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In a saffron quagmire

In a saffron quagmire
With the general elections barely three months away, the post-poll scenario looks extremely grim. The possibility – of either the Congress or the BJP – coming anywhere near the magic figure of 272 appears a mirage. Therefore, the fight between the two national parties is for achieving the status of single largest party. A study of BJP’s performance in the last four Lok Sabha elections, starting from 1998, reveals that the party with its present strength and the existing allies, will find it difficult to touch its all-time high of 182 seats registered in 1998 and 1999, let alone 272-Plus.

With the emergence of Arvind Kejriwal as a political force and the way his Aam Aadmi Party has been making inroads in Delhi’s neighbouring states, the BJP’s chances have been further depleted. There are reports that, apart from north India, AAP is having impact in distant Bihar too and people are gravitating toward it.

The BJP, which is on its ‘Mission 272 Plus’ campaign for the Lok Sabha election, may be hoping that Narendra Modi effect may help it sail through. But the magic of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has begun to wane, primarily because of Kejriwal wave. The hope of some, that the Modi effect may put the BJP on the road to capturing power in Delhi, has been belied. In the last four-and-a-half years back since 2009 election, there has been no proven demonstration of the party’s growth beyond regions where the BJP has been a strong force traditionally. There has been no net increase in the tally of states ruled by the party. As on date the BJP is in power in five states and, in Punjab, it shares power with the Akalis. Significantly, it is no longer in power in Bihar where its 17-year-long ties with the Janata Dal (United) were broken six months ago over the issue of Modi’s elevation as Prime Ministerial candidate. Its other ally – the Shiv Sena – is not as strong as it once was, especially after the formation of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena seven years ago.

In addition to this, out of a total of 543 constituencies, there are 205 spread over 14 states in which the BJP has rarely won without any tie-up or alliance. These states include Assam in the northeast, Haryana in north, West Bengal and Odisha in the east and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in south.

Significantly, it is in these states that the BJP is yet to become a principal political player. The party has not been able to make any headway in winning new allies or getting back old friends, even after spectacular victory in Rajasthan Assembly elections and impressive performance in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

In the weeks preceding the assembly elections in the northern states, there were some visible overtures towards Om Prakash Chautala of the India National Lok Dal in Haryana and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh but, as of now, no announcement has been made about new alliances. Even if the BJP were to strike a deal with the INLD and the TDP, there is no guarantee of a high rate of success in these states in view of emerging political developments.

In Andhra Pradesh, in recent times, the YSR Congress of Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has become a formidable force. In Haryana, though, there is no tangible emergence of any such force, one cannot discount the possibility of the AAP creating an impact in the coming elections. As the other major regional players, Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, has stated that her party will go it alone in the Lok Sabha election whereas the AIADMK, another former ally of the BJP, has not spelt out its strategy. If one were to look at big picture, the BJP’s best performance was in 1998 and 1999 when it got 182 seats. In 1998, it polled 25.59 per cent of votes and the next year, 23.75 per cent. On both occasions, it had pre-poll alliances with a host of parties ranging from the Biju Janata Dal in the east to the AIADMK (1998) and the DMK in south. The BJP’s depletion of strength became more marked in 2009 when it could garner only 116 seats with 18.8 per cent of votes. In the coming elections, the party has to engineer a minimum five-percentage-point swing in its favour to even have a chance of reaching 182 seats.

At a time when higher turnout of voters has become common, the BJP faces the daunting task of winning many more allies and voters, especially in big states, if it is to match its 1998 or 1999
performance of getting around 25 per cent of votes.

The UPA-II formulated schemes of far reaching importance keeping in view May 2014 general election. The Food Security bill is one such measure. The law might never have come about but for Sonia Gandhi’s initiative and then pursuing the matter. Sixty-six years after independence, India managed to clear the Food Security Bill that is aimed at securing two-third of the country (75 per cent of rural population, and 50 per cent of urban) from the pangs of hunger and rescue them from mal-nutrition.

The mind boggling question is why these pro-people initiatives did not made an impact in just concluded election in four states while Arvind Kejriwal’s newly constituted Aam Admi Party swept the poll on the mere promise of ‘pani-bijli’ ? It may be said that the benefit of central schemes could not have percolate down to aam admi by that time.

May be AAP’s water- power slogan caught up faster because Delhi is too small a state and
people were groaning under soaring rate of water and electricity. Let us see if the UPA-II’s ambitious schemes like Food security catch up with the voters in Lok Sabha election.

IPA
Harihar Swarup

Harihar Swarup

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