Opposition's by-poll boost
The by-poll results have tilted in favour of a unified opposition. The momentum for 2019 is gradually gathering pace.
The writing is on the wall. It is now obvious that a united opposition can defeat the ruling BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2019. Just as much has been clear from the Kairana and Noorpur by-election results which are a continuation of the anti-BJP trends noted earlier in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
These outcomes are of particular interest because they pertain to Uttar Pradesh where the BJP won 71 of the 80 Parliamentary seats in 2014. The party's dependence, therefore, on the need to put up a good show in the state is obvious if it wants to win the next general elections. However, Kairana and Noorpur have been a dampener for the party. The results in these constituencies must also be disheartening for UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath who is regarded as BJP's poster boy.
It will not do well for BJP to describe the alliance between RLD, SP, BSP, and Congress in Kairana as an opportunist move because it had previously constituted similar tie-ups in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. Surely, what is opportunism for BJP's opponents cannot be deemed "principled" for the lotus party at the Centre.
What the verdicts in UP have also highlighted is the failure of BJP's communal agenda which again came to the fore during the sudden raising by the saffron cadres of the issue of a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, which has been on display on the walls of the historic Aligarh Muslim University since 1938. If BJP's polarisation tactic failed, so did the positive idea of Narendra Modi's charisma which could not influence the Kairana and Noorpur results despite the Prime Minister's rallies and roadshows in the nearby areas.
Clearly, the promise of 'vikas' is not working either because development is not taking place, at least where the question of employment is concerned, or that the claims about growth are seen as a 'jumla' or a deceitful tactic since the saffron brotherhood's real focus is not on the economy but on creating communal rifts as could be seen from BJP MP Vinay Katiyar's observation that the Muslims have no right to live in India and should go to the neighbouring Islamic states of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
If the Karnataka outcome showed that Modi's 21 rallies were not enough to swing an election in BJP's favour, the UP verdict was a further confirmation of the possibility that the Modi magic is fading.
It is not only BJP which appears to be in trouble, even its ally in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United), must be realising the mistake it made when it switched its allegiance from the "secular" maha gathbandhan (grand alliance) to the not particularly secular BJP.
If Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wanted to get away from the dominance of RJD leader, Laloo Prasad Yadav, it was a miscalculation in the sense that he came under BJP's domination instead which has apparently not gone down well with not only the minorities but also the people of the state in general who do not like to see their Chief Minister being at the BJP's beck and call. Hence, RJD's success in Jokihat, which is also the third successive victory of RJD in recent months after its successes in Araria and Jehanabad.
There is little doubt that the Jokihat result will induce rethinking in the Nitish Kumar camp – not only about the ties with BJP but also about his favourite prohibition policy as it evidently hasn't enhanced his popularity.
BJP, on its part, will draw some comfort from its success in Palghar over Shiv Sena. But what it may be worried about is the possibility of Shiv Sena joining the "secular" parties in an anti-BJP formation, at least in Maharashtra, if not in the rest of the country.
The reason why there may be such an unlikely combination is that it will not be easy for Shiv Sena to overturn its strident anti-BJP rhetoric of the past several years and makeup with its senior partner in Maharashtra. With NCP faring well in Bhandara-Gondia, it may not be entirely fanciful to see a formal or informal Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena alliance in the state.
If anti-incumbency saw the defeats suffered by Yogi Adityanath's government in UP, it had no impact on the governments in West Bengal and Kerala where Trinamool Congress and CPI(M) have won in Maheshtala and Chengannur, respectively. The former's success shows that the countrywide outrage over the violence during the recent panchayat elections in West Bengal has had no effect on Mamata Banerjee's popular image. Similarly, the unfortunate CPI(M)-RSS clashes and murders in Kerala has left the Pinarayi Vijayan government unaffected.
The lesson which the opposition at the national level will have to learn is that the anti-BJP forces must swim together if they do not want to sink. It remains to be seen whether the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government in Karnataka will realise that it cannot give any impression of being an unstable combine even if the two parties do not appear to be natural allies.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)