Leadership Test Ahead of 2019

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Fate of near 250 Lok Sabha seats depends upon kind of alliance taking place before next general elections as these seats are neither blown by ‘Modi Wave’ nor by Congress’s cherisma

By Anil Anand

Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah has embarked on a mission to win 350+ seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections though his ambition received a set back after BJP scraped through to majority in his and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat. Furthermore, adding to this set back Shiv Sena, one of the oldest allies of BJP, decides to part ways and go alone in 2019.

Arch rival Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his new reinvigorated avtar is riding high after managing to checkmate Modi-Shah duo and has a window of an opportunity for the marginalized Congress to emerge from the ashes and upstage Modi.

The Gujarat Assembly poll verdict and subsequent semblance of revolt by deputy chief minister Nitin Patel on being divested of the Finance portfolio which he was handling in the earlier cabinet have certainly cast a shadow on Shah’s goal-2019. In a similar vein despite comparatively good showing in Gujarat and a visible improvement in his public discourses Rahul is still to unfold his roadmap for next general elections.

With no visible Modi-wave, and on an even keel no feeling of a Congress undercurrent, as of today, the key to a BJP or a Congress victory in 2019 lies somewhere else. There is no certainty that BJP could repeat its sterling Lok Sabha and recent Assembly election performance in Uttar Pradesh and by the same yardstick in the party ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh as well where it had swept in 2014.

Well, these could be potential areas for the Congress and allies to gain, at least to provide the party a foundation in quest of more delivery zones. The BJP has in a way already harped on this quest though outwardly to achieve Shah’s mission 350+. But fact of the matter is that the saffron party is faced with a dual challenge of retaining the current holdings. Fathoming that the retention in entirety might be difficult, it is also looking for new areas.

Given this scenario the key to victory for the two parties or their alliance groupings lies in the 250+ Lok Sabha seats scattered over states other than where BJP holds a total sway presently. In most of these states the BJP would be a new entrant whereas Congress would bid to regain the lost territories. None seems possible without either entering into new alliances or mend fences with existing partners.

Tamil Nadu provides a glaring index of at least BJP’s desperate quest for new territories as the party is still to make its dominant presence felt in Southern India. The state accounts for 39 Lok Sabha seats, which is a significant number given the high stakes for BJP in the elections. The party tried to meddle with various factions of the AIADMK after the demise of Jayalalitha and ended up sullying its hands without any worthwhile gain. So much so Modi crossed over to other side of the Dravidian divide with a courtesy call to enquire about DMK patriarch M Karunaniddhi’s health. The quest ostensibly was the same; find a foothold in Tamil Nadu politics.

The Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats have become a high-stake area. The entry of superstar Rajnikant into the political arena with another superstar Kamalahasan showing similar intentions are likely to further raise the stakes. The hunters would be on the prowl.  

Interesting, though not similar, scenarios are emerging in three other southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. As it is the Congress-ruled Karnataka will have Assembly elections in April-May this year. The outcome of this poll will have some bearing on Lok Sabha elections though not entirely. Of some significance would be the stance taken by former Prime Minister HD Devegowda-led Janata Dal (s) which has significant pockets of influence in the state. In the past he has been oscillating between BJP and Congress and is enigmatically keeping his cards close to his chest.

Once the stronghold of Congress, the party has been decimated in Andhra-Telangana  (with two states having 42 seats) region and is desperate to stage a comeback whereas practically non-existent BJP with its ally Telegu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu not to happy with Modi dispensation, are sailing in the same boat.

Despite his none-too-happy relations with Modi, it is improbable but not impossible that Naidu would go the Congress way. Naidu like Biju Janata Dal chief and Odisha (21 seats) chief minister Naveen Patnaik , till now a trusted NDA ally, could be forced to look elsewhere if threatened by Shah’s expansionists plans in which even old ally’s have little or no space. Of much interest would be how both BJP and particularly Congress tackle Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party as there are reports that he is trying to mend fences with his parent party Congress or vice-versa.

Similarly, newly carved Telangana ruled by Telengana Rashtra Samithi with its chief K Chandra Shekhar Rao as chief minister, would make an interesting study. In both Andhra and Telengana both Congress and BJP are suffering due to lack of any regional or state level leaders forcing them to look towards regional outfits such as TDP, YSR Congress and TRS.

The two other key states namely Maharashtra and West Bengal, with 48 and 42 Lok Sabha seats respectively, have become significant in view of prevailing political situation there. In Maharashtra the BJP’s traditionally natural ally Shiv Sena has finally broken ranks with the former. If it has created problems for the BJP, there is a window of an opportunity for Congress to work out a tactical understanding.

 Yet another interesting issue would be as to how Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar approaches the 2019 election. True to his style of politics he has been blowing hot and cold and at times showing bonhomie towards Modi though being a Congress ally. It will be interesting to see whether he would stay with the Congress as of late he has made some terse remarks against BJP.

West Bengal with 42 seats is emerging to be a more confusing story than any other state. A totally decimated Congress and Left Parties with BJP trying hard to find feet with not much success, Mamta Banerjee-led Trinmool Congress will remain to be an important factor. Her no-holds-bar attack against Modi makes her political line clear. The moot point is if she would provide desired space to Congress and if any adjustments with Left to prevent splitting of votes.

Some smaller states such as Punjab (13 seats), Haryana (10 seats) and Jharkhand (14 seats) can also affect the election outcome significantly at least from BJP’s point of view. Both Haryana and Jharkhand are ruled by BJP but have become troubled spots for the party. Presence of Babu Lal Marandi-led Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, could be a cause of worry if he decides to go the Congress way. A strong tribal leader with RSS links, Marandi is known for his closeness to rebel BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha which had also cost him chief ministership.

That brings one to another important question as to how BJP rebels such as Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha would behave and act as the elections draw nearer.