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BRP Bhaskar: Regrouping to face Modi
November 24, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Early intimations of a grand alliance at the national level to check the advancing Hindutva forces, which pose a threat to secularism and democracy, were visible when leaders of political parties of varying hues gathered in Bihar’s capital, Patna, last week for the swearing-in of Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister.

Nitish Kumar had taken oath as the Chief Minister four times previously – twice as leader of the Samata Party and twice as leader of the Janata Dal (United). But this was the first time that leaders of many national and regional parties and chief ministers of many states were at hand to greet him.

In the recent Assembly elections, Nitish Kumar had led a grand alliance, comprising his JD(U) and his long-time rival Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal as equal partners and the Congress party as an add-on, to a sensational victory, dashing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to bring the state under the Bharatiya Janata Party.

That gave Nitish Kumar a national stature high enough to make him a possible future Prime Minister. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who was in Patna, said, “Nitishji should now get ready to move to Delhi as the next Prime Minister.”

The Congress was represented at the swearing-in ceremony by President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. The party also ensured the presence of all its Chief Ministers to underscore the importance it attaches to the coalition experiment in Bihar.

Other Chief Ministers present included Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party had inflicted a crushing defeat on the BJP in this year’s Assembly elections, and West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress brought to an end more than three decades of Left rule in her state.

Other present included former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda (Janata Dal-Secular), former Union Minister Sharad Pawar (National Congress Party), former Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury.

To avoid the impression that the swearing-in had been turned into an anti-BJP jamboree, Nitish Kumar extended an invitation to Narendra Modi too. Since he was leaving on a scheduled foreign tour, Modi deputed two of his Cabinet colleagues to attend the ceremony.

The way Modi stormed into Delhi last year, pulverising the Congress party and the corruption-hit United Progressive Alliance government it headed, the popular impression was that he and the BJP were well set for a long innings. That impression was strengthened when, in state after state, Modi personally led the BJP’s campaign and led it to victory.

Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav having blown up the myth of Modi’s invincibility, the opposition, as a whole, has regained self-confidence and is getting ready to offer a stiff challenge to the BJP at both national and state levels.

But there are many hurdles to cross before a grand alliance at the national level can emerge. The two tallest leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state, Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party is in power in the state, and former Chief Minister Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, were conspicuously absent at the Patna event.

Assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam in the east and Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south are due next year. The BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are already busy evolving suitable strategies to enlarge the party’s presence in these states where Hindutva elements are weak.

In Assam, the BJP did well in the Lok Sabha election, campaigning on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. It can be expected to milk the issue again in the Assembly elections.

In West Bengal and Kerala, the BJP is pinning its hopes on sections disillusioned with the Left parties. There are indications that some of their “upper caste” supporters may be willing to switch allegiance to the BJP. The political traditions of the two states rule out the possibility of a secular front to stop the BJP’s advance.

In the recent local body elections in Kerala, the BJP made big advances, especially in the urban areas, raising hopes in its ranks that it may be able to establish its presence in the Assembly in the next elections. RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat was in the state recently to energise cadres.

Politics in Tamil Nadu revolves round two Dravidian parties. The BJP may not find it easy to work out a respectable deal with either of them but smaller regional parties will be happy to do business with it.

To get a fair idea of the line-up ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections we have to await the outcome of the UP Assembly elections of 2017 which will witness a confrontation between the BJP and the non-BJP parties.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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