Arithmetic for 2019 polls
Federal front may bring back coalition days.
If a coalition government becomes inevitable after 2019 Lok Sabha election, who will head it? This was the subject of an animated discussion in Central Hall of Parliament. Given the current political scenario, there is a remote possibility of any party getting majority, so thought some former Parliament members. BJP will try to win sympathy for PM by making it a Narendra Modi versus the rest. Congress's recent resolve to adopt a 'pragmatic' approach to align with like-minded parties to defeat BJP and RSS is noticeable. Rahul Gandhi has been reaching out to some of the state satraps like Sharad Pawar. With Rahul unlikely to be accepted as the head of a coalition government -- unless the Congress gets 200 seats, which looks unlikely—would Sonia Gandhi prefer a non-Congress leader?
A senior former MP, who was patiently listening to the discussion, intervened. "Days of coalition are over. Judge the poll results at the Centre or the state, people vote for a single party. If that party is not able to yield expected results, it is discarded. In the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, will the Congress, despite its present handicaps, who may get a clear majority or BJP may be given another chance," argued the ex-MP.
The minus points for BJP are Demonetisation, the unplanned implementation of GST, farmers' distress and the loss of jobs in the informal sector. These have contributed to a dent in Prime Minister Modi's appeal in sections which had a swing to his side in 2014, and again in 2017 in Uttar Pradesh. Even though Gorakhpur and Phulpur were mere by-polls, they reflect the popular mood. BJP's defeat in the constituencies of UP Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, only a year after the party won a massive victory in the state, points to a change in mood.
The results were made possible not just by coming together of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav but also of Samajwadi Party and BSP workers collaborating at the ground level to confront an upper caste assertion in UP. The victories in Gorakhpur and Phulpur have suddenly raised the Opposition's hopes.
Already the state leaders have begun to make noises about the creation of a Third Front or Federal Front – Mamata Banerjee made a trip to Delhi to meet other Opposition leaders, including Sonia Gandhi; and Chandrababu Naidu, after quitting the NDA, conferred with 15 non-NDA party leaders. More crucial will be the extent to which the anti-BJP parties can prevent a division of the Opposition votes in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies by either effecting one-on-one contests or through strategic battles.
BJP would naturally like to pitch the fight as a "Modi versus Rahul" battle. Not having a charismatic or acceptable candidate to lead the charge against the Modi-led NDA is a handicap the Opposition suffers from. However, if the third front or opposition parties combine project Rahul as their leader, the Gandhi scion may rise to the occasion. He has the charisma and acceptability as seen in the Gujarat election.
There is contradiction among the Opposition parties. For example, in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress and the Left parties are pitted against each other—a pre-poll front of Opposition parties would, at best, a partial one. In any case, Mamata Banerjee is not going to make any difference in Telangana or K Chandrashekhar Rao in West Bengal.
Opposition unity could actually make a difference in UP, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand – states that account for 182 seats. If unity takes shape here, the BJP could lose upwards of 70 seats, though some of these seats would be offset by its gains in the east and the north-east.
Mayawati and Akhilesh have declared that their alliance is here to stay. They may also rope in the Congress and Ajit Singh's RLD. Bihar already has an RJD-Congress alliance and, ironically, Lalu Prasad, in jail and convicted in the 4th fodder scam, is reportedly gaining more and more sympathy by the day. There are indications of a Congress-NCP alliance taking shape in Maharashtra. This could make the going tough for the BJP, which is reaching out once again to its oldest but most disaffected ally, the Shiv Sena.
The three heartland states going to polls at the end of the year also have potential to deprive BJP of a majority. Congress appears to be certain of returning in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
Rahul Gandhi has positioned himself unambiguously against Modi. He tried to present a young face of the party at the party's plenary session while promising to use the experience of the old guards. For the first time in four years, Congressmen and women looked upbeat.
While people appear to be tilting towards the grand old party, the Congressmen will have to come out on streets and campaign vigorously, particularly when the opponent is as formidable as the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo. The Congress will be taken seriously only when it starts winning elections. Karnataka has acquired an importance of its own; the poll outcome is expected to set the tone for the 2019 battle.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)