By Tushar Singh
In an earlier article (2017- Year in rewind for politics) we tried to highlight the major events on the Indian political scene last year. Now, as 2018 approaches, we cannot help but speculate what the next year is going to bring. Although it is very difficult to predict what surprises 2018 may hold, here are 10 things to watch out for:
1. Rajnikanth on the rise in Tamil Nadu
Superstar Rajnikanth announced, on the last day of the year, that he is going to start his own political party in Tamil Nadu, a state where several film stars have often gone on to become very popular politicians using their cult following (MGR, Jayalalithaa). Rajnikanth promised he would dismantle his government if his party’s performance falls short of its promises within three years.
Rajinikanth’s announcement was positively received by the state’s BJP Head Tamilisai Soundararajan. Rajnikanth has made it clear his party is going to oppose both AIADMK and DMK, the other regional parties in the state. This may be a hint that Rajnikanth will support or even merge his political party with the BJP just before the 2019 general elections.
2. Supreme Court will set the tone
In early 2018, the Supreme Court will hear two very important cases, one regarding the fight over the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi religious site and another over the government’s decision to make the holding of an Aadhaar card mandatory in order to claim many public services. The outcome of these two cases will determine on what ground the upcoming state elections and the 2019 general elections will be fought.
A decision on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue may trigger communal unrest in many parts of the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Meanwhile, whether or not the Supreme Court gives a green signal to the expansion of the Aadhaar system may decide whether any of the government’s reforms are successful or not.
3. Aadhaar may control your life
If, in 2018, the Supreme Court decides on making the Aadhaar card mandatory for government services, be ready to memorise your Aadhaar number as it will be required for almost everything. Up till now, the court has refused to put a freeze on the government’s new identity requirements while the government has increased the deadline before the Aadhaar requirement goes into effect for many services, such as obtaining a Permanent Account Number, bank account and mobile phone number, to March 31, 2018.
Nevertheless, the government plans to make the online Aadhaar system mandatory for participation in welfare schemes, including PDS, and sources say that it may soon be required to register your immovable property with your Aadhaar account. If implemented, this policy may prove to be a major disruption although it would also be a powerful move against illicit Benami property transfers.
4. Rajya Sabha is on a knife’s edge
As 2017 ends, both BJP and Congress have 57 seats in the Rajya Sabha. However, this balance may change in 2018 as the results of 2017 state elections, which the BJP dominated, will start to be reflected in the Rajya Sabha. Ten seats will be up for election in the Rajya Sabha next year from Uttar Pradesh, eight of which the BJP is guaranteed to win.
The upcoming state elections will also be crucial as there will be five seats vacant from Madhya Pradesh, four from Rajasthan, four from Karnataka and one from Chhattisgarh, and the new legislative assemblies will elect these members. Six seats from Bihar—where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar worked closely with BJP last year—will be up for election too, which will help to increase the strength of the NDA. The BJP will likely bring in bold legislative reforms if it gets considerable command over the Upper House.
5. Mission Bhagiratha will seal Rao’s fate
Telangana Chief Minister announced that if Mission Bhagiratha, a flagship initiative that aims to provide safe piped drinking water to all households in the state, is not completed by the end of 2018, his party TRS will not contest the assembly elections in 2019. All eyes will be on him to see whether his government is able to meet the target or not and whether he will follow through with his promise. The good news for the CM is that, according to government sources, 90% of the mission is complete and the rest will be completed by April 2018, which would be an astonishing success.
6. Alliances will come and go
In 2017, AAP called for a grand alliance against the BJP. The second half of 2018 may see that become a reality. As the campaigning for 2019 starts towards the end of 2018, alliances will be formed and broken. Therefore, do not be surprised if Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, Mulayam/Akhilesh Yadav’s SP, Mayawati’s BSP, Yechury’s CPI (M), Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Kejriwal’s AAP join forces under the name of a Grand Coalition to defeat the BJP.
For its part, BJP seems to be inching closer to the DMK, especially after the 2G verdict in favour of A. Raja and Kanimozhi. However, Rajnikanth may be the spoiler in Tamil Nadu. Also, do not be surprised if Shiv Sena breaks off its alliance with the BJP in late 2018 and calls for early elections in Maharashtra. Defections in Bengal and the North-East states from regional parties like TMC may continue into 2018 as well.
7. A populist spending spree
In the coming year, leading up to the general elections, all the political parties will shift into high gear. The 2018 budget, in particular, may dole out a lot of cash to farmers and youths as the BJP tries to gain the support of these social groups. Indeed, the government may miss its fiscal deficit target of 3% of GDP in 2018, just like it is bound to miss this year’s target. Multi-billion rupee packages and loan waivers for politically crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra may also be presented as populist measured by the government next year.
8. Parties will stoke social unrest
What is Indian politics without the parties provoking religious and communal tensions? Looking at how the caste card was used in the elections in Bihar, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, expect to see more communal friction in the upcoming year. History already provides a salutary lesson in this regard. Two of the past three general elections have been preceded by riots in the previous year—Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar in 2013. And this is not taking into consideration the chaos that may descend on the country if the Supreme Court does deliver a decision in the Babri Masjid case.
9. Online political warfare is coming
If 2014 gave a glimpse into how social media can be used to campaign effectively, it is only possible to imagine what the new political year will bring to a more extensively digitalised India. New heights will likely be reached in political shaming, advertising and trolling over the next year. Given how leaders have effectively used and misused social media in other countries—especially the USA—and how the menace of fake news and election interference from foreign adversaries is on the rise, Facebook and Twitter may become new fronts in the political contest.
10. A Congress Mukt Bharat or not?
Last but definitely not the least, India will see eight state elections next year. Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Karnataka are likely to go to the polls in the first half of 2018, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram following later in the year. While it is expected that BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh will be returned in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, in Karnataka and Rajasthan the contest is likely to be much closer.
Congress will try to clean its corrupt image by citing the 2G decision and bringing in young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia in MP and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. There is a high possibility that Congress may secure Rajasthan in 2018; the state has been alternating between BJP and the Congress for decades now. Congress’ majority in by-elections and municipal wards in Rajasthan presents them with a good opportunity to bag the state. In Karnataka—which is the largest state ruled by the Congress—the BJP has declared BS Yeddyurappa as its candidate for CM. This election a neutral state will be a good indicator of where the 2019 election may be headed.
To sum up, a good performance by the BJP may see the Congress-Mukt Bharat alliance become a reality. It will also cement Modi’s place in history as a great leader and pave the road to his second term. However, a Congress comeback in any of the BJP-ruled states would mean a big blow to Modi’s re-election hopes. If the general election in 2019 is the final, 2018 is the semi-finals, and a loss in the semi-final can often hurt the most.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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