When the BJP came to power in 2014 with a clear cut majority, the first time for any political party in nearly a quarter century, the mood of the nation and the expectation was that the Narendra Modi led BJP headed National Democratic Alliance would easily win another five year term later, if not more. Various factors were responsible for the abject defeat of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance, UPA, in 2014. And several of those factors looked like they would continue to remain relevant for several years. One was the perception of the Congress tolerated corruption during its ten years in office from 2004 to 2014.
Some of these factors were:
The 2G scam and the Rs. 1.76 lac crore presumptive loss caused to the nation.
Anna Hazare’s agitation which got tremendous support of the people.
Narendra Modi’s promises – minimum support price plus 50 per cent for farm produce, 2 crore new jobs a year, curbing of corruption and bringing back tainted money from foreign countries to put Rs. 15 lac in every common person’s bank account.
Communal polarisation, selectively provoked, in sensitive areas
But the last four years have shattered the people’s hopes and aspirations:
The economy has stagnated because of demonetisation and badly implemented Goods and Services Tax – GST.
There has been no relief for farmers with the result that the number of farmers committing suicide because of indebtedness has gone up substantially.
Instead of increasing, jobs have shrunk with more and more young people joining the unemployed or under employed group.
Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has focussed only on relations with the United States and some big powers and groups. Relations with neighbouring countries have deteriorated. These countries include China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Bangladesh appears to be the only bright spot so far as the south Asian neighbourhood is concerned.
Despite the people losing faith and patience with the Modi dispensation, the BJP has been winning State elections because of the TINA (There is no alternative) factor and division in the opposition ranks.
But the recent by-election results in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have shown that the BJP can be shown its place with the opposition sinking its differences and closing ranks.
In 2014, the Congress got its lowest tally ever in the Lok Sabha and appeared to be on the verge of extinction as an all India political force. The broad consensus which gave the party victory in the 2004 and 2009 frittered away with even allies of long standing deserting thesinking ship.
But the situation has changed in the last year or so. The BJP continues to blame the Congress for the political and economic ills faced by the country, but after four years in power the people are no longer willing to accept that only the Congress is responsible for the problems facing the country. More and more, the voters are putting the blame for the sorry state of affairs in the country on the BJP, which has now been in power for the last four years. The tough fight put up by the Congress in the Assembly elections in Gujarat is a pointer towards that.
Some of the regional parties, which are ruling several states, are moving towards forming a federal front. Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and TRS leader and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao have taken the lead towards that. Some other political parties from other States may also join that grouping.
There is ambiguity at present on what role the Congress will play vis-a-vis the federal front. The Trinamoolchief has made it clear that the Congress should join the proposed federal front against the BJP as one of the partners and not as the leader of the front. In an interview to a Bangla news channel, Mamata Banerjee said, “The Congress has to sacrifice for the sake of the front. It can’t have its way at will. If we were looking at a one-on-one fight against BJP, then we should leave it to BJD to fight the polls in Odisha. ChadrababuNaidu in Andhra Pradesh and K. Chandrashekhar Rao to fight the polls in Telangana. Every party of the proposed federal front has to follow the principle, and so should the Congress.”
The Congress on the other hand feels that as an All India Party, it should have primacy in anyalliance or front to take on the BJP led National Democratic Alliance.
While an effective front on all India basis may be difficult to achieve, the Congress may still be able to pull the chestnuts out of the fire by going in for State level alliances with other non BJP parties. In States where it is the main opposition to the BJP, it can offer a few seats to other opposition groups to put up a united fight against the BJP. But in States where regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the Telugu Desam Party and the TRS are dominant, it will have to agree to play second fiddle in the elections due next year i.e. 2019.
This is not to say that the BJP can’t beat back the challenge from the Congress and other opposition parties in the remaining one year left of its term. If it has the political will to accept the mistakes in the past four years, the Narendra Modi government can at least try to reverse the damage caused to the economy and the middle and labour classes. For example, the NDA government used the dip in international crude prices, when it came to power in 2014, to shore up the government finances instead of passing on the benefit to the people. If the benefit of the lower crude prices had been passed on to industry and the common people, it would have resulted in a spurt in economic activity leading to expansion of employment opportunities and eventually, in the long term, increase in government revenues. But the government adopted the bania approach and sacrificed long term benefits for short term gains to the national exchequer.
The Dalits are up in arms against the current dispensation at the Centre and in most of the States. The Narendra Modi government is setting new records in garlanding Ambedkar statues and paying lip service to the main drafter of the Constitution.But job opportunities for the people belonging to the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes have decreased over the years, not only during the NDA regime but also during the preceding Congress led UPA rule. This is because more and more government functions and undertakings are being privatised. Because of privatisation, the job opportunities for people belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes have come down substantially. Added to this is the continued lack of respect for dalit sentiments. Incidents like people belonging to the scheduled castes not being allowed to ride a horse at weddings is a pointer towards that. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is otherwise very vocal and active on social media,has chosen to ignore such incidents.
As it appears, the game in the remaining one year of the Narendra Modi government can go either side. The race for the 2019 elections is wide open. It remains to be seen if the government will rectify its mistakes and regain public support or not. On the other side, the Congress and other opposition parties can turn the tables on the ruling dispensation if they form an effective alliance and build on the under-currents of the discontent with the ruling dispensation.