Mamata on the move
Mamata Banerjee’s one-to-one strategy for the 2019 polls is workable only with a synchronised understanding between the Congress and regional parties
During her stay in Delhi last month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made monumental moves in forming a successful front of anti-BJP parties to combat the ruling party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She has floated the idea of fielding a single opposition candidate against the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls so that the anti-BJP votes are not divided among the various stakeholders. This is a largely sensible idea though the strategy may be difficult to implement in some of the states where the Congress is in a direct contest with the other strong regional parties and the Rahul Gandhi led-Congress will automatically seek to improve its own position by fighting and defeating the regional superpowers. But the core of Mamata 's electoral strategy is correct; since the strongest anti-BJP party in each state will be the driving force in building a resilient anti-BJP front, the strongest anti-BJP party will have to take the others with it so that BJP's seat share can be brought down to a minimum.
Mamata held a meeting with Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on March 28 and it appears that Sonia was emphatic on Congress playing a leading role in this proposed anti-BJP front. Rahul Gandhi, in the course of his campaign in Karnataka for the Assembly elections, made special mention that the opposition parties will unite and the NDA will be facing its worst nightmare in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That way, all the anti-BJP political parties are convinced that if the major political parties, especially the Congress and the regional parties join hands, the BJP can be brought down comfortably from its present strength of 282 Lok Sabha seats to less than 150 in the 2019 polls. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, if the Samajwadi Party, BSP and the Congress join hands, the BJP's seats will come down to less than 10 from the present figure of 71 out of the total of 80 seats.
The fact is that BJP secured the maximum number of seats - 282 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections under a special circumstance – when the opposition unity index was at its lowest coherent level and the anti-incumbency sentiment was at its peak against the Congress due to the several allegations of scams and the inaction of the UPA administration that was brought to light during the last two years of the UPA-II rule. The BJP got 31 per cent of the votes in 2014 and non-BJP votes totalled 69 per cent. In the last four years, BJP's support base has declined and Congress has certainly improved from the rather low ebb performance that it displayed four years ago. That way, even if the one-to-one formula is effective in 60 per cent of the total 543 Lok Sabha seats, BJP faces the possibility of encountering a massive defeat. That way, taking into account that in some states, there will be the presence of the strong regional parties along with Congress against BJP, some last minute adjustments can be done between the anti-BJP parties to ensure that in the marginal seats, BJP's defeat is ensured by an understanding between the Congress Party and the concerned regional party.
The one-to-one formula should have been experimented in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled for May, by ensuring that some sort of limited understanding is drawn between the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) of Deve Gowda in seats where the BJP has better chances of securing a victory as the result of a division between the anti-BJP votes. It seems that there is no possibility of any total understanding between the Congress and the JD(S) against BJP, taking into account the local rivalry between both the parties; but, there can be some last minute efforts drawn for a limited understanding even in the 30 seats between Congress and the JD(S) to prevent a division of the anti-BJP votes.
Senior opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee can talk to both Rahul Gandhi and Deve Gowda to help bring success to this understanding and ensure the defeat of BJP in the upcoming Karnataka elections on May 12. The defeat of BJP in Karnataka Assembly poll is a must for boosting the morale of the opposition to prepare for the upcoming battle for the Lok Sabha elections and, if necessary, Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the largest opposition party should take the lead in ensuring the possibility of a limited understanding with the JD(S) against BJP. If Congress wins comfortably in Karnataka, the victory will act as a big booster for the grand old party in galvanising its supporters into the electoral battle in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where BJP is already witnessing a downward journey.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP won 282 seats out of the total 543 seats. But, in the last four years, of the state elections that have been held in India's 15 states out of the total of 29, the results show that while in 2014, BJP got 191 Lok Sabha seats from these 15 states, the Assembly elections results aggregated to a tally of 146 seats for BJP. This means that a loss of 45 seats is already visible across these 15 states. In the next round of Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh as also Karnataka, this loss of Lok Sabha seats has the possibility of being further increased. BJP got the maximum possible seats in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 in these four states and, now, the seats can only go down. It is noteworthy that BJP secured 39 per cent vote share in these 15 states in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and, now, in the wake of the assembly elections in those 15 states, BJP's vote share has gone down to 29 per cent – a substantial loss of ten per cent.
Thus, this drop radically increases the extent of opposition unity; more are the chances of defeating BJP decisively. The Congress led by Rahul Gandhi and the regional opposition parties leaders have to work out that common minimum understanding that can ensure successful channelising of anti-BJP votes to one candidate of the opposition. If this is not possible, the next course is to ensure that the strongest opposition candidate gets the support of the other opposition parties. There must be enough resolve among the opposition parties to realise that this is a do or die battle and only the defeat of BJP in 2019 polls can salvage the Indian nation and its core values.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief, IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)