The sudden announcement by Mayawati, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief, that she was withdrawing her candidates in favour of Samajwadi Party (SP) in Gorakhpur and Khairana by-elections took BJP by surprise and it lost both the seats. This indeed was a surprise, for they had been deadly enemies for long. Actually, the SP and the BSP have been sworn rivals since the 1995 Lucknow guest house attack on Mayawati. This woke up all Opposition parties. In Karnataka, all opposition parties united and that
prevented BJP from sweeping the polls which it was expected to do. The rest is history.
Ironically, the BJP’s election machine’s famed appetite to wrest state after state from Opposition parties may not have anticipated–Opposition unity from one state to another. The defeat in Gorakhpur, citadel of Yogi Adityanath, and Kairana, from where two MLAs are state ministers, was not only embarrassing but worrisome. The run-up to 2019 may well be witnessing a trend: signs of Opposition
consolidation to keep the BJP out in key states. The Opposition parties will surely unite for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan state elections.
It won’t be easy for BJP to counter their joint assault, but it must try to meet the challenge that will give it confidence for 2019.
To beat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh’s recent Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, Opposition parties came together and their collective might in Kairana resulted in RLD candidate Tabassum Begum trouncing the late BJP leader Hukum Singh’s daughter Mriganka Singh. This comes close on the heels of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress stitching together a post-poll alliance in Karnataka to keep the BJP out. The BJP, eight short of the majority, staked claim despite the Opposition post-poll alliance but backed out before the trust vote.
Opposition parties have set aside their differences, following the strategy used by the Opposition parties
in the 1960s and 70s to stem the Congress’s tide. The strategy acquired a specific name: anti-Congressism.
In other words, the 1960s and 70s saw ideologically disparate political players like the socialists and the Jana Sangh coming together to defeat the Congress — first, in the states in 1967, with Sanyukta Vidhayak Dal governments being formed, and then at the national level in 1977, when several parties merged to form the Janata Party.
Much on the same lines, the beginning of a new ‘anti-BJP-ism’ is obvious. “It was a Herculean task for Rahul Gandhi to bring Opposition parties together to damage the BJP in 2019. But it is the BJP’s obsession with Congress-free and even Opposition-free India that seems to be accomplishing the task by creating an existential crisis for Opposition parties,” says political analyst Sajjan Kumar, co-author of the book Everyday Communalism.
“The sign of a sharp political strategy is not just to focus on winning elections but also to keep the Opposition divided. Here, the BJP’s attempts to maximise political gains in each election are doing exactly the opposite and may hurt the party’s tally in 2019,” he said.
The alliance in UP has been in the making for a few months now, with the BSP backing the SP in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypolls and the SP agreeing to transfer its surplus votes to the BSP for the 10th Rajya Sabha seat in UP months back. The BJP, which had decided to make a bid to win the 10th seat despite not having the requisite numbers, however, succeeded in defeating the BSP.
“While the BJP’s dream run in UP in the last Assembly polls had made the BSP and SP wary, the insistence not to allow the BSP a single Rajya Sabha seat from the state may have cemented this alliance further,” says Mr. Kumar.
If the run-up to 2014 saw the BJP adding some allies like the Lok Jan Shakti Party and the Telugu Desam Party to the National Democratic Alliance ranks, the run-up to 2019 elections may well see an opposite trend: attempts of Opposition consolidation to keep the BJP out in key states.
But one does not expect all parties uniting in 2019 as they have done and will do in state elections elections, simply because its outcome will decide who India’s Prime Minister could be.
And for that most cherished gaddi, there are many aspirants—Mamata Bannerji, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, H. D. Gowda, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi and now it is said that Pranab Mukherjeei might offer himself if there is no unanimity on any name. Every party will thus try to secure maximum number of seats for its own members and this does not augur well for unity.
And also today’s voter, more enlightened with 65 per cent under 30, knows what happens to coalition governments. Morarji government, Charan Singh government, VP Singh government and Chandra Shekhar government all collapsed without even completing half their tenure. If there is an alternative, then that alternative is BJP. The question is: Even if the Opposition wins, what will it do?
But the BJP must not depend on chinks in the Opposition. It must allow leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Kalyan Singh’s son, who have considerable following in their community. And Modi, instead of being dream merchant, should be realistic. He has to be himself, who is considered by most the best suited to be Prime Minister. But to avoid the Karnataka-like Opposition uniting post-election, he has to get BJP over 50 per cent seats.
By Vijay Dutt