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BRP Bhaskar: Bracing for a Modi challenge
July 31, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

There is no sign of a grand alliance of opposition parties against the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party emerging before the next Lok Sabha elections. That, however, does not mean the BJP will benefit from the division in the opposition ranks as it did in 2014.

When India embarked upon parliamentary elections on the basis of adult franchise, recognised national parties collected three-fourths of the votes polled. Regional parties’ share of votes was less than 10 per cent. Independents accounted for the rest. Over the past six decades, the national parties’ share has dwindled to about 60 per cent.

The Congress, the party that led the freedom movement under leaders like Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and dominated the political landscape for decades, is now a pale shadow of what it was. Its vote share came down from close to 50 per cent in the early elections to just 19.52 per cent last time.

The BJP is the only national party which has grown in recent years. From a paltry 3.06 per cent votes gathered by its first avatar, Jana Sangh, in 1952, it has become the country’s largest party. It secured more than 31 per cent of the votes in 2014 and is now a part of the ruling dispensation in 20 of the 29 states.

Carried away by the party’s current status, BJP President Amit Shah recently exulted that the Congress has been reduced to a regional party. The fact is that all the parties recognised by the Election Commission as national parties owe their national status to the very liberal rules set by that body.

Strictly speaking, even the BJP is not national. The South is still out of bounds for it, and its presence in the East is largely the result of help from regional allies.

Apart from the six national parties, 39 state parties and 419 registered but unrecognised parties contested the 2014 elections. While the polity is fragmented and variegated, the ground situation permits the emergence of regional combinations that can challenge the BJP effectively.

In the recent by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who have been rivals for power in the recent past, set aside their mutual animosity and engaged the BJP in one-to-one fights, leading to its defeat. They are now in talks on seat sharing for the Lok Sabha elections.

If BSP and SP can combine forces they will be able to severely limit the BJP’s tally in UP. In 2014 the party and an ally had together taken 73 of its 80 seats. It will not be easy for the BJP to make up a major loss in UP with gains it may make elsewhere.

Although the Congress is only a small force in UP now, BSP and SP can improve their competitive edge in this state as well as neighbouring ones by bringing it also into their deal.

Some regional party leaders, who are running state governments, like West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Andhra Pradesh’s N Chandrababu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party) and Telangana’s K Chandrashekhar Rao (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) have been talking of a Federal Front for some time.

They are well placed in their states and are in a position to resist the BJP’s advance even without a front. A formal alliance among them may be of little help in the electoral contests in their states but it will give them additional clout in the post-poll negotiations for government formation.

Some of the regional leaders are known to harbour prime ministerial ambitions. Mutual suspicions engendered by their conflicting personal ambitions appear to be inhibiting progress on the alliance front. They can overcome the hurdle if they set aside personal considerations for the time being and concentrate their energies on putting together a common manifesto laying stress on the need to strengthen the federal character of the national polity.

There are reports that the Congress is looking for about 150 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Since it got only 44 seats in 2014, this may appear to be an ambitious target. But it is attainable with the right kind of alliances.

The Congress target makes it clear that it is thinking of a coalition government. Some Congressmen have said Rahul Gandhi is their prime ministerial candidate. But party sources have indicated that he is open to the idea of a coalition government headed by Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee or anyone else not connected with the BJP or its ideological mentor, the Rashtreeya Swayamsewak Sangh. Such open-mindedness is what the situation calls for.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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