The opposition got a glimmer of hope in the just concluded UP by-elections where an unlikely alliance between arch rivals SP & BSP saw them romp home in Yogi’s home turf of Gorakhpur and that of his deputy.
Politics makes strange bedfellows and it was amply evident in the coming together of two arch rivals against their common enemy. The victory has come as a shot in the arm for a bruised & battered opposition as they desperately search for some formula to stop the Modi-Shah juggernaut ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The victory scent got Mamta going in West Bengal who started hectic parleys in Delhi, meeting Sonia & other opposition party leaders in an attempt to forge a united opposition against NDA. The opposition unity is still a far fetched thought but can only be ignored by BJP & NDA at their own peril. Mamta’s mantra, of all parties rallying behind the strongest party in the states to take on the BJP, is not a bad ploy as it prevents the division of votes in the opposition.
With caste being the dominant factor in UP which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, a combined BSP SP vote share will be a formidable opponent for the BJP which had 73 MPs in UP until recently.
The Hindi heartland or the ‘cow belt’ which gave a resounding victory to the BJP in 2014 in the wake of Modi wave is unlikely to vote in the same fashion. In 2014, the BJP along with its allies won a mind boggling 183 out of the 200 seats on offer in the 5 states of Rajasthan, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar & Gujarat with clean sweeps in Rajasthan & Gujarat, a performance which is unlikely to be repeated. In Rajasthan the loss in the two by-polls is an indication of the mood of the voter and all is not well in the Scindia camp. Gujarat has already seen a resurgence of the Congress in the assembly elections and a clean sweep for the BJP seems a far fetched theory in 2019. In Bihar the BJP would do well to keep its flock(allies) together, with Ram Vilas Paswan already showing his dissent. If the BJP loses ground in these 5 states, it has to make it up elsewhere in order to retain power.
In Maharashtra, the BJP in alliance with the Shiv Sena had won 42 of the 48 seats, with the latter winning 18. But with Shiv Sena no longer an ally, the BJP will find the going tough and is unlikely to repeat its performance of 2014. The question staring in the face of the BJP think tank is to make up for the loss of over 100 seats out of a possible 248 seats in 6 states including Maharashtra. The Modi Shah duo have been forced to train their guns on the southern & eastern States to make up for the possible loss of numbers in the Hindi heartland.
However, in the crest of Modi wave in 2014 the BJP could only win 21 seats out of 130 in the southern states and it will need a miracle from Modi & Shah to effect a turnaround in 2019. The southern states have never been a BJP bastion and Chandrababu Naidu leaving the NDA has not helped BJP’s cause beyond the Vindhyas.
To think that the loss in the cow belt could be offset by the south & East would be wishful thinking. The north eastern states send 25 MPs to the Lok Sabha and West Bengal contributes 42 seats. Thus the BJP will have to notch up around 100 seats in the South & East out of a possible 197 to make up for likely losses in the north.
This seems to be a tall order and can only be possible if the Modi magic takes effect, but in the wake of waning Modi effect it may not be possible.
The middle class & the small & middle level business class has been feeling the pinch & is aggrieved over the ever rising petrol & diesel prices. The high GST rates( 28% slab imposed initially) has thrown a spanner in the works of small businesses and it would be a challenging task for Shah & Modi to retain this middle class vote which has traditionally voted for the BJP. The adverse sentiment of the fuel prices & the GST can be seen & felt across north & south and could translate itself in the loss of seats for the BJP.
For BJP & NDA to do well, Modi has to fire on all cylinders and prevent the BJP’s traditional voter (the middle & trading class) from deserting the party. The opposition coming together & the Modi magic waning, these two factors have to work for the opposition to have a crack at the BJP. While the Modi magic could still work on the masses in 2019 , opposition unity still remains a far fetched thought.
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