Can an anti-Modi alliance defeat the BJP in 2019?
India Today cover story examines the electoral math for the coming Lok Sabha elections.
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The general election of 2014 changed the political landscape of this country dramatically. For the first time in 25 years, a single party won a majority. The reason was the birth of a political colossus in the form of Narendra Modi.
A charismatic leader and a revitalised party swept across most of India destroying rivals, following it up with wins in 12 out of 23 state elections since.
The demoralised Opposition saw a glimmer of hope after the BJP’s lacklustre performance in the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat. This was succeeded by the loss of three by-elections (two Lok Sabha and one Assembly seats) in Rajasthan followed by the more recent loss of three major Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In all these states, the NDA was the ruling regime.
India Today cover story, A Rainbow Coalition Or a Miracle, for April 2, 2018.
The Uttar Pradesh by-elections witnessed the unthinkable, with the two most bitter rivals combining to beat a common enemy only to prove that there are no permanent enemies in politics, only a common thirst for power.
The anti-BJP movement got another boost when the Telugu Desam, a BJP ally, started quarrelling with it and withdrew its ministers from the NDA government, becoming the second ally to do so after the Shiv Sena.
Last week, the principal Opposition party also threw its hat in the ring when UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner for the heads of 20 “like-minded” parties. Earlier, at the India Today Conclave 2018, she announced she would do everything possible to prevent the BJP from returning to power in 2019.
That may not be entirely in her hands or indeed within her domain, but there is no doubt that politics in the past two weeks has become quite a cat and mouse game. There is a certain restlessness in the air among the political class. Parties formed on regional, ethnic, caste and linguistic basis are especially vulnerable as they jockey for space in an increasingly volatile ecosystem.
Take Tamil Nadu. Over the past two months alone, it has witnessed three new political alignments after decades of rule by the two rival Dravidian parties. The rise of superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan as well as the party floated by TTV Dinakaran will only add to the confusion, with the BJP's role being somewhat nebulous.
In the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh, there are two regional behemoths, N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi as well as the ambitious YS Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party.
India Today’s cover story this week, anchored by senior associate editor Kaushik Deka, examines the arithmetic of 2019, which shows the BJP is headed for solitary battles in 304 seats in 10 states against multiple Opposition parties.
Four years ago, it won 140 of these 304 seats when Opposition parties were scattered - 71 in Uttar Pradesh alone. An analysis of the 2014 results suggests that had the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party fought together, they could have brought the BJP tally down to less than 30.
There is certainly some discontent stemming from unfulfilled expectations. The special package demand for Andhra Pradesh, MK Stalin’s cry for Dravida Nadu, minority status for Lingayats in Karnataka, and the farmers’ protest in Maharashtra have put the BJP on the defensive.
The critical issue will be the performance of the Congress, especially in the 100 seats in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, where it will be in direct contest with the BJP.
The BJP may not be able to repeat its stellar performance of winning 282 seats in 2014, but no one can disregard the political acumen, discipline and determination of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine. Is it enough for the Opposition to have a common enemy when they have been enemies not too long ago?
Above all, will they be able to agree on who will be the captain of this motley combine? Politics is also not always a matter of arithmetic. There is, however, one certainty. The 2019 general election will not be a cakewalk for either side.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, A Rainbow Coalition Or a Miracle; April 2, 2018.)