The year 2017 has started with positive developments for the strengthening of anti-BJP forces in the country, following the Election Commission’s decision to allow Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) to use the Cycle as their election symbol. This paves the way for a new power equation in Uttar Pradesh politics which can checkmate BJP in the coming seven-phase Assembly elections in the state beginning on February 11 and ending on March 8. The supreme domination of the young Chief Minister of the SP has opened the possibility of a formidable alliance between SP and the Congress in the Assembly polls. All indications suggest that with both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi agreeing in principle to the need for such a unity in the UP elections against the BJP to stop the marching forward of the Hindutva forces, there will not be much difficulty in the distribution of seats. In any case, SP as the major party will be contesting in around 300 out of the total of 403 seats in the UP Assembly and the Congress and other allies will be left with around 100 seats.
Once this alliance is formalised, it will lead to a qualitative change in the election battle in the country in not only Uttar Pradesh but also in the other states like Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa where the Assembly elections are due. The significance of this alliance lies in the fact that it will ensure the support of Muslims who constitute 17 per cent of the electorate in UP. The earlier pessimistic mood among the minority community about the invincibility of the BJP due to the disunity in the secular ranks will be gone and this Akhilesh-Rahul combine will also help in attracting a large number of young voters who earlier were disgruntled with the SP due to the party feud. There is going to be a considerable shift in the Brahmin votes. In sum, the alliance will help in imparting great dynamism to the campaign of both SP and the Congress energising the demoralised Congress cadres from the slumber.
In perspective, taking the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 in view, the victory of the SP-Congress alliance in the 2017 Assembly elections is of paramount importance in facilitating the process of broad-based unity of the opposition parties. The defeat of BJP will send shockwaves to the BJP Central leadership, and the dissident voices which have been silenced by the Modi-Amit Shah combine will be louder, posing serious problems for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is under attack from the grassroots of BJP as the ground effect of demonetisation, has impacted them also. All the leading economists have come out with the view that the decision which was unilateral and devoid of economic sense, has adversely affected the poor, not the rich as is being claimed by the PM. The IMF in its latest report released on January 16 has categorically said that India’s growth level will go down by 1 per cent in 2016-17 due to the effects of demonetisation. Mr Modi is now talking about building a cashless digitised India while the rural poor and the unorganised workers are becoming jobless following the impact of demonetisation.
This is the right time for a united opposition to strike the BJP and the NDA government. There are big differences among the anti-BJP parties, and it will be a Herculean task to bring them on a common platform. However, if there is a broad understanding about the dimension of the threat which the saffron forces are posing to the future of this vast country with diverse religions and culture, many ways can be found out to have a minimum agreement on the issue of forging a common front against the BJP and the Parivar.
The political reality of India at the moment is that no strong anti-BJP front is possible without the participation of the Congress which is organisationally fighting BJP in the states where the regional parties are not there. For instance, in UP, the SP is the bigger party, and the Congress can be its second rank ally, but in four other states where the Assembly elections are being held, the Congress is the main party fighting BJP. In Punjab and Goa, AAP is a contender for power along with the Congress against BJP and its allies, but in Uttarakhand and Manipur, the Congress has to fight mainly to defeat BJP. That way, the major responsibility for defeating BJP in the state Assembly elections, devolves on the Congress and its success in the Assembly elections by defeating BJP, will give it the right to get its rightful place as the leader of the opposition camp including the regional parties.
In sum, the opposition parties who are against the BJP and want the Modi government to be out of power after 2019 Lok Sabha polls, have to move with a spirit of accommodation even in 2017 state Assembly polls. In Uttarakhand, there may be some understanding between the Congress and the BSP, and in Punjab and Goa, the Congress and AAP can have tacit understanding in selected weak and strong seats with the objective of defeating BJP. If the sole aim is the defeat of BJP, ways can be found out in the course of the election campaign to inflict maximum damage to the BJP by joint efforts.
Those parties which are determined to protect the secular character of India, have to keep it in mind that the Parivar is speedily expanding its tentacles over every sphere of society, especially education and cultural sectors. The Congress, regional parties and the Left have to show the spirit of accommodation for taking up the challenge. The Congress and the other anti-BJP parties have to go the whole hog in defeating BJP in all the five states in the February-March Assembly elections. If the victory is achieved in a majority of the states including UP, the momentum against the BJP will be generated, and that will have its reflection on the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal by the end of 2017.
The battle is very fierce as the BJP has got tremendous resources, muscle power, and the Centre’s support. But the battle can be won if the opposition parties are dead set to take on BJP and the Parivar. The Congress has to give up its arrogance as the natural party of governance. The Left has to be an integral part of this broad anti-BJP battle and help in formulating the front’s minimum programme. Mamata Banerjee will certainly be a major leader of this combination. That should not lead the CPI(M) to delink itself from this battle. The removal of Modi government should be the prime objective, and it is a national task for every left democrat.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)