Forecasting the 2019 polls
2019 will not be a cakewalk for the BJP – regional powers and a revived Congress will add stiff competition
What does the crystal ball say about the year 2019? The Lok Sabha polls and the electoral fortunes of many political parties, including the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress, will dominate the year. The fortunes of some regional satraps, like Naveen Patnaik, N Chandrababu Naidu and Pavan Kumar Chamling, will also be decided as the states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh prepare to go to polls at the same time. Naveen Patnaik of Odisha will be bidding for power for the fifth time, Naidu of Andhra Pradesh for the second time since bifurcation and Chamling of Sikkim for the sixth time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be seeking a second consecutive term while Congress President Rahul Gandhi will be testing his fortunes since taking over the reins of the party in March. If the BJP secures another term, the country will potentially move closer to becoming a majoritarian state. It is clear that 2019 will not be a cakewalk for Modi. The coming months will also be crucial for Opposition unity.
Political parties are getting ready as poll dates are likely to be announced in late February or March. The Election Commission is also preparing for the event. About 900 million voters including 100 million first-time voters will exercise their franchise in 2019.
Many opinion polls suggest that the anti-incumbency sentiment is on the rise, which could dash the hopes of Modi's attempt to win a second term. The BJP won 73/80 in UP, 25/25 in Rajasthan, 27/29 in MP, 26/26 in Gujarat, 7/7 in Delhi, 5/5 in Uttarakhand and 4/4 in Himachal Pradesh. This peak performance may not be repeated in 2019, as projections suggest that the BJP may end up losing at least 100 seats. This has to be compensated from the North-East and the south.
According to a poll conducted by Karvy Insights and India Today, the BJP is likely to win 30 per cent of the votes in the 2019 elections, and secure 245 seats, 27 short of a majority. Previous Lokniti-CSDS polls also suggest that the BJP's popularity is on the decline although the Prime Minister's personal popularity continues. The BJP has lost popularity mainly due to two economic measures – demonetisation and the imposition of GST. Both hurt the small and medium businesses that are the core voters of the BJP.
It is not clear whether the winner will be a BJP-led coalition or Congress-led or a Third Front coalition. The fight will be between the ruling NDA and the Congress-anchored UPA. The opposition needs an astute strategy to defeat the NDA. The new narrative is likely to be Modi versus the rest.
Second, while Modi will be BJP's face in the 2019 polls, the UPA will not project anyone. Their prime ministerial candidate will be decided only in the post-poll scenario. Therefore, though the Congress will try to unite the opposition, party president Rahul Gandhi will not be projected as the prime ministerial face of the UPA as they will emphasise on collective leadership.
Third, both UPA and the NDA are in the process of strengthening their coalitions. The NDA has been weakened by the exit of two major allies – the Telugu Desam and the PDP, while the Shiv Sena is also threatening to quit. The BJP faces a challenge in the south. The Congress Party has already reached an understanding with small regional parties to build state-specific coalitions in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Jharkhand, Bihar and, in UP, an alliance with the SP, BSP and Left parties are in the making.
Fourth, economy and jobs will be major issues in the election along with corruption, non-delivery of Modi's poll promises, demonetisation, GST, Rafale, cow vigilantism, Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, rising petrol prices, agrarian crisis and the widening division of castes. These are becoming potential threats for the BJP ahead of the 2019 elections. The BJP strategy is to attack the Congress for its failure in the past 70 years, consolidate the Hindu votes and communicate the achievements of the Modi government.
Fifth, the economy is reviving, which may be a relief for the Modi government. Multilateral organisations like the World Bank and the IMF are predicting a sound revival for the year 2019. On the ease of doing business, India has moved up 42 places to reach the top 100 for the first time.
Sixth, both the Congress and the BJP will play the Hindu card with the Congress adopting a soft Hindutva line. Rahul Gandhi will continue his temple hopping.
Lastly, both Modi and Rahul will need a new narrative to win. Whatever it may be, the BJP is likely to emerge as the number one party whether it gets the majority or not and it will be invited to form the government first, as is the convention.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)