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BRP Bhaskar: Realignment bids ahead of poll
March 20, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

As the parliamentary elections, due next year, draw near, several parties are rethinking their position in the light of their assessment of the current political climate.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led it to a clear victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party has seized power in several states and established itself firmly as the largest national party, a position previously held by the Congress.

While in the general elections Modi’s campaigns worked wonders in many states, the BJP has not done well in by-elections. In 2014, it won 282 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. By-election losses have reduced its strength to 274, just two more than is necessary to maintain its majority status.

The Congress, the main opposition party, raised its strength from 44 to 48 during this period.

The BJP suffered its worst by-election reverses in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party grabbed the seats which Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated following assumption of office in the state. Both of them had won by big margins in 2014.

This time UP’s other major party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, stayed out of the contest and supported the SP candidates. Since the SP draws support mainly from the backward Yadav community and the BSP from the Dalits, the BJP faced the combined onslaught of the lower strata in the byelections.

The National Democratic Alliance, the coalition led by the BJP, too has suffered erosion of strength. With 14 partners holding 40 seats, the NDA had 322 members when Modi took office. The Telugu Desam party (TDP), the second largest partner with 16 members, quit the alliance last week, accusing Modi of not living up to the promise to give Andhra Pradesh a special status.

TDP boss and AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had earlier pulled out his party’s two members from the Modi government. He followed it up by serving notice of a no-confidence motion against the government in the Lok Sabha.

The government has the numbers to sail through comfortably but the censure bid will provide an opportunity for a line-up of opposition forces.

The BJP has an uneasy relationship with the Shiv Sena, its largest partner with 19 seats in the Lok Sabha. It is also part of the coalition government in Maharastra. It misses no opportunity to taunt big brother BJP.

Issues on which the Shiv Sena has taken pot shots at Modi include the Punjab National Bank scam and deterioration of law and order situation. It is not likely to break with the BJP immediately.

Dalit leader and Consimer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s weekend advice to the BJP to become all-inclusive like the Congress is seen by some as a prelude to pullout from the NDA. His Lok Janshakti Party has six members in the Lok Sabha.

Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, hosted a dinner for opposition party leaders a few days ago. As many as 20 leaders attended the event, which the Congress said was meant to promote friendship but was also an occasion to explore possibilities of forging broad unity before the parliamentary elections.

The outcome of the dinner diplomacy will essentially depend upon the parties’ appreciation of ground realities. BSP leader Mayawati’s decision to stay out of the UP byelections and support candidates of traditional rival Samajwadi Party, testifies to a growing realisation among non-BJP parties that they need to pull together.

The Congress party’s improved performance in the Assembly elections in Gujarat and in the recent by-elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh has raised its standing among the opposition to some extent. All three are states where the BJP and the Congress are sole contenders for power.

Assembly elections are due later this year in MP and Rajasthan as also Karnataka and Chhattisgarh where, too, the main contest is between the BJP and the Congress. The outcome of these elections may influence the course of negotiations for new alliances.

Chandrababu Naidu and two other regional party leaders who are heading state governments, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Telangana’s K Chandrasekhara Rao, have favoured the idea of a third front. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam leader MK Stalin introduced a new element by talking of a southern front against the BJP.

All this makes for a fluid situation. It may be months before a clear picture of the line-up for the Lok Sabha elections emerges.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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