By Priyale Chandra
The recent assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have seen more successes for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). Despite a multitude of issues that have confronted the government—demonetisation, unemployment, GST, etc—the results in Gujarat did not expose any cracks in the BJP’s veneer of invincibility. These results show that the BJP is still a serious contender for the 2019 general elections. Indeed, it is still unclear coming out of the state election which opposition party poses the bigger challenge to the BJP, the Congress party or a united Third-Front alliance.
The Gandhi factor for Congress
The Congress party performed well in Gujarat, one of the BJP’s strongest bastions. It has had a change of leadership, with Rahul Gandhi finally assuming the official reins of leadership. The party has also been out of power long enough that the anti-incumbency factor may now work in its favour. The BJP ruled-states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, go to polls in 2018. If the Congress can win these states it could be a sign that the party is back in competition with the BJP for 2019.
Another factor that may help Congress is the acquittal of former ministers A Raja and Kanimozhi, from the opposition UPA, in the 2G spectrum case. Congress has already seized on this opportunity, devising a new media strategy capitalising on popular anger at the acquittal. Rahul Gandhi has waded in, using the opportunity to show some newfound righteous anger. He has called the BJP a party whose “architecture is based on lies”.
However, there are factors working against Congress too. In many of the recent assembly elections, including Gujarat, it has allied with other parties and individuals. The alliance might have worked in case of the Patidar community in Gujarat, but the strategy failed miserably in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Even Bihar, which was won under a Mahagatbandhan, is now being run by a BJP and JDU alliance.
Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is another decisive factor. At the moment, the party’s efforts to project Gandhi as the most significant leader of the opposition are still a work in progress. Gandhi’s personal success may make the difference between whether Congress will be in direct contention for government in 2019 are whether the party will only play a supporting role in the Third Front.
The left’s weakness
The prospects for the Third Front Alliance will rely on the strength of its constituent parties. The left-wing CPI and CPM are in power in Kerela and the North-East, but their vote base is shrinking slowly. Their presence in Bengal, their former citadel, is also undergoing a sharp decline. While the left may be ideologically strong in certain pockets, the electoral presence of these parties is unlikely to see any sharp growth.
Another block to the left parties is the influence of Mamata Banerjee. She remains a significant force in West Bengal, winning the 2016 assembly elections with a huge margin, and is often at the forefront in criticising the BJP’s policies. Banerjee has also made it clear that she will support further attempts at establishing an anti-BJP alliance, but only as long as the alliance is not with the left-wing parties.
Other alliances are possible but difficult
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) appears to be weakened at present, but Mayawati has always been a political dark horse. It is tough to say how the BSP will perform in 2019. It may ally with the Third Front, but getting into an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) might be next to impossible. A Third Front will likely only contain either the BSP or SP.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to still be recovering from recent failures. The party’s attempts to expand beyond Delhi have not yet yielded a positive response. It lost badly in Gujarat and Goa, and even in Punjab its show of seats was less than expected. In the civic polls in the state, the party appears to be losing yet again. For now, the AAP seems to be a competitor only in Delhi.
A Third Front or Congress-led Mega Alliance?
The BJP might seem down, with tough times likely ahead for the party but it is not out of the political woods by any means. At the moment, no single party can challenge the BJP on the national level and be sure of coming out on top. The regional parties may unite against BJP but unless they collaborate with the Congress the alliance will only divide the anti-BJP votes. A Third Front might work, but the entire question of opposition to the BJP is dependent on how the Congress performs in 2018. If it does well, it may be leading the charge against Narendra Modi in 2019. Otherwise, it may be relegated to a side-player in a mega alliance led by another party.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia
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