2019 Polls: Complicated Political Race!

Political developments taking place are certainly not suggestive of there being an easy ride for key contestants in the race for forthcoming parliamentary elections. It may be remembered that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not too confident about his success in 2014 polls and neither was his party (BJP). If they were, he would have not contested from two parliamentary constituencies. Certainly, the 2014 victory initially made Modi and his saffron colleagues over-confident about the political command held by them in the country. Undeniably, the party’s victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls added further to their political confidence. However, as the party nears the end of its current term in power, there appears to be a marked decline in this confidence.

The party was apparently not prepared for a strong fight from Congress in Gujarat assembly polls. Neither was it for Karnataka assembly election results favouring the alliance of Congress and Janata Dal (S). Now, BJP is apprehensive about it facing a major challenge from regional parties opting to align with Congress. Besides, earlier, options of Rahul Gandhi emerging as a key challenger appeared to be fairly weak. The same cannot be said now. His command over his campaign, his bold speeches and also interaction with media have come a long way from what it seemed earlier. Also, political developments in Karnataka suggest that he has come to terms regarding alliances with regional parties and their leaders to push BJP to the opposition. He has accepted the hard reality that in states where regional parties have a considerable base, the Congress cannot afford to ignore and/or sideline them. Despite the reported attempts made by BJP to control the media, the party and its leaders are probably not oblivious of substantial coverage being given to Rahul. Undeniably, BJP and its leaders cannot be expected to feel comfortable with these political realities. 

BJP was certainly not prepared for these developments. These suggest that importance given so far to Modi-wave is gradually, but definitely, beginning to deflate. Just towards the end of its term in power at the Centre, the party has learnt that its socio-economic investment - communal tension, inflation, etc - cannot always yield political returns desired by it. BJP has been outsmarted by the very political strategies that it had been substantially banking on till date to stay in the lead. It may be recalled, even though BJP had won sufficient seats in 2014 parliamentary elections, the party chose to head the government by forming an alliance. BJP probably did not want to take the risk of losing support of regional parties. The situation is totally different today. Quite a few regional parties are now apprehensive of aligning with BJP. It is possible, that the manner in which BJP has been out-smarted by Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka may repeat itself at a larger scale during the parliamentary polls.

It may not be surprising if quite a few regional parties give greater importance to aligning with Congress than with BJP for parliamentary elections. The regional parties and leaders fear that increase in BJP’s regional strength can prove damaging for their own hold in their respective areas. At present, the Congress does not pose this risk. Also, most regional parties are not oblivious of attempts being made by BJP and its saffron associates to wave the communal card. This is equivalent to taking shine off the “secular” mask donned by Modi as a part of his campaign for 2014 parliamentary elections. Besides, if Modi opts to repeat the style of his 2014 campaign, his “secular” message is likely to be questioned by an increase in cow-lynching cases and other communal incidents witnessed during his term.

In 2014, Modi’s entry onto the national stage was not backed by his performance as head of the central government. As a decade and a half had passed since Gujarat-carnage (2002), it is possible that new voters were not familiar with his past political record. He was apparently given a chance. The same situation does not prevail at present. He and his colleagues are likely to be judged by their performance at various levels. The manner in which they have started playing their communal card, silence over lynchings, making noise about Ayodhya-issue and so forth suggests that they are trying their hand at these issues as a part of their electoral campaign. This strategy is being tried as they are probably not too confident about their government’s “success” on other fronts, particularly in reducing people’s economic problems.

BJP leaders have apparently understood that they cannot afford to overestimate their party’s reach and that of Modi-wave. Even if they claim that Congress led by Rahul Gandhi does not pose a major threat, his political moves cannot be ignored by them.  Sadly for BJP, he is also not viewed as a threat by anti-BJP regional parties in their domains, especially Uttar Pradesh. It is to be watched whether strategies exercised by Congress to take advantage of this scenario complicates political situation for Modi and his party!

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