United Opposition needs more than just caste arithmetic to beat Modi in 2019

If it was the narrative of change and development that overshadowed everything else in 2014, the upcoming Lok Sabha polls are bound to get more local.

 |  6-minute read |   05-06-2018
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Going by the current mood, the Kairana by-poll result seems to have tolled the death knell for the BJP. The caste arithmetic of the rainbow coalition of the Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh has once again trumped the BJP's grand old Hindutva rhetoric.

If Gorakhpur and Phulpur showed the mettle of the two political frenemies, Kairana bolstered the secular script in the changing political narrative of Uttar Pradesh. Kairana was a strategic victory, it brought the Jat powerhouse of western Uttar Pradesh, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), back in action and proved the hypothesis of Jats returning to the RLD right.

If the Muslim vote isn’t splitting and the Jat vote is back in RLD’s fold, well if you were BJP, you couldn’t have woken up to a worse news than this. It implies that Uttar Pradesh is gradually returning to its status quo, the caste arithmetic is back, sides aren’t switching, and that is bad news for Amit Shah.

Even when I travelled to Shamli, I heard from common folks that "Musalman aur Dalit saath hai iss baar, Jats bhi jud jayenge (Muslim and Dalits are together, Jats will also join in)". The writing on the wall was quite clear.

modi-pti__0214181251_060518040950.jpg2019 will be an arithmetic of caste and algebra of local issues. 

If it was one narrative of change and development that overshadowed all arithmetic in 2014, elections are bound to get more local in 2019.

It will be an arithmetic of caste and algebra of local issues, which will set the narrative for 2019. But can this arithmetic alone trump the Modi-Shah duo, who still enjoys favourable ratings because of the unbeatable ground strength of the BJP and its reach through media and WhatsApp groups?

The Opposition will need to have more than caste arithmetic to beat the BJP. Even in 2014, the regional parties were able to hold their forts despite the Modi juggernaut. Even the Congress managed to win 20 per cent votes. But the game was changed by the 10 per cent -15 per cent fence-sitters, who will again be the deciding factor in 2019.

To get these fence-sitters onto their side, the Opposition parties need to provide a credible alternative.

Even for a "united Opposition", it will not be easy to take on a political leader who has been taking every criticism head on, and who knows the pulse of the nation better than anyone in the wing. 

Modi's posturing as a development man, the "policy paralysis" of UPA, and an unprecedented media blitzkrieg, brought in hordes of supporters, especially from the professional middle class.  Cut to 2019, this same class sees its paragon of social and economic liberalism fail, but is this class ready to shift to a medley of political ideologies, most of whom, it sees as corrupt, caste focused politicians?

Or will the TINA (there is no alternative) factor set in? The public mood has altered, and the epicentre of the Opposition, the Congress party is still far from revival. All that the Opposition needs is to give the rising middle class is a credible alternative.

It’s the economy, stupid

James Carville famous dictum, that got Bill Clinton the US presidency, defines the alternative to Modi. Modi doesn’t have time to change the script, reforms cannot be ushered in now, his past policies have devastated the markets, inflation is back to haunt us, and fuel prices are artificially inflated. There is no going back. After having already gone on the defensive, can he turn aggressive and reclaim lost political territory? 

The country needs answers to set things right — the Opposition, especially the Congress, has its task cut out: It needs to focus on government's delivery record with promises made, and present its own economic policy. And with the "economy in its tailspin", the Congress with others need to be going for Modi’s jugular.

all-inside_052418062_060518041131.jpgThe Opposition parties need to provide a credible alternative.

The Congress needs to present its economic agenda — the pending tax reforms, its solution to the NPA crisis of public banks, alterations to GST, and strategies to heal the manufacturing and SME sector. The Opposition needs to redraw the economic governance agenda. They still haven’t united behind alternative economic solutions that are tangible, easy to understand and capable of inspiring the millennial to vote for them.

The mounting losses at farms

This is incredible electoral negligence for a party that aspires to take back the House. Modi has lost his credence among farmers, who anyway were never BJP’s core voter base.

In order to restore faith among farmers, the Opposition needs its own script to reverse the farm crisis, it needs to move beyond the clichés of farm loan waivers, and present real, workable solutions. Regroup the farmer organisations, initiate conversations and develop an agenda to answer farm crisis. The Opposition will have to talk subtle, comprehensible and workable solutions, moving beyond plain rhetoric and Modi-bashing.

The house is not in order

India voted for development in 2014. In 2018, it sees the house in disorder, the social cohesion of the country has been trounced. The idea of secularism has been tampered with. And the Opposition is leaving no chance to call out Modi for not reining in the fringe forces, and has populated a credible hypothesis of the ruling class trying to make the fringe, mainstream.

Tabassum Hassan, after winning the Kairana by-poll in Uttar Pradesh, credited her victory to the idea of secularism.

For a political party with a wide outreach and smart electoral strategies, the BJP has managed to antagonise various sections of the society. First, as expected, the Muslims, then the Dalits, then the farmers. What's more, the traders are unhappy with the GST, a general gloom in the market, parents furious over paper leaks, students angry over SSC exams and a general apathy towards their demands, the working class worried about job losses.

And then came the horrific crime in Jammu and Kathua that made even the middle class shed its slumber and stir.

But the Opposition cannot just cash in on these disgruntlements , it has to present an alternative — the idea of an empathetic governance and a caring cabinet.

Present idea over personality

In 2014, Modi positioned himself as a man of action and hope. He still seems infallible, a man who can do no wrong. He has created an image for himself as a PM who has been failed by his bureaucrats and ministers, but he is still the man with his heart in the right place. Now compare him with a team of regional leaders, out to defeat not just a man, but an idea called Modi.

India, hasn’t forgotten the "third front" experiment and the changing prime ministers. Can it afford to go back to those days?

The fight against Modi cannot be one personality versus the other. It has to be about issues that have remained unsolved. It has to be about an idea – the idea of representing the interests of different sections, of restoring diversity, of appreciation of dissent, an idea of change, a move towards a different future, which is acceptable to most, if not all Indians.

Also read: Was making Adityanath UP chief minister PM Modi’s biggest political mistake?


Aakash Mehrotra Aakash Mehrotra @aakashmehrotra

Writer is a social researcher and travel blogger. He is also the author of The Other Guy.

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