Lok Sabha Elections 2019- How The Cards Stack Up
As the momentum builds up for next year’s Lok Sabha elections, tentative moves are being made both by the ruling BJP led coalition and the plethora of forces opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics to firm up alliances and formulate winning electoral strategies. The elections will decide whether India will go in for another five years spell of the Modi brand of BJP and Hindutva or see the return of maybe a ragtag ‘secular’ coalition.
Before the big battle of the summer next year, India will witness Assembly elections in four states, out of which at least three will give a clear inkling of the lay of the land, as it is. Four states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram are scheduled to have Assembly elections in the winter. Out of these, the three Hindi speaking states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh are ruled by the BJP while the Congress is in power in Mizoram, the only north eastern state where the party holds the reins of the Government at present.
While the election in Mizoram may not have much impact or give any insight into the voters’ mood all over the country, the elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh will be a clear pointer to what lies ahead in the general elections.
The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh for three terms of five years each as a result of which anti-incumbency may have built up. But in Rajasthan, where the BJP has been in power for only the current term, it is facing even a tougher battle. Going by the results of Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections held in Rajasthan recently, the BJP is up against a strong pro-Congress wave, which may bring it face to face with a crushing defeat unless the party takes some last minute steps to turn the wave.
But there are different views on whether the outcome of the winter Assembly elections will set the tone for next year’s general elections. Some observers say that even if the BJP faces defeat in the Assembly polls, it has the fire power and deep down strength to turn the tide by the time of the Lok Sabha elections. Also if the Congress is not able to do as well as expected in the Assembly elections, it will demoralize the party. The BJP in that scenario may be able to inflict a second successive massive defeat on the Congress, which has been in power for three fourths of the time since Independence. In 2014, the Congress had recorded its worst ever performance in the Lok Sabha elections, winning only 44 seats.
The BJP, on the other hand , riding high on a wave after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been winning in state after state in the Assembly elections held since then, with the result that the Congress is now in power in only a few states like Punjab, Karnataka and Mizoram, apart from the Union Territory of Puducherry. However, it is to be noted that the BJP has lost most of the by-elections to the Lok Sabha held since 2014. As against the 282 seats the party won in the last general elections, its strength in the Lok Sabha is now barely above the half-way mark of 272.
Political Scenario in the States
The BJP is now ruling in most states of the country either on its own or in coalition with allied parties. These include most of the Hindi speaking states as well as the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. The party has reasons to worry so far as its prospects in these states are concerned. The party’s massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections came on the back of almost a sweep in key states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. On account of a variety of factors and primarily the restructuring of political alignments, the BJP would find it difficult to repeat its 2014 performance in these states. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, the BJP would be up against a potent political alliance of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, BSP, and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, not to speak of the Congress. In Bihar, while the opposition vote was fragmented in 2014, this time the combination of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, RJD, and the Congress, apart from smaller political outfits, will put up a tough challenge.
In Maharashtra also, the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party have decided to forge an alliance to give a tough fight to the BJP. Another cause of worry for the BJP is that its coalition partner in the state, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena has announced that it will fight the elections on its own and not in alliance with the BJP. If the BJP and the Shiv Sena fight separately while the Congress and the NCP fight together, it will be a major setback for the BJP’s hopes of winning most of the Lok Sabha seats from the state.
In Gujarat and Rajasthan, where the BJP had won all the Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the party may find it difficult to repeat the performance. The Congress has pulled up its socks in both states and will give a tough fight, as indicated by the Assembly election results in Gujarat and the outcome of recent Lok Sabha by-elections in Rajasthan.
The BJP, it appears, hopes to make up for the losses in the heartland states by making inroads in new areas like West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the North-East. In West Bengal, the party wants to give a tough fight to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and get many more seats than the two it had won in the state in 2014. But its dreams appear to be far from the reality, and the party may not be able to make a dramatic improvement in its tally in the state. In Kerala, the party will find it difficult to break the duopoly of the Left Front and the United Front being the main contenders for power. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP plans rest on forging an alliance with one of the two dominant political forces in the state, the All India Anna DMK and the DMK. The party may also be considering the possibility of combining forces with actor Rajnikanth’s new political outfit.
In the North-East, the BJP has made in-roads in several states at the cost of the Congress. But its gains will be limited as all states in the region send only 25 members to the Lok Sabha.
Issues and Non-Issues
Both, the BJP and its main challenger, the Congress, as well as other opposition parties say that they want to fight the elections on the issue of development. But it remains to be seen if the elections are fought on development or on other matters like communal polarization, corruption and the most potent issue of secular versus communal politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have been saying time and again that the main objective of the BJP and its allies is to bring about the country’s development and to ensure that the benefits of development reach the common man.
The Congress has been attacking the Narendra Modi dispensation preciously on the same ground of development. The party says that Government’s policies have benefitted only big businessmen and industrialists leaving the common man in the lurch. Party President Rahul Gandhi has been saying that the Government has been taking what he called an anti-Dalit approach and that the down trodden sections of the community feel unsafe. Indications are that the Congress may also make the fraud in the Punjab National Bank and the alleged scam over the purchase of Rafale planes major poll planks in next year’s elections.
Will it be united opposition versus BJP?
An issue which has been coming up off and on during the last couple of years is the question of putting up a united fight against the BJP led forces in the Lok Sabha elections but it is becoming increasingly clear that it will be difficult for an all India coalition of opposition forces to come up before the general elections.
There is a host of differences, ideological and leadership-wise, which divide the opposition camp. But while an All India Front may not come about, the way appears to be open for state level alliances or seat sharing arrangements.
A major step in this direction may come if the Congress and the BSP are able to finalize an alliance or seat sharing arrangement for the coming Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. This will have a major impact on the fortunes of the opposition forces and whether they would be able to give a tough fight to the BJP led coalition.
Positive moves in this direction have come with opposition leaders saying that a decision on the post of Prime Minister will be taken after the elections and not before the polls. This enables the opposition forces to side step the crucial issue which could have divided them even before they combined. It is significant that the BJP leaders have been trying to raise the issue of who would be the opposition nominee for Prime Minister-ship to oppose Narendra Modi in the elections. Leaders like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have been raising the issue of whether Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati would be able to work together or whether they would accept Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. While major opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have not been speaking much on the issue, BJP leaders have been raking this up.
Interesting Battle Coming Up
The BJP is sounding confident that it will be able to win another term in office in next year’s elections. But from the way things are emerging, it is evident it will be a very tough battle at the hustings. Even if there is no formal opposition tie up, informal state level arrangements are likely to be a reality. And if they work well on the ground, the BJP would be hard put to come anywhere near its performance in 2014.