Few see the parliamentary polls in 2019 as anything but a fight to the finish with the entire Opposition, as ideologically different as they are, from Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik to Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati, all driven by regional compulsions realizing that unless they come together to battle the might of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP as a united force, they face irrelevance and worse. A glimmer of hope for the Opposition comes from the 12 bypoll reverses and the BJP falling just short of a majority in Karnataka. But as the violence in Purulia shows, this will be a fight to the finish. The face of the Opposition – some say it could be Pranab Mukherjee - must have the sagacity to face down the odds, whatever they maybe.
There was a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP could not put a foot wrong. The saffron election machine crushed everyone who came in its path. Books on “How BJP wins elections” mushroomed. The Modi-Shah machinations threatened to engulf and diminish the tallest “jodi” (pair) of BJP-Atal-Advani. A triumphant BJP wore arrogance on its sleeve.
But the wheel of fate is not static. With the shocking 12 seat bypoll loss by the BJP, the once invincible Modi-Shah duo could find itself caught in a rut. Coming on the back of a lukewarm poll performance in Karnataka that party boss Amit Shah had hoped would be ‘the gateway to the south,’ it's a wake-up call that the Modi-Shah BJP brains trust cannot but heed, as the defeats are not limited to one state alone, but across six states, across the nation.
Setting off alarm bells in the BJP is its worst electoral nightmare — the coming together of an united Opposition that no longer works against each other and eats into the other’s vote, but faces down the BJP unitedly — as Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party did in Uttar Pradesh. The first shock came with the stunning loss of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s Lok Sabha seat that the BJP had been winning since 1998, followed by Phulpur. The twin losses left the party stunned. When the Opposition united again, this time alongside the Congress and more importantly the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the combined Opposition felled the BJP in UP’s Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Assembly bypolls.
The Kairana loss came despite the BJP doing what it does best - playing the Hindu card, raking up the alleged exodus of 250 Hindu families from Muslim-majority Kairana in Shamli district in the face of “harassment” from the Muslim population. To no avail.
The Karnataka poll results where the BJP fell just short of a majority was the other shocker with the photograph of some 20 Opposition leaders sharing the dais at the swearing-in-ceremony of the Karnataka chief minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, “disturbing” to the BJP, as it pointed to the coming together of an anti-BJP alliance for 2019.
Saffron spin doctors sense the Modi government losing currency with the people, with one BJP insider saying “If Lok Sabha elections were held today, we will lose at least 50 seats.”
In the poll-bound states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, reports are “soul sapping,” a national executive member of the party admitted. Independent surveys indicate that the Congress is ahead of BJP in vote share in MP. In Rajasthan, BJP is “not hopeful at all.” Both in MP and Rajasthan, the Cong ress will face the polls as an ally of the BSP.
In critically important UP, BJP poll analysts are well aware that a repeat of its 2014 performance in UP when it won 71 of the state's 80 seats, is nigh impossible, and will settle for “a tally of around 50 seats.”.
With 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is bracing for electoral battles on three fronts. Its poll plan, rests with wresting the support base of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul in West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, penetrating 130 Lok Sabha seats in southern states and consolidating strongholds in traditional areas in the cow belt. But as a BJP functionary admitted to an English daily: “The prospects of Opposition unity is the new reality.”
“What we need to do is to get our core voters to vote,” he added, signalling the party's dependence on the master of booth-level strategy-chief, Amit Shah, and the belief that the nation continues to favour Modi. “He still remains the crowd puller and main vote catcher,” the BJP insider said, confidently. The BJP has now launched a propaganda blitzkrieg to project and promote its mascot — Modi. The radio advertisements talking about the government’s achievements centre around Modi. The catch phrase remains — “Modiji ne superb kaam kiya hain,” “Modiji ne achcha kam kiya hain,” “Suna hain yeh Modiji ne kiya hain.”
The BJP intends to project Modi as “Mahabharata’s Abhimanyu, trapped in enemy’s chakravyuh fought valiantly.” It is on the back of this that the BJP is readying to unleash an aggressive campaign in southern states, which include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, playing the 'Everyone else versus Modi”, victim card
It is on the back of this, that the rise of a plethora of prime ministerial hopefuls adds to the BJP's challenge for 2019. The most talked about name is that of the Congress veteran and former president Pranab Mukherjee, whose surprise address to RSS cadres at the body's Nagpur headquarters on Thursday set off the buzz that he could be the face of an united opposition, which already has a national face in Rahul Gandhi ranged against ambitious regional satraps like Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati, all hoping to emerge as the H.D. Deve Gowda of 2019.