Will the BJP juggernaut roll on?
The year 2014 ends on a note that has completely redefined Indian politics. The forthcoming year appears to contain many possibilities for the BJP. Delhi and Bihar, two key states for the party, goes to the polls in the following year. This column is an attempt to look at how Indian politics might evolve over the next 12 months.
The first important task ahead of the party will be the management of the Union Budget. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who just celebrated his birthday on December 28, will have to conduct some tough number crunching to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers on some of the promises he made through 2014. The Indian public is fickle minded. Considering the kind of expectations that have been raised, it won’t be long before people start asking questions on whether they actually have more money in their pockets. Ultimately, for Prime Minister Modi, who takes great pride in his entrepreneurial streak as a Gujarati, this aspect will prove to be his biggest test.
There are reports that the government may increase the basic minimum wages across sectors to Rs 15,000. If the Centre indeed manages to do that, it will be quite a feat. Such sums will end up doubling the existing wage structure. It will also imply that there will be enormous pressure on the exchequer. How will the finance minister deliver on this order? Will this end up being a trial balloon floated strategically before the Delhi assembly polls? Similarly, another test will involve how much the Centre can proceed on “bringing back” black money home. More significant, however, will be whether the government can find a way to end the impasse in the Rajya Sabha. It doesn’t have the requisite numbers to pass legislation in the upper house of Parliament and the status quo will remain till 2017. Will it continue to deal on matters of key legislations through ordinances? If these ordinances do lapse, what will happen?
Elections in Jharkhand and Jammu Kashmir have shown that if the opposition unites, it can deliver a stiff fight to the BJP. In Jharkhand, the combined vote share of the Congress (10.46%) and JMM (20.43%) was equal to BJP’s (31.26%). In 14 seats won by the BJP and its alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union, the combined vote share of the JMM, RJD, JD(U) and Congress was higher. Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir, the overall votes polled by the BJP actually dropped by almost 1 lakh. While other parties in the fray witnessed a fall as well, it’s the BJP, which will have more to worry about, since it’s entering the elctoral fray on the back of a spectacular Lok Sabha performance.
This takes us to the real battle of 2015, which are the assembly elections in Delhi. A 32.9% vote share during the Lok Sabha polls for the Aam Aadmi Party, allied with a defunct Congress, makes it a straight battle between the BJP and the greenhorn party. If the BJP is about Modi, then AAP is about Arvind Kejriwal. Already across different street corners in the national capital, you will see hoardings depciting Modi. An indicator, that like other states, Delhi too will be fought with Modi as the face of the party. Although BJP insiders believe that they have Delhi in their bag, the feeling is that it will still be a stiff fight. Newspapers are gloating over the fact that BJP has more MLAs than the Congress across the country for the first time since Independence. Truth is that this resurgence has come largely from states, which were Congress bastions for over a decade, namely, Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan. Only Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were the two noticeable exceptions. This is also a state where polarisation of votes, along communal lines as a strategy, may not necessarily pay off for the BJP. However, if the BJP wins Delhi, it will certainly force opposition parties to come together on one big platform. If Kejriwal can stop the Modi juggernaut, it will give enormous hope to those, who will take him on a year later in Bihar.
The year 2015 will also be a challenge for the Congress party. It will have to figure out how it can reorient itself. After all, it took the BJP ten years to align itself totally with Modi. Is there a Modi-like figure within the Congress? The answer to that may well end up determining the long term fate of the Grand Old Party of India. Rahul Gandhi will have to realise that to position himself as a potential leader of India, he needs to do something different. Simply put, he needs to do something. It is not as if the BJP has not given the Congress opportunities to corner them in past electoral battles. It is just that a Rahul-led Congress has failed to capitalise on these opportnities. If Congress remains beholden to the Gandhi parivar, one can only look towards other leaders or political parties, who do possess the potential to occupy the opposition space. Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik may not necessarily be leaders of very rich states, but they have built solid reputations for themselves on their home turfs.
The bottom line is if the Congress does not evolve by the end of 2015, we may not even be looking at a battle between Modi and Congress. It could well be Modi vs Mr X, an unknown entity.
The author is a Consulting Editor with CNN-IBN