Volatile UPA vs Modi-fied BJP
Exhausted by infighting, the BJP failed to project itself as a viable alternative, even as allies gave the Congress a migraine
The more things change the more they remain the same. 2012 rolled in and did not bring with it any clear winners. When the verdict of the five assembly elections came in at last in March, pundits were still scratching their heads. Which alliance will gain in the next Lok Sabha polls? No one seemed the wiser. The poll results went like this. The Congress — facing pressure over graft charges — won Uttarakhand and Manipur, the NDA took Goa and Punjab, and the Samajwadi Party swept Uttar Pradesh, dislodging Mayawati. The events of the next few months lent no more clarity to the formidable 2014 puzzle.
Volatile allies gave Congress quite a migraine, while the BJP exhausted by infighting failed to project itself as the viable, votable alternative and the Third Front remained what it has been for many years — a non-starter.
The Congress’ woes began with the 19 Lok Sabha MPs of the Trinamool Congress breaking away from the UPA in September over fuel price hikes and FDI in multi-brand retail.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress’s disconnect with YSR’s prodigal son Jagan Mohan Reddy continued, something that could cloud the party’s future in the southern state.
Nevertheless, sociologist Vivek Kumar cautions: “As the year ends, Congress has given national politics a spin. It was reeling under corruption charges, but has silently set the agenda through FDI in retail and quotas in promotion for SCs and STs, subtly changing the political discourse.”
The BJP for its part tried to ride an anti-corruption wave, but found itself cornered when party chief Nitin Gadkari was accused of business irregularities in October. With multiple prime ministerial hopefuls, the party could not resolve its leadership issue either.
Activist and erstwhile Team Anna man Arvind Kejriwal, who founded the Aam Aadmi Party, grabbed headlines with corruption disclosures. Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa also set up his own party — a development likely to harm the BJP in its only southern bastion, where it got 19 seats in 2009.
Key BJP ally Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena died in November, leaving the succession issue unsorted. Will estranged nephew Raj Thackeray steal the Sena’s thunder next year?
The Congress sought to project its youth leadership. Rahul Gandhi led a high-profile Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, but the party could not garner much success. Drawing from this experience, the Congress decided to go for a low-key strategy in Gujarat in December.
Corruption dominated the year’s political discourse, followed by reforms toward the end. Identity politics surfaced intermittently — in the Assam Bodo-Muslim riots in July when north-east students got threats as far away as Bangalore and the controversy over SC/ST promotion quotas. While the BSP backed promotion quotas, the SP opposed the move to attract OBCs and upper castes. The OBC vs Dalit political contest points to new social fissures.
As the year wrapped up with polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, there were still no clear winners. The BJP won Gujarat but Congress wrested Himachal from the saffron party. Only one thing was clear — Modi’s entry at the national level may well be round the corner.