The SP and BSP have decided to strengthen their ties, forgetting the animus of the past indicating that the general elections in 2019 can be a contest of alliances.
New Congress president Rahul Gandhi failed to set the Yamuna on fire but used the 84th plenary of the party over the weekend seeking to galvanise the rank and file in the run up to the next year’s crucial general elections. The signal is unmistakable that the country’s oldest political outfit having been in the vanguard of the freedom struggle must gear up its loins as the BJP led NDA government failed in the four years of its reign on the majestic Raisina Hill in fulfilling its pledges.
This comes at a time when the grand old party having ruled at the Centre for more than five decades has hit an all time low ruling in barely four states while the India map is swathed in saffron colour with the BJP either heading or being part of the government in no less than 22 states. That is highly creditable for the saffron brigade which has simply outwitted and outmanoeuvred the Congress. The South, however, continues to remain beyond the grasp of the Lotus party.
The BJP’s shocking defeat in the two Lok Sabha by-elections held recently in UP from Gorakhpur, represented by chief minister Yogi Adityanath no less than five times consecutively, and Phulpur, from where deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had emerged victorious in the past, raised the hopes of the opposition that the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on the wane indicating that people were losing confidence in the Lotus party.
Both the seats were won by the Samajwadi party with the tacit backing of BSP supremo Mayawati and her party. State chief minister Yogi Adityanath was candid in acknowledging that they took matters lightly and failed to read the havoc that the SP-BSP combine can cause. Their understanding in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has the prospects of changing the contours of the final outcome in a general election.
Its significance cannot be overlooked as UP contributes the maximum number of 80 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Having realised that the ruling party was not invincible and had its weak and vulnerable spots, the SP and BSP have decided to strengthen their ties forgetting the animus of the past indicating that the general elections in 2019 can be a contest of alliances.
On its part, the Congress has underlined its readiness to forge a broad alliance to get the better of the BJP. The simmering bitterness among the allies of the BJP has come to the fore with the Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu having severed the links of his Telugu Desam party with the NDA. This, despite BJP president Amit Shah and Union Home minister Rajnath Singh having spoken to Naidu on the telephone to soothe, ruffled feathers.
There are others like the Shiromani Akali Dal whose entreaties for being accommodated in certain posts have fallen on deaf ears. Disappointment with the BJP is also apparent among other smaller allies of the NDA whose tally is in single digit. It is, therefore, not surprising that union minister Ram Vilas Paswan has cautioned the BJP leadership to treat its allies with respect irrespective of their numerical strength along with following the coalition dharma or the NDA might find itself in troubled waters.
That did not mean that the numerically smaller allies can be taken for granted or trampled upon. There is no doubt that the over ambitious Narendra Modi will be trying for a tally in 2019, which is more than what the BJP got on its own five years back in 2014. That figure stood at 282, which facilitated the saffron brigade secure more than a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time. The BJP led NDA also enjoyed the distinction of crossing the rubicon of 300 by having a comfortable tally of 340 odd seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha.
The new leadership of the Congress drew attention to harnessing political creativity coupled with greater inner party inclusivity even as the political, economic and foreign resolutions unveiled the political entity’s battle plans. The accent was on strong state intervention to turnaround the system of education, health, agriculture and unemployment. It is apparent the Congress prefers alliances with social justice parties.
Amid all this, the party needs to have a serious interface with the nation as well as its potential allies to establish its sincerity of purpose. The challenge before the Congress is to work out a united and robust alliance dispelling the cynicism and fragility of such arrangements. It is not merely enough for the people to decide whether India will “live a lie or face the truth”.
It also becomes incumbent on the Congress to provide an efficient government compared to the previous UPA regimes. Clearly, it is seeking to capitalise on the failures of the Modi government. The political resolution called for a “common workable programme” with like minded parties and a return to paper ballots while rejecting the idea of simultaneous polls. The battle at the hustings is going to be tough amid the verbal and high decibel electoral battle. At the same time the paramount need is to increase productivity along with creating employment.
Tentative as they may be, preliminary efforts are on to rummage a non-Congress, non-BJP grouping with Telengana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao going to Kolkata and meeting West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Rao claimed it was going to be a Federal Front of the people of India. Mamata, however, sought to play it down. The creation of a Third Front has remained a non-starter. It does not infuse any confidence this time around. Mamata, who has also had discussions with Naidu and NCP chief Sharad Pawar among others, is expected to meet the latter in Delhi soon.
The writer is a senior journalist and commentator.