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What we know about 2019 general elections as things stand of today

A Modi-II government, if it is formed in 2019, will likely resemble a UPA-II government when the Congress won 206 seats and its allies lifted it past 272 seats.

 |  5-minute read |   14-06-2018
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Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy is a worried man. Three weeks after he took the oath of office in front of a gaggle of Opposition leaders, eager to make the Congress-JD(S) alliance a template for an assault on the Narendra Modi government in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the experiment is beginning to wobble.

With just 37 seats in the Assembly but the chief ministership in the bag, the JD(S) was always going to be the tail that wagged the alliance dog. Unfortunately for it, the Congress has sunk into old habits. Its win yesterday in the Jayanagar constituency, earlier held by the BJP, has emboldened it.

There are almost as many claimants for ministerships as there are Congress MLAs. Lingayat leader MB Patil, who helped former chief minister Siddaramaiah split BS Yeddyurappa’s Lingayat vote, has been sidelined. Siddaramaiah himself has lost his swagger. He was defeated in one of the two seats he contested (Chamundeshwari) and barely scraped through in the other (Badami). He has been noticeably absent in the internal jockeying for ministerships among Congress MLAs.

hd_061418095006.jpegKarnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy is a worried man. 

Rotational ministers

With six of 22 portfolios still up for grabs, and more than 20 Congress MLAs vying for them, the high command (Rahul and Sonia Gandhi) has fallen back on using traditional Indian jugaad: rotational ministers. The tenure: six months.

In this bizarre proposal of musical chairs, a Congress MLA will, for example, be the housing minister for six months before being dragged away kicking and screaming from his portfolio to make way for his colleague waiting for his turn in a lucrative “ATM” ministry.

At Parsi weddings, it is a tradition for guests to be served dinner in batches. Even before the first batch finishes its “lagan nu bhonu”, a row of hungry diners lines up behind your chair, making clear that your time is up.

In Karnataka, the row of Congress MLAs lining up behind each ministerial chair appears equally incongruous. More pertinently, what does the shenanigans we’ve seen so far in Bengaluru presage for Opposition unity in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll?

united-opposition_061418095020.jpgThe row of Congress MLAs lining up behind each ministerial chair in Karnataka appears equally incongruous

The combined Opposition’s key problem is evolving a consensus around a face who will lead the front. As in Karnataka’s cabinet, there are more candidates than openings. The Congress is likely to emerge as the second largest party after the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Rahul Gandhi, though, may not be an acceptable leader of a national mahagathbandhan.

Pitted one-on-one against Modi, he could lose rather than gain Opposition vote share. Mayawati will press her claim on the back of the Dalit votes. Mamata Banerjee has already displayed her willingness to lead the front. She has proposed one-on-one contests between the combined Opposition and the BJP in 400 seats. Her record in making West Bengal a hotbed of communal violence could, however, sharply erode her chances as the face of this variegated front.

The Shiv Sena, as usual fishing in troubled waters, has suggested Pranab Mukherjee as a consensus prime ministerial choice. Mukherjee’s office has denied any interest in the proposal, calling it “far-fetched”.

Daughter Sharmishta has said coldly that her father will not enter politics. By convention, former presidents are deemed apolitical. But in Indian politics, nothing is too far-fetched to morph into reality. Of course, the Congress high command will not countenance Mukherjee as prime minister after his visit to RSS headquarters in Nagpur.

Main problem

The BJP’s main problem, meanwhile, lies in its allies. It began 2014 with 24 allies, most of them small. Only the Shiv Sena (18 MPs) and the TDP (14 MPs) were in double digits.

The TDP is gone, but political manoeuvring may bring it back. The Sena has cried wolf so often that its threats to leave the NDA sound increasingly hollow. Its real ambition is to contest a large share of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll — perhaps 24 of Maharashtra’s 48 — and it will probably get its way. But the Sena knows there is no life for it outside the NDA. Yet the BJP’s problems remain severe.

If the SP-BSP-Congress grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh gets formalised, the BJP will lose a torrent of seats in the state. In Madhya Pradesh, a Congress-BSP alliance could hurt it as well. The restless JD(U) needs to be carefully nurtured.

modi-naidu_061418095031.jpgThe TDP is gone, but political manoeuvring may bring it back.

Coalition dharma

A key strategy is to tap informal alliances in Odisha (which will hold Assembly elections simultaneously with the Lok Sabha poll in 2019), woo the TRS in Telangana and do a tricky threesome with the TDP and YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

All of these will require Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah to set aside hubris and embrace coalition dharma. A Modi-II government, if it is formed in 2019, will likely resemble a UPA-II government when the Congress won 206 seats and its allies lifted it past 272 seats. The Congress won just 28.55 per cent vote share in 2009 for those 206 seats. Not many at the time said that 72 per cent of India voted against the Congress. In Indian media and politics, double standards and hypocrisy are permanent companions.

With the Opposition’s alliance for 2019 in the balance, the eager-beaver leaders who gathered in Bengaluru three weeks ago at Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in will be watching the awkward pirouette between the Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka with a touch of anxiety.

It could foretell the future.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why India keeping Australia out of the Malabar Exercise was a wise move

Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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