The Road to 2019

Mohan Guruswamy

The General belief that the SAD led NDA is facing an ignominious defeat in Punjab and that it is the AAP that seems to be in pole position has opened up room for all sorts of speculations about new political alliances. This has acquired piquancy now that most knowledgeable observers now hold that BJP is facing a similar rout in western UP. People will have to wait for the results on March 11. Even if the observers have got it wrong, the sweep of 2014 is just not happening. In the four cornered fight the BJP is now considered unlikely to even be the biggest party.

In 2014 the BJP won UP with over 42% of the vote wining all the Lok Sabha seats except the seven Yadav and Gandhi family fiefdoms. But it was in western UP that the BJP fared really spectacularly. Here, in the area that went to vote on February 11, the BJP won 18 of the 22 seats by polling more than all other parties together.

In the months before the elections there were bloody communal riots in Muzzafarnagar and surrounding areas in the epicenter of the Jat heartland. The RSS whipped this into a frenzy that gave the BJP 52% of the popular vote. Narendra Modi himself led the charge here and made sneaky references to the recent relative prosperity of some of the Muslim community to the "pink revolution", which was a code phrase for cow slaughter. The blood soaked green fields yielded a bountiful saffron harvest. If the BJP loses its primacy here its experiment with its not very covert sectarian politics is over. Its chances in 2019 are then seriously imperiled.

The Congress is in retreat everywhere in the country. If it gets more MLA seats now it will be because it clung on to Akhilesh Yadav's coat-tails. There is now no Indian state, save Karnataka, where the beleagured Congress has primacy. In the big states of UP and Bihar it is a coat-tail party. The AAP is muscling in some other regions just as it muscled in Delhi and Goa at the cost of the Congress.

Shortly alter the AAP victory in Delhi in 2015 this writer had written that the AAP victory was more due to the wipeout of the Congress than due to any precipitate decline of the BJP base.

But let the numbers do the talking. The AAP popular vote went up from 29.5% in 2013 to 54.3% in 2015. The comparative BJP figures were 34% to 32.7%, a decline of a mere 1.3%. The Congress on the other hand declined from 24.6% in 2013 to 9.7% in 2015. Others like BSP, JD(U) and independents got really crushed from 11.9% to 3.3%. Clearly the AAP took away space from the Congress and the so-called secular Opposition. The message is clear.

The AAP is now poised to expand into other states. Gujarat is next in its sights. It is going straight for Narendra Modi's jugular. It is this kind of daring that endears AAP to the youth. The main challenge to the Congress now is not from the BJP, despite its exhortations of a Congress Mukt Bharat, but the AAP that is rapidly positioning itself as the party to go to in many supposed Congress strongholds.

For decades opposition politics in India centered on finding an alternative to the Congress. This activity consisted mainly of forging improbable, impossible and often even unholy alliances. After 1991, anti-Congressism was no longer a binding force. The post-VP Singh era of the cobbled up alliances with the Congress, as part of it did not inspire too much confidence either. The BJP expanded into the subsequent unrelenting anti-Congress space. It still holds this space. Ironically the parties that once were united by Lohia's battle cry against parivarvaad have now become parivar-dominated parties.

In states like Orissa, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, UP, Maharashtra, AP and Telangana the regional parties have reduced the Congress to a rump though from time to time they team up with the Congress tagging on as their junior partner. These state elections will definitely see the Congress getting more seats than it had in Punjab and UP. But it will not mean any long-term gains for it. In UP it will be entirely thanks to the SP and in Punjab it will have to hold off the now apparently relentless AAP expansion.

The other non-BJP and Congress parties are now squeezing what is left with the Congress, i.e. states where it is either the dominant or next leading party. Soon it seems like it will only be in MP that the BJP and Congress will face each other as the two dominant parties. This is rather ironical considering that LK Advanu who strategized the rise of the BJP to power, would from time to time loudly contemplate a two party democracy in India, and that this would be ideal for India. He never wanted a Congress Mukt Bharat. He saw the emergence of a right of center and left of center contested polity as the ideal. It was also his way of dumping the lunatic fringe. But this is alas not going to happen.

But Narendra Modi unites the opposition, like Indira Gandhi once did. That time the RSS joined it against the Congress. Now the Congress is with it against the BJP. The temptations for the AAP to team up against the BJP are many. But the moment it gets sucked into the caste permutations of the BSP, SP, RJD and JD(U), and gets drawn into their coalition politics, it will become just another political party. Another ayaram, gayaram party.


Vol. 49, No.35, Mar 5 - 11, 2017