One thing that is predictable about election results in India is the unpredictability. The recent round of assembly elections in five states involving 690 Assembly, 102 Lok Sabha and 43 Rajya Sabha seats assumes importance not just for the political future of the contesting parties but also for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
In 2014, in the backdrop of massive scams and policy paralysis, the UPA collapsed like a pack of cards in the wake of the ‘Modi Tsunami’. People voted for a dynamic leader who promised radical reforms. People’s expectations in these five states were no different in 2017. All the parties were expected to do their homework and present a robust strategy, which no other party except the BJP seems to have done, reaping a landslide victory in UP and Uttarakhand.
The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Akhilesh Yadav began the last few days of his tenure facing brickbats from his father and uncle. He was fighting a lone battle, losing precious time fire-fighting at home rather than devising a strategy for his survival.
A big chunk of his own party worked against him. As if this was not enough, the SP tied the Congress albatross around its neck needlessly. It was the last nail in its coffin. But one thing seems to be certain. Even in defeat, Akhilesh has emerged as the leader of his party and is here to stay if he plays his cards well.
The BSP was expected to emerge as the dark horse, or rather dark elephant, but it seems to have got its script wrong from the beginning. With no definite agenda to woo the non-Dalits, Muslims and the rest of the OBCs, the Dalit vote bank was not enough to garner 200-plus seats for Mayawati, thus making her irrelevant for the third time.
For the faction-ridden Congress (Amarinder Singh threatened to quit and form a new party), Punjab is a pyrrhic victory. Significantly, even during the 2014 washout, the Congress polled 33% votes in Punjab.
While the division of votes has helped the Congress in Goa and Manipur, the results have not thrown up any surprises.
After the 2017 assembly election results it would now be safe to gaze at the crystal ball for 2019 and look at some pointers. With the Left becoming a political leftover, there are only two national parties: the BJP with a strong and dynamic leader; and the Congress with an apology of a leader.
This situation is not likely to change in 2019. It is very unlikely that the Congress will ever jettison the Gandhi family and work under a non-Gandhi leader; though after Rajiv Gandhi there has been no one from that family leading the country as PM. There will be serious attempts to cobble together an anti-BJP (read anti-Modi) coalition. But in the absence of an alternative positive agenda such a coalition is not likely to enthuse the voters to desert the BJP.
Besides, this coalition may not throw up a leader because Rahul Gandhi will not be acceptable. Ironically, the Congress seems to have done better in all those places where the Congress vice-president did not campaign at all. Again, regional leaders are less likely to cede their vote banks to the Congress at the cost of losing their hold over their respective states when as many as 10 states go to polls along with the Lok Sabha elections. So there is no reason why Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, the DMK or BJD will tie up with the Congress in 2019. Even the SP may be averse to a tie-up in UP with the Congress in 2019.
With the rolling out of the GST, ‘Make in India’ showing tangible results, unemployment under control, good governance in UP and other states, and a reasonably good monsoon, the Modi factor will make it much more easier for the BJP to beat the ghost of anti-incumbency and increase its tally in the Lok Sabha in 2019.
Seshadri Chari is secretary general , Forum for Integrated National Security, and editor-in-chief News@HinduWorld