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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

The opposition needs a face for 2019

The BJP will try to turn 2019 into a Presidential style contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an unknown person

editorials Updated: Aug 06, 2018 18:23 IST

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar  says the situation in India today is very similar to 1977
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar says the situation in India today is very similar to 1977(Hindustan Times )

The opposition is likely to approach the parliamentary elections scheduled for the middle of next year without any grand national plan. At least, that’s the takeaway from an interview that Sharad Pawar, the Maratha strongman and leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, gave this newspaper last week. Alliances, if any, will be at the state-level, he said. The national alliance will be formed after the polls, and the Prime Ministerial candidate decided by the relative strength of the parties.

The situation is very similar to 1977, he added, referring to the hurried coming together of parties to fight an election against Indira Gandhi. To be sure, back then, individual parties were willing to merge into a larger grouping that became the Janata Party, but Mr Pawar’s reference was to the fact that at the time, the primary objective of all parties was to defeat Gandhi. This time around, the stated goal is to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The message between the lines in Mr Pawar’s comments is clear: that (defeating Modi) is the only issue.

If the plan works — it’s still a little too early to confirm that the loose alliances Mr Pawar and others have been speaking of will happen — 2019 will be the first time since 1977 that the election will be about a single personality. Back then, the choices were Indira Gandhi, and not Indira Gandhi (which turned out to be Morarji Desai). In 2019, the choices will be Narendra Modi and not Narendra Modi.

The strategy of the opposition parties is one born of necessity. Many parties that are united in their opposition of the BJP are themselves rivals at the state level, and there are far too many leaders with prime ministerial aspirations across them. Still, their current plan, as explained by Mr Pawar, and also by senior leaders of the Congress in recent interactions with the media, isn’t a very strong one. That’s because the BJP will try to turn 2019 into a Presidential style contest between Mr Modi and an unknown person — and there are no guesses as to who is likely to win this.

In 2014, the BJP’s victory was the result of several factors: Mr Modi’s personality; smart social engineering; aggressive on-ground management of the election process; and a compelling narrative built around the failings of the United Progressive Alliance (largely corruption and mismanagement of the economy) and the promise of the alternative (development and jobs). Any grouping that wishes to take on the party and the larger National Democratic Alliance in 2019 will need all of those: a face; ground-level planning; and a compelling narrative.

First Published: Aug 06, 2018 18:23 IST

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