#State Level Fronts to Rule the Roost
As India moves towards yearend Assembly polls in crucial States, which are expected to set the tone for next year’s general elections, it is becoming increasingly evident that State level fronts would be capable of making or marring the fortunes of the main parties in the country.
Given its strength at the Centre and at the State level, the BJP would have been sure of coming to power again in 2019 but for its perceived failure to fulfil its tall promises and what the critics call the alienation of important segments, like the Dalits, the Minorities and the farming community. The BJP itself had stormed to power in 2014 on the back of the perceived corruption of the then ruling coalition, the Congress led United Progressive Alliance, UPA. The ten year rule of the coalition headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh formally and by then Congress President Sonia Gandhi informally ended with the Congress recording its worst ever performance in the Lok Sabha elections. With just 44 seats, the Congress could not even fulfil the criterion for recognition as the main opposition party.
The BJP came to power with the general expectation that it will take concrete steps to curb corruption, political as well as in Government services. Everybody expected that the long awaited Lok Pal would be a reality soon so that there is a check on high level corruption in the Government. The Lok Pal legislation had been passed at the fag end of the UPA Government tenure and only the process of appointment of the Lok Pal and the setting up of the infrastructure for that had to be completed. But the appointment of Lok Pal has not taken place even after completion of four years of the Narendra Modi Government, giving the impression that the establishment is less than serious about institutionalised ways to check corruption.
In a personalised administration where the Prime Minister has been projected as the sole source of authority as well as wisdom, Mr. Narendra Modi claims to have taken solid steps to root out corruption through steps such as demonetization and implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, GST. Though these steps led to a lot of inconvenience to the general public, the Government has been claiming that they have struck at the very roots of corruption. But the general public is not so sanguine about the outcome of these measures. Through demonetization, the Government wanted to bring about a less cash economy but less than two years after the event, the cash in circulation is above the pre-demonetization levels.
Crucial Assembly Elections Ahead
The Lok Sabha elections due next year will be preceded by Assembly elections in three crucial States, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, which are all ruled by the BJP at present. The results of the elections in these States, which are likely to be held by the yearend, will set the tone for the Lok Sabha elections, which could follow in less than six months, and the BJP does not appear to be well placed to retain power in these States. Apart from anti-incumbency – the party has been ruling Madhya Pradesh and Chhastisgarh for three terms of five years each, and Rajasthan for one term – recent indications have come that it will be an uphill task to retain power. Results of recent Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are a pointer towards that. In Rajasthan especially, it has been seen that the people are greatly disenchanted with the performance of the BJP Government in Rajasthan and the BJP-led Government at the Centre.
States Level Fronts coming up
There has been talk of formation of a third front or federal front in some quarters. The main initiative for that has been taken by TRS President and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao and Trinmool Congress President and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. But it does not appear to have made much headway. The primary reason appears to be the confusion over whether it will include the Congress or not. While the TRS President Chandrasekhar Rao appears to be looking for formation of a front of regional parties alone, Trinmool Congress President Mamata Banerjee appears to be keeping open the option of including or associating with the Congress. Of course, she says that the Congress should be prepared to accept the leadership of the regional parties in the States where they are dominant.
Another point of confusion is whether it would be possible to form a United Front against the BJP led National Democratic Alliance, NDA, before the Lok Sabha elections or it will come into being after the elections are over and results are declared. Nationalist Congress Party, NCP, supremo Sharad Pawar appears to be of the view that it may not be possible to form a United Front before the Lok Sabha elections. He says that a front against the BJP and allied parties may be formed after the elections.
With the third front or the federal front, whatever it may be called, being a non-starter political parties of consequence in different States have started work on state level fronts or alliances in different places.
Among the States where state level fronts can give a tough fight to the BJP-led NDA are States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir. The Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, BSP look set to have an alliance in Uttar Pradesh in the coming Lok Sabha elections. While the two parties will get the major share of the eighty Lok Sabha seats from the state, they are looking to accommodate the Congress and the Ajit Singh led Rashtriya Lok Dal by giving them a few seats.
In Bihar, the RJD led alliance, which includes the Congress, is also looking for ways to accommodate minor parties and groups. Whether state Chief Minister and Janata Dal United President Nitish Kumar will join them or be allowed to join them remains a moot question. But it is certain that with or without the Janata Dal United, the RJD-led front will have a major impact on the Lok Sabha elections. It would be very difficult for the BJP to repeat its 2014 performance, when it had won, along with allies, 31 of the total 40 seats in the State.
In neighbouring Jharkhand, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress and the RJD are trying to form an alliance including other parties in the state to oppose the BJP. The front may be able to pose a big challenge to the BJP, which had won 12 of the total 14 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2014.
In Karnataka, where Janata Dal Secular and Congress formed a coalition Government recently after much drama, the two parties have agreed on seat sharing for the Lok Sabha elections but the exact contours of the deal have not been disclosed. Closure to the Lok Sabha elections, there is expected to be tough bargaining between the two parties on the number and the specific seats they would contest.
BSP Role Crucial
Whether or not Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has seat adjustments with the Congress and other non-BJP parties in different states or not will have a major impact on the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections. The BSP, which has a formidable transferable vote, can make the difference between victory and defeat of the parties with whom the party supremoi enters into a seat sharing deal. If the Congress is politically savvy, it would try its best to enter into seat sharing deals with the BSP wherever it can. Such deals will be crucial in States like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
The Congress, adopting a low key approach to the question of alliances in different states, has started well in its strategy for next year’s Lok Sabha elections. The party will do well to recognise that it has no longer the clout to bring all other non-BJP parties under its leadership. It is no longer a question of Congress-led anti-BJP alliance but an opposition alliance including the Congress. It is only gradually that the party can recover the ground it has lost.