There was an air of expectancy in the Opposition camp before the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha on Friday last that Opposition consolidation would give the BJP a hard time in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The man in the street tended to see a potent challenge emerging to the BJP.
The conclaves and the spewing of venom principally against Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it look as though there was a movement building up. The no-confidence motion vote, in which the Opposition ended up with 126 to the NDA’s whopping 325, however, made it look that the BJP was leagues ahead and the Opposition was nowhere near the magic figure. The Opposition bubble appeared to have burst even before it had formed. The buoyancy in the stock markets after the polls reflected a level of confidence that the BJP was on course again.
Admittedly, the electorate has its own dynamics but all said and done, the Opposition dream of displacing the BJP appeared to be a pipe dream unless something really dramatic happens in the months ahead. In the no-confidence debate, it was clear as so often before that there was mediocrity all around — the debate was utterly lacklustre and if there was a bright spot, it was Narendra Modi’s oratory. While no Opposition leader measured up to his standards of public speaking, there was a woeful lack of talent on display on the whole.
There was no dramatic change of loyalties on the floor of the House. The BJP had boasted that a few smaller parties would vote with it, but that did not materialise. There was indeed no violation of party whips.
The Shiv Sena abstaining from voting after it had made known that it would support the BJP was a big letdown for the ruling party which had wooed the party assiduously. So upset was BJP president Amit Shah with the Shiv Sena that he is now advising the party cadres that the BJP would go it alone in the Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra.
In 2014, it was the BJP which decided to go it alone. This time around, it is the Shiv Sena that is preparing to pay the BJP back in the same coin. Uddhav Thackeray has been needling BJP leaders time and again but he does not have the political sagacity to understand the harm it could do to his party’s prospects. Whether the abstention in the Lok Sabha vote is the first salvo or a final parting of ways between the two allies that have had a history of turbulence in their relationship only time will tell, but evidently this could well be a precursor to a no pre-poll alliance.
There is, however, every chance that they would come together again in a post-poll alliance if expediency so demands. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) walked out soon after the no-confidence debate began but that was no surprise. That party has always maintained a distance from both the Congress and the BJP and has charted its own course. This time around, it faces a bigger challenge from the BJP than the Congress. Naveen Patnaik’s boat is rocking and the BJP is itching to take advantage of it.
In fact, the BJP knows only too well that anti-incumbency would cut its seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh and it is hoping that Orissa would be one of the states where it could at least partially make up its losses to be able to stake claim to power in 2019. In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK has had a gaping leadership crisis right since the charismatic J Jayalalithaa passed away suddenly. The Palaniswamy government is well aware that its rating in the eyes of the BJP leadership as well as among the Opposition is abysmally low. Though it finally voted with the BJP, it does not have the kind of clout that a 37-member presence in the Lok Sabha should entitle it to.
Yet, it would be folly for the BJP to take the AIADMK for granted. The dilemma for Palaniswamy is that the DMK is firmly in the Congress camp and that precludes it from joining that camp, especially when it is likely that by doing so, it would be on the losing side. In Karnataka, the Congress-Janata Dal (S) alliance may not hold well beyond the general elections but that the impending elections will be a glue to hold them together is hardly disputed. In that event, it remains to be seen how the BJP taps the anti-establishment sentiment once such a feeling develops.
As for Andhra, it is a blind alley for the BJP. A tie-up with Jaganmohan Reddy may have boosted the saffron party’s prospects after the TDP walked out of its alliance with the BJP but that does not seem to be happening. It would, however, be foolhardy to rule that out closer to the elections.
Whatever be NDA’s shortfall, the BJP can draw comfort from the fact that some of the regional players like the Trinamool Congress, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the Samajwadi Party and some others could well form a third front, maintaining equidistance from the BJP and the Congress. That would not be good news for the Congress which cannot see beyond Rahul Gandhi who is unacceptable to some regional leaders as joint leader.
All in all, it is advantage BJP in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The BJP has done well to prevent any major corruption scandals from developing in its four years in office. If it manages that for another year and moves fast on its growth and welfare measures, it could well bring off a convincing victory.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.