Impressions and questions from 2018
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Impressions and questions from 2018

Political parties may claim that they are fighting on principles in next year’s general elections, but this can barely conceal their selfish motives. Old friends can turn into foes and enemies to friends during the elections.

columns Updated: Dec 31, 2018 09:47 IST
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee with chief minister of Telangana K Chandrashekar Rao, December 24(PTI)

If you look back at the social and political state of affairs in the country in 2018, you’ll discover that the year gave something and took away something from everybody. This is the beauty of the world’s largest democracy: it keeps striding forward despite its inherent contradictions. To predict what will happen is next to impossible.

Consider the first month of 2018. January kicked off with bypolls in Ajmer and Alwar. A few months before that, suspected cow protectors had allegedly beaten Pehlu Khan to death in Alwar. The questions resonating in the political corridors were about the repercussions on the by-elections. The Congress snatched both the seats by a huge margin from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

This provided a point to pontificate to social media warriors. They began to raise the question: has the countdown begun for the government in the Centre? The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has suffered a defeat in every by-election held since then. If Alwar and Ajmer were the next steps in this chain, will the caravan continue to roll till 2019? The balloon of such speculation burst within a month. In February, the BJP captured the Left’s 25-year-old bastion in Tripura. The saffron party already had Assam in its kitty and around the same time, the NDA formed a government in Meghalaya and Nagaland as well. Who would have known that by the end of the year, the government would change in Mizoram, too? It is the first time since Independence that the Congress doesn’t have a single government in the Seven Sisters.

The Congress may have faced disappointments from February to December, but it also managed to pip the resource-rich BJP at the post in the fiercely-fought battle for Karnataka. This came as a shock to the BJP that had managed to win Gujarat by a thin margin at the end of 2017. Despite not getting a majority, Rahul Gandhi had wrested power in Karnataka with the Janata Dal (Secular). Critics may call it a political compulsion, but it was a turning point for those pursuing anti-NDA politics. The Congress had delivered the message that in order to compete with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, it was ready to bow a little before regional parties. Before this, the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana and Gorakhpur had proved that the tables can be turned if opposition parties put up a united front to take on the BJP. The Congress had fielded candidates in Gorakhpur, but the results demonstrated that it may not be able to fight future electoral contests on its own.

This is why the country’s oldest party could not arrive at an understanding with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. While it is true that it got the support of regional parties for government-formation in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, had this meeting of minds happened earlier, the complexion of the victory could have been something else altogether.

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This direct contest between the NDA and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) spawned another interesting trend. K Chandrashekar Rao aka KCR plunged into battle in Telangana on his own. He was pitted against the Congress and Telugu Desam Party combine. The BJP, too, was trying its luck. After a spectacular victory, KCR is now advocating the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP third front. He knows trying to reheat this old recipe may not work, but it may be the best option to make his presence felt in New Delhi, while being based in distant Hyderabad. At one time, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao aka NTR, also dreamt of such a front.

Even as KCR is making new friends, in the run-up to the general elections, old friends of the NDA are growing hostile. The Shiv Sena, its old partner in Maharashtra, is talking tough with the BJP. In Bihar, Upendra Kushwaha, who wields considerable influence with a certain section of society, kept threatening the NDA and then joined the UPA. Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP has already parted ways with the NDA and the Akali Dal keeps posturing to extract a higher share of seats. On its part, the Congress has a on-again, off-again relationship with the BSP and the SP.

These contradictions make one thing clear: Political parties may claim that they are fighting on principles in next year’s general elections, but this can barely conceal their selfish motives. Old friends can turn into foes and enemies to friends during the elections. Machiavelli was right when he said there were no friends and enemies in politics. So don’t blindly trust your friends nor criticise your enemies so bitterly that you cannot mend fences with them.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

letters@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Dec 31, 2018 09:46 IST