Although almost a year is left for the next Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party which leads a coalition government at the Centre is already worried about its prospects. A series of developments has led it to start doubt its ability to return to power, either on its own or with the help of coalition partners.
What at the moment looks like an unsynchronised move at Opposition unity could turn out to a very coordinated effort to unite several parties opposed to the BJP leadership’s style of functioning. Needless to say, the BJP leadership is confined to Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.
Even most leaders in the BJP are not too happy at the way the two have been functioning, leaving very little space for the rest of them. The RSS, which has been kept happy by the Union Government by acceding to several of its wishes, too has started making politically correct noises.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party look like the electoral understanding that they had in the two recent by-polls was not a temporary phase. Leaders of both parties are involved in deep conversations with their cadre and lower level leaders to ensure that the alliance would work to the advantage of both parties at the hustings. If BSP and SP are able to smoothen out a working electoral alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP would struggle to win even a third of the total seats it won in UP in 2014.
While this alliance is confined to Uttar Pradesh, Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee has begun measures to check the BJP in her state. She has realised that a part of the CPM cadre opposed to her has moved to the BJP, making it her number one challenger. Since the popularity of her party seems to have saturated, she realises that to check the BJP, the party needs to be disturbed from its focus on West Bengal.
So, she has begun talks for uniting the national Opposition. Although her ambition of becoming the Prime Minister cannot be ruled out, it looks like that she is realistic on the matter. Recently, she met Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar and touched his feet as a symbolic recognition of the NCP chief as her ‘guru’. It is very clear that the NCP will have less number of MPs than Trinamool in the next Lok Sabha. Yet, Banerjee’s action stems from her recognition that Pawar has a pan-India acceptance and wherewithal to organise parties and MPs to support him for the premiership should such a situation arise after the Lok Sabha polls.
Banerjee has also met several leaders of other parties too. While the Telanagana Rashtriya Samiti has been playing games on behalf of the BJP, even that party would not hesitate to jump down from the fence to the other side if it realises that the BJP cannot easily cobble together a majority.
While Rahul Gandhi’s lack of interactive skills and ability to deal with leaders, win their confidence and attract allies has been the biggest liability of the Congress (and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest asset) leaders like Banerjee, Pawar and several others do recognise the importance of the Congress in any non-BJP Government in 2019.
Hence, Pawar is likely to be more receptive to any moves by the Congress to realign with his party in Maharashtra. A Congress-NCP alliance would be a challenge BJP will find difficult to counter. Ally Shiv Sena has already stated that it intends to go it alone in 2019. Having understood that fighting the Congress-NCP could lead to its doom in Maharashtra, BJP has, for the first time since Modi came to power, is trying to humour the Sena and offer it sops for continuing the alliance.
Banerjee and Pawar are very clear in their interaction with other Opposition parties. They have said that the main anti-BJP force should be given all possible help to fight as the leader of the undivided Opposition in each state. This would mean all parties that plan to form a post-2019 coalition would recognise SP-BSP in UP and not put up candidates against it. Similarly, in Punjab, the leader of the anti-BJP force would be Congress and BSP would not put up candidates there. However, since each party would want to preserve its turf and try to expand it, a realistic situation would be Congress offering BSP at least one seat out of 13 in Punjab and the SP-BSP offering the Congress a few seats in UP to ensure that their aspiring candidates, cadre and voters do not shift base to BJP. It could also see parties putting up mock fights for the same reasons in several seats.
While the less informed and the pro-government media would picture these friendly fights as contradictory to the idea of an anti-BJP front fructifying before or after the polls, all those opposed to the domination of Modi and Shah would quietly maintain their contacts and work for the best possible electoral understanding before and after polls.
While such an understanding has begun in the Opposition camp, there are leaders of the BJP who have been very quiet for long, such as Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, who too would not be unhappy if the NDA, or whatever would be left of it in 2019, does not win enough seats to form the next Government. There are ‘freelance’ parties like the YSRCP and TDP, both of which have political compulsions not to align with the Congress or any front that contains the Congress. Such parties would gladly support an NDA regime minus Modi.
There needs no explanation that if Modi is kept out of power, then Shah too would be out of the BJP presidentship. This is almost a certain thing as even sections in the RSS seem to be unhappy with the concentration of power in the hands of just two people.
Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s clarification that the RSS was opposed to slogans such as ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (even after Modi’s ‘explanation’ to an embedded news channel that what he meant by ‘Congress mukt’ was to rid Indian politics of ‘undesirable practices imitated by the Congress during its stint in governance and thereafter emulated by others’) was a mild admonishment that seems to suggest that the RSS wants Modi to take corrective steps.
What can happen in 2019 is too early to predict in 2018, but it can be safely said that Modi is not on a safe pitch as he get ready to seek another mandate from the people.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 09th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 14 & 15)