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Why PM Narendra Modi would love to see a united Opposition in 2019

If an anti-BJP grand alliance takes shape, how far will it go to be the alternative? Leaders of most regional parties stand discredited among voters, for reasons that range from corruption to governance failure. Their coming together will make Prime Minister Narendra Modi look even better.

columns Updated: May 19, 2017 22:45 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra
Rajesh Mahapatra
Hindustan Times
BJP,Congress,Lok Sabha elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a NITI Aayog function in Nagpur, Maharashtra.(PTI)

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s national executive meeting this weekend in Bhubaneswar underscores its intent, and optimism, to conquer the east and the south, where regional parties dominate the political landscape. The two-day mega show in the capital of Odisha, a state that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to project as a “laboratory” for his “development agenda”, will likely push regional parties to close ranks. It comes weeks after the Hindu nationalist party, with a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh, demonstrated it can take on regional parties in their bastions.

At this point, the BJP is on a roll; and its leader, PM Modi, appears unstoppable from returning to a second term in 2019. But two years is a long time in politics. A lot can happen between now and the next Lok Sabha elections, just as it did in the first three years of Modi’s tenure. Shortly after the BJP swept to power in May 2014, it suffered a humiliating defeat in the Delhi state polls. Months later, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad succeeded in forging a winning front in Bihar. Also around this time, Rahul Gandhi’s narrative of Modi’s being a “suit-boot ki sarkar” was beginning to find takers. In no more than two years of winning a historic mandate, Modi had begun to lose grip, until Assam happened. The BJP was quick to learn the mistakes it had made in figuring out the arithmetic of caste and religion in Bihar. It was quick to cash in on the Assam victory and turn the tide with spectacular wins in elections that followed – from local body elections in Mumbai and Odisha to the big-ticket fight in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP’s electoral successes over the past year are as much a reason as hope for regional parties to look for a united front. But the imponderables they face could be as challenging as the unknowns awaiting Modi’s BJP.

Coming together for a non-BJP front isn’t going to be easy for the regional parties whose ideologies are divergent, political interests are often conflicting – especially in the Hindi heartland, and whose influences are on a downswing. Can Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav come together in Uttar Pradesh? Where does that leave Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal? How long will the bonhomie between Lalu and Nitish last? Which way will K Chandrashekhar Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samithi swing? Who will make a better fit from Tamil Nadu – AIADMK or DMK? Can Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP or Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal reconcile with the Congress party? Will Mamata Banerjee share the stage with the Left?

The history of coalition politics shows a pan-India alliance of such disparate forces often needs a national party to be the glue. The Left parties have played that role in the past, but they are marginalised today. The Congress party, which did play a facilitator in making Nitish and Lalu turn friends from foes, is more concerned, and justifiably so, about keeping its flock together than building a non-BJP front.

More importantly, between now and 2019, there is no election scheduled in a state where politics is dominated by a regional party. In most states that go to polls during this period – Gujarat, Himachal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – it is a faceoff between the BJP and the Congress. To use a cricket analogy, in 2019, the regional parties will be playing the finals without winning a practice match.

All told, if a grand alliance of regional parties does come about, how far will it go to be the alternative that the aspirational Indian would bet on? From Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati and the Marans from the south, leaders of most regional parties stand discredited among voters, for reasons that range from corruption scandals to governance failure. Their coming together will only make Modi look even better.

(Rajesh Mahapatra is chief content officer, Hindustan Times. He tweets @RajeshMahapatra)

First Published: Apr 15, 2017 12:40 IST

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