Can BJP counter Opposition unity in Lok Sabha Poll?
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi plays the mind-game better than the Opposition leaders.
Can the Bharatiya Janata Party withstand the torrid-pounding from the Opposition parties in the next year Lok Sabha elections, after its shattering defeat in the recent by-elections to the Parliament and the Assembly? The Opposition is confident of unseating the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre after the ruling party has lost its alliance partner Telugu Desam Party and losing its grip over the Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, and efforts were on to forge a strong alliance to the ruling party at the Centre. The harsh reality has dawned on the Opposition parties that only by forming a Rainbow alliance against the BJP; they will be in a position to form an alternative government. It may be recalled that a similar strategy adopted by the Janata Party, after its formation in 1977 and the National Front Government and United Front Governments from 1990-91 and 1997-98 ended in dismal failure. The Janata parivar, unfortunately could not prove the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrong, when she ridiculed them as “Kichidi combination”
When the BJP led by Narendra Modi won a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014, there was no iota of about the new Prime
Minister’s massive popularity in Indian politics, if not in Gujarat. Even his detractors admitted that he was popular to the core, similar to the standing of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, among a section of committed and blind followers, and more so, after his scintillating performance as a Gujarat Chief Minister from 2002 to mid-2014, that is twelve years at a stretch. The people then, in general, felt that Modi would do wonders by ruling the destiny of the nation, and especially, after the BJP started winning the assembly elections in some states and making his party invincible. Naturally, the Prime Minister acquired super-hero dimensions and became immortal, when his ardent admirers and even his vocal critics began speaking of 2024 Lok Sabha poll, and not the forthcoming one, that might challenge his immense popularity.
However, with about ten months to go for conclusion of the present term of the BJP, even Modi’s supporters have no other option, but to admit that the popularity of the BJP, as well as that of the Modi are waning, even though some political analysts view that, in spite of the declining popularity of the BJP, Modi’s personality and oratory skill outwit his rivals in the Opposition parties. For instance, the Prime Minister proved that he could make a difference to the assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka, although, the party could not form the government in south of vindhyas because of sheer numbers. The Modi baiters would deny it flatly, as some political commentators perceived that, had the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar not split the votes in about eight to ten constituencies in Gujarat, there could have been a possibility of a hungassembly.
BJP in 2019?
Even then, there is a firm belief among a section of people that, Modi can still walk into the fag end of a losing election campaign and turn it around like a wrist spinner, even though it has proved to be a myth in some parts of Karnataka, especially at Old Mysore region, where the castefactor out-shadowed his popular image. As the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury described aptly, BJP, and more so, the Prime Minister, has the art of conjuring governments out of defeat, as was witnessed in Goa, Manipur, and, not, but not the least, in Meghalaya, where the BJP could emerge victorious in only two out of 60 seats. But, in Karnataka, the party’s formula had nose-dived, as the Congress and the Janata Dal(Secular) had the last laugh.
The BJP is in power, either on its own or with its allies, in 19 of 29 States. Yet there is the plethora of
As the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury described aptly,
BJP, and more so, the Prime Minister, has the art of conjuring governments out of defeat, as was witnessed in Goa, Manipur, and, not, but not the least, in Meghalaya.
political parties emerging victorious in crucial elections and losing the bypolls. For example, in the latest round of by-elections, it managed to win only two of 15 seats, one of each in four Lok Sabha and 11 Assembly seats. Incidentally, the party lost the third consecutive Lok Sabha by-poll in Uttar Pradesh. On all three U.P. seats, Opposition outwitted the BJP. For instance, in Kairana this month, the victory of Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate Tabassum Hasan, was significant, in spite of polarisation attempts made during the election campaign.
Whatever the future of Opposition unity, there is a message in the statistics for the ruling party at the Centre. For instance, even at the height of his popularity in 2014, Modi could ensure only 31.34 per cent for the BJP, which is historically the lowest vote polled by a party winning an absolute majority nationally. To put this in
perspective, with a vote share of 39.53 per cent, the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 general election. In a nutshell, the Congress manned by Indira Gandhi had the mortification of remaining in the Opposition with a vote share of 34.5 per cent after the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, even though her party was mauled by the electorate in the entire north India. Even during the hey-days of Indira Gandhi from early to late 1970s, the Congress vote share was only 36 per cent, as disclosed by the former Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur. The difference, however, is, that the flamboyant Modi was unassailable against a splintered opposition. whereas the Congress led by Indira and Rajiv were defeated by a combined Opposition.
The Opposition is happy over statistics that the BJP’s vote share has dropped to a great extent in the majority of Assembly elections held since the Lok Sabha poll in 2014. A comparison indicates that in Bihar, the drop was from 29.86 per cent to 24.42 per cent, whereas In Goa, it has been reduced from 54.12 per cent to 32.48 per cent. In Gujarat, where it won all 26 Lok Sabha seats, the percentage was brought down from 60.11 per cent to 49.05 per cent. In Uttarakhand, the figure raced down to 46.51 per cent from 55.93 per cent, whereas in Karnataka, the figure went down to 36.20 per cent from the earlier 43.37 per cent and the dwindling percentage in West Bengal was evident, when it ended up with a weak 10.16 per cent in the recent by-election, after showing a promise of 17.02 per cent earlier.
The BJP also could not do an encore even in Uttar Pradesh, where it picked up 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats. For instance, its stupendous victory in the last year assembly election, after it garnered 312 of 403 Assembly seats, achieved on a vote share of a mere 39.67 per cent, thereby marking a three percentage point drop, compared to the performance in 2014. Should the declining trend continue to haunt the BJP unabatedly, the party would find it well-nigh-impossible to win a majority in 2019, although it is not hoping for a repeat performance like it did four years ago. The party is also aware that if the Karnataka model of experimentation by the Opposition parties are attempted everywhere, the number of States in which Modi and his team are ruling will come down drastically.
However, the BJP faithful are hopeful, that the Opposition unity will not last long, after the Congress and the JD(S) contested alone to test their strength in the RR Nagar assembly constituency in Bangaluru (postponed earlier, due to death of the candidate) after the JD(S) government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy was formed in alliance with the Congress at Karnataka. More than the victory of the Congress and painful defeat of the JD(S), with the BJP sandwiched in the middle, the JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda’s comment, that an alliance with the Congress is only at the Legislature-level and not outside, had gladdened the hearts of the BJP supporters. Naturally, the other Opposition parties were felt deceived over the uncharitable utterances of Deve Gowda, when they were projecting the likely victory of the CongressJD(S) alliance in 22 out of 28 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Array of statistics
The BJP members and cadres are, however, dishing out array of statistics that their party has only increased its voteshare, leading up to the recent by-elections to the Lok Sabha and Assembly right after the 2014 general election. For instance, in the Nurpur constituency at the Uttar Pradesh assembly election last year, the Opposition parties separately could secure 17.6 per cent more than the BJP, whereas in the by-election at the same constituency this year, the united Opposition could increase its vote share over BJP by a mere three per cent. Similarly, to the Kairana Lok Sabha by-poll in UP, the opposition in unison could get only 4.8 per cent more than the BJP,
compared to its increase of 19 per cent over the ruling party at the same segment in last year assembly election. The optimists in the BJP also asserted that the party has snatched from the Opposition 14.6 per cent at Nurpur and 15.2 per cent at Kairana. They also averred that with an increase of two to three per cent vote share, the BJP would be in a position to defeat the united
Opposition parties, as according to them, as more people generally exercise their franchise during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, than of by-polls and cite the reason for reduction in the number of voters at Nupur and
Kairana by-elections for their defeat..
A few political observers of the election scenario opine that the situation was more or less similar at the earlier Lok Sabha byelections to Gorakhpur and Pulpur in Uttar Pradesh, when the united opposition could fetch only 2.5 per cent, compared to its surging ahead with a difference of nine per cent separately in the earlier assembly elections. Here, the BJP has recovered 7.5 per cent from the Opposition, as the same old story has been told that the voters were few and far in the by-polls, compared to the huge mandate in the
Lok Sabha and assembly polls. Interestingly, sources in the party reasoned that the upper castes, who normally vote for the BJP did not exercise their franchise in the by-elections this year. They articulated similar explanations for other by-elections results, too. However, the party is aware that to upset the combination of the
Congress and NCP in Maharashtra, it needs to renew its alliance with the Shiv Sena in the coming
Lok Sabha elections, as the crucial 48 seats in the State, could make or mar the prospects of the BJP when it makes a valiant attempt to reach the magic figure of 272 to retain its power for another five years.
Need of the hour
It did not take much time for Modi and his men to realise that after the withdrawal of TDP from the NDA alliance, the need of the hour for the party is to ensure that its love, hate relationship with Sena and SAD does not hamper its prospects in the crucial general elections, as both the parties clarified categorically that they will no longer tolerate the bigbrotherly attitude of the BJP. Importantly, the party has to tread carefully while dealing with another alliance partner Lok Jan Shakti led by Ram Vilas Paswan, even though
Opposition, as the same old story has been told that the voters were few and far in the by-polls, compared to the huge mandate in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. Interestingly, sources in the party reasoned that the upper castes, who normally vote for the BJP did not exercise their franchise in the by-elections this year.They articulated similar explanations for other by-elections results, too.
Opposition to be shown: Never come as a force in unity in the elections.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi with Opposition leaders at H D Kumaraswamy's swearing-in ceremony as Karnataka Chief Minister on May 23, 2018.
The attraction of youths is more with PM Modi's political cult.