All kinds of calculations are being made about the 2019 general elections on the basis of how political parties perform in the November-December 2018 assembly polls in five states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telengana and Mizoram. Most analysts have described the coming assembly polls as the semi-finals, whose results will make it clear which party or combination of parties will ultimately capture power at the Centre. This, however, amounts to looking at a political battle as a sporting event, which is not fair.
Politics is an entirely different kind of activity which can make or mar the future of a nation. Political players must learn to make sacrifices, shed their bloated egos and give primacy to the larger national interests instead of showing rigidity in their conduct. The strategies being made to contest the coming assembly elections indicate that most of our politicians are guided by the ego factor or the individual party interests, which cannot be in the larger interest of the country.
These politicians, particularly those in the opposition camp, seem to have forgotten the noble cause of opposition unity which may change the course of history.
Take the case of BSP supremo Mayawati, who has declared that her party will not enter into a tie-up with the Congress to give a tough fight to the BJP. She told media persons in New Delhi the other day, “They (Congress) are getting arrogant and are under the misconception that they can defeat the BJP on their own. The ground reality is that people haven’t forgiven the Congress for their mistakes and corruption. They don’t seem to be ready to rectify themselves.”
She claimed that the people in the three Hindi-belt states – MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – going to the polls were "not in favour of the BJP coming back to power", but due to the Congress leaders' "stubborn attitude", her party had to strike an alliance with a regional party headed by former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh.
"The BSP has decided to go it alone in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. We will not fight the elections in an alliance with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan at any cost," she asserted.
Her upsetting remarks came as she could not get the share of seats she sought as part of an electoral alliance. The Congress, however, is not feeling disheartened. According to Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, "We hope to have an alliance with Mayawati at some other stage." The Congress strategy is to forge alliances at the state level to avoid the clash of interests. How effective this strategy proves in 2019 will be interesting to watch.
The Congress has been unsuccessfully trying to forge an alliance with the BSP in MP and Chhattisgarh on the basis what opinion polls have predicted. According to the ABP-Cfore opinion poll, the Congress has an edge over the BJP and all other parties in MP and Chhattisgarh. The anti-incumbency factor and the failure of the BJP government there to come up to the people's expectations may upset the BJP's applecart in the two states. The Congress, however, could be in a much better position to trounce the BJP first in the assembly elections and subsequently in the 2019 parliamentary polls had there been a Congress-BSP alliance.
Though the BSP could never win more than two assembly seats in undivided MP, most of its candidates have been getting the second or third position in the previous elections. The reason is not difficult to find. Over 40 per cent OBCs live in MP as well as Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan if we look at their presence closely. The population of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and the STs) comes to around 30 per cent in Chhattisgarh alone.
Earlier these people, who have always been on the margins of society, were mostly Congress supporters. But with the emergence of the BSP on the political horizon, they are no longer as much attached to the Congress as they were earlier. They can easily be lured by the BSP.
However, the BJP won 72.5 per cent seats in the three states in the 2013 assembly polls and bettered its performance considerably in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with 95.4 per cent seats in its kitty. Yet its position could be weakened in the November-December elections if the Congress and BSP were together as alliance partners despite the dissensions in the MP Congress unit.
The situation in Rajasthan is slightly different. The Cfore opinion poll has predicted a clear victory for the Congress, which has been working as a cohesive unit ever since it lost power there. Sachin Pilot, who heads the Congress in Rajasthan, has no difficulty in getting full cooperation from senior party leaders. There is no need for an alliance in Rajasthan as the state is going to witness a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress in the assembly polls and then in the subsequent battle of the ballot for the Lok Sabha in 2019.
The Opposition in Rajasthan did not need much to expose the poor performance of the Vasundhara Raje government there. The dictatorial way of the Chief Minister's functioning was sufficient to disparage the government's image in the eyes of the public. People in Rajasthan are crying for a change with the prices going sky high, employment avenues disappearing fast and the deteriorating law and order situation threatening the very survival of ordinary people. Even otherwise, people in Rajasthan rarely give the party in power an opportunity to form its government again.
The semi-final for the BJP may not bring an encouraging outcome in Mizoram too where, though the ruling Congress, which had been in power for 10 years since 1998, faces a tough contest from mainly the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the National People's Party which together comprise the BJP-backed North-East Democratic Alliance. There are two newly formed political alliances too – the Zoram People's Alliance comprising the Zoram Nationalist Party, the Mizoram People's Conference, and the Zoram Exodus Movement and the People's Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram, the Save Mizoram Front and the Operation Mizoram. These are basically in the anti-Congress camp but do not subscribe to the BJP ideology. There is the possibility of the anti-Congress votes getting divided which may help the country's oldest party to re-capture power in this Christian-majority northeastern state. If this really comes about, that will mean stopping the BJP's march to fly its flag over the entire Northeast, a politically sensitive region.
The other six northeastern states are either directly under BJP rule or have governments run by political alliances with the saffron party being part of these formations.
The ruling party at the Centre is nowhere in the picture in Telengana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu Rashtra Samithi (TRS) headed by the outgoing Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, faces a major challenge from the Congress-Telugu Desam Party alliance owing to the TRS government's failure to take care of the people's aspirations in the post-bifurcation scenario. The TRS, however, hopes to come back to power because of its solid following in the Greater Hyderabad region in alliance with the Maslis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen headed by Assad-ud-Deen Owaisi. It is believed that any party or group that wins a majority of the 24 seats from Greater Hyderabad in the 119-member assembly will form its government in Telengana.
Thus, the final picture that may emerge after the 2018 assembly polls is unlikely to boost the morale of the BJP. But at this stage nothing can be said with certainty with regard to the 2018 results' impact on the people's verdict in 2019. If emotional factors come into play any calculation can go wrong.(Published on 15th October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 42)