A large swathe of India is now governed by the BJP alone or in coalition with its allies. The biggest victory for the BJP in state elections was undoubtedly the landslide win in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Since then the BJP has struggled to replicate that success. In Gujarat elections held in December 2017, the BJP won the election with a much narrower margin. However, in Karnataka elections earlier this year, the BJP despite trying every hook and trick in the book failed to dislodge the Congress which remains in government in coalition with JD(S).
Since then the BJP has lost several bypolls (both Lok Sabha and Assembly) in multiple states. It has looked increasingly desperate and lacking in the innovation and ability to re-endear itself to the voter. The overexposure of ‘Brand Modi’ coupled with the oversaturation of the public’s mind with Modi-centric messaging and campaigns seem to have led to people’s disenchantment with the central government. The most recent Lok Sabha bypolls in Karnataka where BJP lost its stronghold of Bellary by a margin of more than two lakh votes shows the extent to which people are disillusioned with the saffron party’s unkempt promise of ‘Ache Din’. It has also given a further boost to the idea of a united opposition’s ability to take on the BJP in the 2019 elections.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Congress could not ally with the BSP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, opposition unity remains a distinct possibility for the Lok Sabha elections this year. The BJP’s principal opposition party in these states is the Congress. In both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is facing a huge anti-incumbency factor and its national leadership was under massive pressure from state units to fight alone instead of ceding space to other parties.
In Chhattisgarh where one round of voting is over, and the second round takes place today, early surveys show that the electorate has voted for ‘Badlav’. It remains to be seen whether this Badlav will mean a Congress sweep or a Karnataka style Congress in an alliance (with Ajit Jogi and Mayawati who are fighting this election together). It is this innate longing for change that the Congress and a united opposition are banking on. In Rajasthan, the contest is heavily skewed against the incumbent BJP government. It is only in MP that the Congress, riven by factionalism, still looks unsure. However, here too the widespread discontentment with Shivraj –led BJP government could give the Congress just enough edge over the BJP. It is for the Congress to convert the desire for change into electoral victory.
It is being speculated that the lack of a credible and universally acceptable face is one of the main weaknesses of the proposed Mahagathbandhan; that a faceless opposition will not be able to take on the popularity and charisma of Brand Modi. It’s hard to disagree completely with this view as it quite likely that 2019 elections will be a contest between personalities: Prime Minister Modi on the NDA side and Rahul Gandhi from the Congress- UPA side.
If that indeed turns out to be true then Gandhi with his unproven track record in government and the considerable baggage of Congress will not pass muster. Undoubtedly, an opposition with a universally acceptable face would have been a better bet but the lack of one gives it an opportunity to avoid a personality contest and instead emphasise the democratic nature of the Mahagathbandhan.
Therefore, it is only an opposition with a broadly shared understanding, region-wise local leaders and strategic vote-pooling can take on an opponent like Prime Minister Modi and the BJP.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)