters. This resulted in generation of what was called “Modi wave”. The promise remained unfulfilled and electorate has been demanding; why poll promises remained only slogans?
In 2019, most of the BJP’s newness has worn off and the Lok Sabha polls are unlikely to be a wave election. Plus, some of Modi government’s policies like demonetization have created doubts about BJP’s administrative acumen. Thus, there are two ways in which the election can go. First, the BJP emerges as the single largest party on the strength of money power, organizational superiority and Modi’s impact as an orator. Added to this, the mileage that the BJP is seeking to derive from the Balakot surgical strike, may help BJP electorally.
The second scenario is that BJP has been facing considerable anti-incumbency due to agrarian distress and joblessness, giving opposition parties the edge. True, opposition parties don’t have a grand narrative like ache din apart from a vague ‘save democracy’ plank. But they could still tap into grassroots grievances, taking on BJP in a state-by-state manner. If skepticism about promises made by various opposition parties prevail, Indians will fall back upon old caste and community loyalties. In which case, we could see a return of strong identity politics giving the advantage to whichever alliance gets its caste and community combinations right.
Today, the BJP goes to the voters not as a challenger but as a defender. In all probability, it can hide behind the argument that there is no alternative and that an “unprincipled” coalition is only interested in removing the ruling party.
In this election both the Congress and the BJP have to depend on alliances. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has tied up DMK-led by M K Stalin and MDMK leader Vaiko. Evidently Congress will be in an advantageous position by joining hands with the oldest Dravidian party, the DMK.
In Bihar the Congress has entered into alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD. Being in jail for long years and drawn sympathy of voters, Lalu, in alliance with the Congress, may again turn out to be a vote catcher. In Karnataka alliance with H D Kumaraswamy’s JD(U) continues in Lok Sabha elections too. The alliance with Sharad Pawar’s NCP continues and in J&K the Congress has pact with National Conference.
The BJP’s alliance with Nitish Kumar continues in Bihar while the saffron party managed to safe its poll pact with Shivsena in Maharashtra. Pact with Ram Vilas Paswan’s party in Bihar continues. In Tamil Nadu the BJP’s ally is AIADMK, going downhill after demise of Jayalalithaa. In Punjab it is the old partner Akali Dal.
The parties which will not back the BJP and have not entered into a formal alliance with the Congress are CPI-M, PDP and Aam Aadmi Party.
As a decisive leader Modi adds to strength of the BJP. Also Airstrike against Pakistan boosted PM’s image and BJP is looking to turn the poll into a presidential type contest. Amit Shah’s organizational skills are formidable.
SP-BSP and Ajit’s Singh’s alliance in Uttar Pradesh poses a significant challenged to the BJP. Farm distress, GST’s teething trouble, hostility of Muslims, and sullenness among an influential sections of Dalits could be weak spots for BJP.
BJP can pit ‘national’ issues such as 7% growth, tax reforms, welfare schemes, and handling of difficult neighbours against Rahul Gandhi’s inexperience and regional character of leaders like Mamata can expect good returns on its stability card.
After its abysmally all-time low of 44 Lok Sabha seats, congress can only improve. Its recent success in heartland states dents BJP’s ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ slogan. It has sorted succession issues and Rahul Gandhi is the undisputed leader. The party is willing to be part of opposition alliances and not stake claim to the PM’s post.
Regional parties like TMC, SP, BSP, DMK and YSR Congress are seen to be strong on their respective home turfs, and pose a strong challenge to the BJP than Congress in several states. Winning a chunk of seats in big states at the expenses of BJP and Congress would make them contenders for leading the next government in a hung house.
A patchwork coalition with regional parties calling shots could worry voters—and may prove rickety. Framing a common programme has proven difficult. Competing PM aspiration may not inspire confidence about the front’s stability. (IPA Service)