Scope for reviving United Front brightens

Modi-Shah duo also achieved the near-impossible feat of bringing arch enemies Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav together in Uttar Pradesh.  PTI File Photo

A day before the Karnataka election results were out BJP president Amit Shah had a meeting with party office-bearers from across the country where he bragged that “no BJP worker will rest unless the party is in power in 26 states.” The BJP is in power in 20 states and has emerged as the single-largest in Karnataka but its brazen attempt to form a government in Bengaluru without the numbers has stymied its initial gains.

To reach Shah’s 26 states target the BJP has to win six more states, which he identified as Karnataka, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Kerala, that would literally mean an Opposition-free India. The party had earlier annexed Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya using questionable means.

If the BJP’s impressive electoral performance had undermined the confidence of the Opposition and in particular the Congress, it’s unbridled, but aborted quest for power and the forced resignation of chief minister B S Yeddyurappa on Saturday before the floor test has come as a booster dose for the Congress and the regional parties facing heat from the BJP. However, the Karnataka result has given a psychological advantage to the BJP to make inroads into the not-so-friendly southern terrain. And it should energise the cadre in poll-bound Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the party is reeling under severe anti-incumbency and facing a resurgent Congress, if the recent by-election results are any indication.

The Karnataka upshot had revived the talk of advancing the Lok Sabha polls to December 2018. A section of the BJP strategists calculated that holding Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh elections, due later this year, simultaneously with Parliament polls will help the party stave off local anti-incumbency as national issues will then take precedence with Modi set to run a presidential-style campaign. However, others swayed by astrological considerations caution the party of the mistake of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had advanced the polls and lost. However, after the loss of face in Bengaluru on Saturday, it remains to be seen if Modi will risk early elections.

The BJP suffered a big setback in March when its key ally the Telugu Desam Party quit the NDA launching its blistering attack on Modi. Many other allies such as the People's Democratic Party, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal-United, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakti Party, the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of OBC leader Upendra Kushwaha and Bharat Dharma Jana Sena - an OBC outfit of Kerala’s Ezhava community, are also growing restive.

Neutral and ideologically unburdened parties such as the Y S R Congress or Tamil Nadu celluloid icons like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, whom the BJP is wooing, may now become cautious. The BJP’s expansionistic streak has already created an existential fear in the Congress as well as the regional parties. For the last four years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah have been talking about a Congress-Communist-Mukth India but their new goal of capturing 26 states is an antithesis of parliamentary democracy.

The BJP’s emergence as the single-largest party underscores the Congress’s inability to counter the might of the BJP-RSS organisationally, politically and ideologically has hampered Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s bid to emerge as a foil to Modi in 2019 much to the delight of regional satraps. The humiliating way in which B S Yeddyurappa had to abandon his script to form the government has come as a blessing in disguise for the Opposition.

For the Congress, chastened after its failure to emerge as the single-largest party, as a tactical move may not now insist on heading the broad anti-BJP coalition, paving the way for the formation of a more synergised Federal front or United Front. Shah’s bid for an Opposition-free India appears to have set in motion Newton’s Third Law (to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) into play. "Anti-Congressism” of the past is being replaced by “anti-BJPism”. Even the BJP’s own ally the Shiv Sena is worried over the saffron party making inroads into the hitherto Sena strongholds peddling “ultra-nationalism” and has made pro-Congress noises in the recent period.

The BJP’s haste to form the government in Karnataka has already brought the Congress and the JD(S), two bitter foes, together. That is bad news for the saffron party ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. In the 2014 general elections, at the peak of the Modi wave, the BJP had 43% vote share and this month despite a high decibel campaign by Modi, the party’s vote share dipped to 36%, whereas the combined vote share of the Congress-JD(S) is roughly 58%. A pre-poll Congress-JD(S) alliance, analysts say, could deprive the BJP of at least 10 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Modi-Shah duo also achieved the near-impossible feat of bringing arch enemies Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav together in Uttar Pradesh. If anti-BJP parties unite in Uttar Pradesh, the saffron party is sure to lose half of its current tally of 71 (plus two allies) out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The party has much at stake in other states as well. In Rajasthan, it had won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 by reducing Congress to zilch. In Madhya Pradesh, of the 29 seats, the BJP had secured 27. The party bagged all seven in Delhi, 10 out of 11 seats in Chhattisgarh, seven out of 10 in Haryana and all 26 seats in Gujarat. It will be tough for the BJP to repeat this peak performance in 2019. In the absence of a leader to match Modi’s firepower, the Opposition is likely to go for state-specific alliances without projecting a prime ministerial face.

(The writer is a political commentator based in Delhi)

 

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Scope for reviving United Front brightens

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