Warning signs BJP can't ignore as Nitish Kumar sounds poll bugle
For Modi government, the only antidote is solid economic performance – and better, far better, communications.
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A JD(U)-led mahagathbandhan swept the Bihar Assembly election last year. Can a national mahagathbandhan do a repeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election? Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar clearly thinks so. After anointing himself president of the JD(U) on April 10, Nitish has set his sights firmly on Delhi. His new slogan: “Sangh-mukt Bharat.”
Should Prime Minister Narendra Modi be worried? A united opposition would present a formidable challenge to the BJP. But uniting non-BJP parties under the JD(U)’s patchwork umbrella will prove a lot harder than forging a mahagathbandhan in Bihar.The Nitish-led mahagathbandhan won by a sharp margin in 2015 Assembly polls.
Nitish has begun to build his regional party as a national centripetal force ranged against the BJP. The Congress has reacted coolly to the idea though it is open to state-wise coalitions in 2019. AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmad said: “Certainly, India should be freed of the RSS and BJP. But when it comes to the question of alliances, they are state-specific. That’s because a particular party which has presence in one state does not have much presence in the neighbouring states. So parties go for state-specific alliances.”
Three political “federations” will contest the next general election. First, the BJP-led NDA. Second, the JD(U)-UPA mahagathbandhan. And third, neutral regional parties which will not align with either front.
The "secular" mahagathbandhan would comprise a loose assembly of anti-BJP forces. Among them: the JD(U), Congress, DMK, RJD, NCP, AAP, NC, the Left Front and a host of small regional parties. The problem for Nitish is that the big regional parties will likely remain aloof from the mahagathbandhan: BSP, SP, TMC, BJD, TRS and AIADMK.
Among themselves, these powerful regional satraps hold over 100 seats in the current Lok Sabha.
They will individually support either the Modi-led NDA or the Nitish-UPA front depending on the numbers the 2019 Lok Sabha election throws up.
Several states will see a straight battle between the BJP and the Congress. These include Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Here Nitish’s mahagathbandhan will not work. Even in states where there are multiple players, the index of opposition unity (IOU) will wear thin. For example, in UP, the vote will be split five ways between the BJP, Congress, SP, BSP and MIM.
In the south and east too, the JD(U)’s “secular” alliance could be snubbed by regional parties.
The ongoing state elections in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu as well as the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017 and the Karnataka poll in 2018 will reveal some clues.
Before doing the 2019 Lok Sabha math, some assumptions: the BJP wins Assam, Gujarat and Karnataka. Mamata and Jayalalithaa retain West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively. The Left Front retakes Kerala. AAP wins Punjab. Mayawati regains UP.
Let’s look more closely at the numbers of the three principal alliances. An analysis of vote share and seats in the last five Lok Sabha elections between 1998 and 2014 reveals that a party needs a national vote share of over 30 per cent to win more than 250 seats. In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with a vote share of 31 per cent. In 2009, the Congress won 206 seats with a vote share of 28.55 per cent.
To form a government at the Centre, the mahagathbandhan will need the support of virtually all the regional parties. With the TMC unlikely to join a front comprising the Left, and the SP and BSP rabidly antithetical to each other, the possibility of a Nitish-led coalition government in 2019 could dissolve in a clash of egos.
To complicate matters, Rahul Gandhi will support such a coalition only from outside in much the same way the Congress supported (and brought down) the United Front governments of HD Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral in 1997 and 1998.
The BJP-led NDA is also likely to fall short of an absolute majority. The NDA may need a regional party like the AIADMK or the BJD — and several independents — to form a government with a wafer-thin majority in 2019.
Much of course can happen in the next three years. The BJP’s electoral planks going forward will be nationalism and development in place of the 2014 planks of Hindutva and parivartan. Hindutva has fading appeal.
Parivartan has proved a false hope. The silver lining for the BJP is that if it defeats the Congress in Assembly elections in Assam, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the NDA’s Rajya Sabha numbers will climb to well over 100 seats, giving it flexibility to pass legislation in the Upper House. But if the economy doesn’t prosper and if nationalism doesn’t coalesce the “Hindu” vote behind it, the BJP’s math may come unstuck.
There are several warning signs the BJP can ignore at its peril. The Patidar agitation in Gujarat could tilt the balance of power in Modi’s home state.
The irascible Shiv Sena’s support for the BJP in Maharashtra could crumble. Disaffection with Modi’s reluctance to act against UPA-era scams, especially those involving the Gandhis and Robert Vadra, might alienate the BJP’s core support base.
Internal machinations by the party’s old “160 club” could be revived to sabotage a second Modi term.
For the Modi government the only antidote to all of these is solid economic performance – and better, far better, communications.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)