Modi Shining' moment?

The last few days have seen rapid-fire developments, with the regional parties showing many a sign of arresting the Modi-led juggernaut.

The last few days have seen rapid-fire developments, with the regional parties showing many a sign of arresting the Modi-led juggernaut. The last minute tie-up between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections managed to defeat the BJP in the constituencies of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, wiping out their three lakh plus majority of last time, and a 325 seat assembly win of only a year ago. This was no small victory given the ease with which the incumbent government usually wins bypolls.

The BJP’s tried and tested partner, the Telugu Desam Party has pulled out of the NDA for being denied a special category status for Andhra Pradesh, promised it at the time of the reorganization of the state. The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s oldest ally, when the saffron party used to be seen as an “untouchable”, has already declared that it is going to contest on its own in the 2019 battle. The Shiromani Akali Dal has made no bones about its unhappiness with the way the BJP is handling its allies. The Janata Dal(U) has also started making noises about getting a special status for Bihar.

While the BJP’s allies have been growing restive, the other regional parties are bestirring themselves to come together to take on the BJP. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao has mooted the idea of a “People’s Third Front”, which has found favour with Mamata Banerjee and some small outfits.
It is early days yet but the mere existence of such a front will provide all regional parties — including the TDP - an option to move towards it, if they want, particularly if it is not led by the Congress. It will make it easier even for the CPM to align with it. And if nothing else, to use it to strike a harder bargain with the BJP.

The BJP’s woes have also increased with both the TDP and the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP making noises to move a non-confidence motion against the Modi-led NDA, in what is competitive state politics playing out in Delhi. Though the BJP has the numbers in the Lok Sabha, the mere talk of a no-confidence motion takes away from the invincibility of a Narendra Modi-led BJP, making the 2019 scenario look more open than it has so far been. This gives new heart to an otherwise demoralised opposition and has its own message for the bureaucracy, judiciary and other arms of governance.

The BJP may have to climb down from the high horse it has been on, following its victory run in Assam, the North Eastern states, the Delhi municipal corporations, but above all in UP last year, winning 325 out of 403 seats. In West Bengal, it is breathing down Mamata Banerjee's neck and has emerged as the main force against the BJD in Odisha, eyeing the Bhubaneshwar throne in 2019. The BJP will, of course, offset its losses in the Hindi heartland, where it had peaked, by pickings mainly in eastern India, but suddenly the picture does not look rosy for the party — unless it decides to stoop to “conquer” miffed allies and win over potential partners.

Sharad Pawar has been working behind-the-scenes to bring the regional parties on a common platform. If there are two states — and large ones at that -- where opposition unity can actually make a difference, they are Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. UP has already demonstrated what is possible if the SP and BSP come together. If the NCP and the Congress come together in Maharashtra and can forge a tacit understanding with the Shiv Sena, the BJP will find it an uphill struggle in the western state, accounting for 48 Lok Sabha seats.

In Bihar, there is already a RJD-Congress alliance in place, and the Araria and Jehanabad bypoll victories show a sympathy factor at work for Lalu Yadav. Otherwise the RJD could not have managed an improved showing, with Lalu behind bars and Nitish Kumar having moved out of the Mahagathbandhan.
Between them, these three states can bring down the BJP tally by at least 60-70 seats. Then there are Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, low hanging fruits for the Congress, provided the Grand Old Party does not score a self goal in the coming months!

In some way, it was the initiative by regional groupings that spurred on Sonia Gandhi to host a dinner last week for opposition parties, to re-wrest the initiative. Though Mamata, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav did not attend and only sent their representatives, it was attended by 20 parties big and small. It suits the BJP to pitch the 2019 battle as a Rahul versus Modi fight. For the opposition, this would mean fighting on the BJP’s turf. For Modi is still the most popular leader in the country, and Rahul has so far been no match for him. Nor for that matter is any other leader in the Opposition today. Even those disenchanted with the BJP, turn around and ask, “Who is there in the Opposition?” They then talk about “not voting”, “voting NOTA” or “reluctantly voting” for Modi.

The Opposition’s strategy therefore may have to be different. Of course, at the macro level, there is merit in forging a common front of regional parties and the Congress — there is bound to be a tussle on who would lead such a front -- to counter the Modi-led NDA. But this may be viewed with reservations in certain sections like the urban middle class, in the absence of a charismatic leader on the opposition side, and more important, a consensus on his/her name, and the fear of a khichdi government in Delhi. The past history of the Janata Party ministry in 1977, the National Front Government in 1989, and the United Front government of chief ministers in 1996 — none of these governments lasted their full terms -- does not generate a sense of popular confidence.

The 2019 battle may call for a strategy which fashions a “Brand Opposition”, a new narrative -- and action plan -- for addressing rural distress and jobless growth and for the creation of a hate-free India. Even more important for 2019 is the micro level strategy that opposition parties put in place. To ensure that it is a one-on-one contest between the NDA and the opposition in each of the Lok Sabha constituencies, to prevent the opposition vote from getting divided. This will require a huge amount of painstaking, backroom work, and above all, burying of egos by opposition leaders.

No one in the NDA, let alone the BJP pollmeister Amit Shah, could have seen the twin hammer blows of Gorakhpur and Phulpur coming. Nor for that matter, did the BJP, factor in that the bypoll losses in UP and Bihar would weaken the hitherto invincible NDA alliance to the extent that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu who had held back from snapping ties, would take it a notch further and table a no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government. The NDA's numbers with 274 MPs in a 315 member strong alliance in the Lok Sabha, are unassailable. And while this maybe more about the TDP attempting to occupy the moral high ground in Andhra Pradesh where YSR Congress' Jagan Mohan Reddy was winning hearts and minds on his tour of the state, the twin shocks of the bypoll defeats and the TDP's exit from the NDA, has had wider repercussions. The NDA’s other alliance partners, the AIADMK with 36 MPs and the Shiv Sena with 18, are unlikely to push the BJP to the wall right now. But, after the unexpected success in the bypolls so soon after the BJP's conquest of the North-east, every Opposition party is seeking to recast the political landscape with newfound alliances. Regional satraps from the NCP’s Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, and resurgent Mayawati in the critical Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh are reaching out to one another with Congress having played the catalyst with a dinner that brought anti-BJP political parties together. But no one, not even Sonia Gandhi, could have seen the final form that the opposition fare on the menu has now taken. Come Monday, the battlelines between the BJP and the opposition will be far more clearly drawn.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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