To answer the rising crescendo of criticism after the BJP’s defeat in three crucial Hindi heartland states, and to steal a march over his political opponents, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set himself a punishing agenda — to address as many as 100 meetings in 70 days, and the process has already begun.
The PM’s energetic disposition could once again enthuse the BJP’s NDA allies, as well as the public. In the final analysis, however, it will be crucial to look at the number of firm pre-poll allies the ruling party can assemble again, in addition to the issues that it projects.
In northern India, the BJP can probably count on a continuing firm alliance with the Akali Dal in Punjab, even if the latter has been pressing the BJP to show more respect to its partners. In western India, the Shiv Sena has proved to be a difficult ally. But in Maharashtra, the BJP can pick up seats even without an alliance, if it came to that.
The hurdle states for the saffron party will, in the final analysis, be Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The ruling party is likely to be tested in both states this time. If Mayawati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party reach a satisfactory alliance, the BJP may be in trouble. This alliance has beaten the BJP soundly in several byelections, including in chief minister Yogi Adtityanath’s home turf of Gorakhpur. Its smaller allies in the state, the non-Yadav OBC caste groupings, have started making contrary noises and may prove to be tricky customers, unlike in 2014.
In Bihar in contrast, the alliance arithmetic seems better for the BJP, although a key non-OBC ally, Upendra Kushwaha, until recently a Union minister, has switched sides. Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP have stuck to the BJP after extracting a commitment for the right number of seats.
But both parties have expressed doubts about some of the pet issues of the Narendra Modi government and the RSS-BJP. The effect of this on the election process appears uncertain at this stage.
The JD(U) has made it plain it won’t back the government on the triple talaq bill in the Rajya Sabha.
The LJP has said it’s not in favour of an ordinance on the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, an issue on which the RSS and its affiliates have started a campaign.
While the PM has begun the process of addressing 100 rallies, it’s not clear f he will once again fight on an agenda similar to “sabka saath, sabka vikas” or whether the BJP will be seduced by the RSS’ Ayodhya agenda. On both sides of the divide, the overtures have begun, but the pitch of play is yet to assume its final shape....