Strong index of opposition unity on display in by-elections across the country – from Meghalaya in Northeast to Karnataka in South – energised the opposition into a muscular force itching to take on the “1 paisa” government of Narendra Modi in the 2019 general elections.
In another significant development, BJP’s new ally in turncoat Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was also dealt a body blow by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Laloo Prasad Yadav. The RJD, now led by Tejaswi Yadav wrested seat held by Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United in its stronghold of Jokhiat. In fact, shortly after the victory, Tejaswi appealed to all the opposition leaders across the country to unite and take the Modi government head on.
What Tejaswi is articulating is nothing new - that a combined opposition will bring the curtains down on the Modi government. “The BJP stands exposed today,” Laloo’s son said, adding that it had misused every agency at its command to harass and humiliate opposition leaders.
Although these are mere bye-elections, their import for the 2019 general elections cannot be missed.
Especially coming after Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha bye-poll losses, the Kairana defeat for the BJP is worrisome as a combined opposition means it will definitely not be able to retain its hold over Uttar Pradesh this time around in the Lok Sabha polls.
Attempts by the BJP to communalise the campaign by raking up the religion of RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan failed miserably. Or for that matter, the Jinnah portrait controversy that was raked up failed to help. Her over 50,000 victory margin is an indication that Hindus and Muslims united to defeat the BJP.
What could be really worrisome to the BJP strategists is the fact that caste consolidation against it had become formidable. Jats, Dalits and Muslims came together on the call of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati and the entry of Ajit Singh and Congress into the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) has meant that the combined opposition vote was significantly higher than that of the BJP.
The sheer arithmetic of the coalition of opposition forces is formidable.For the BJP, only a divided opposition can help it. In the 2017 general elections to Uttar Pradesh, just after demonetisation, the BJP swept the state as the opposition parties were contesting separately.
In 2014 general elections to Lok Sabha too, the BJP won 73 out of 80 seats on offer. Other than riding on strong anti-UPA government sentiments, the BJP also benefitted from the split in opposition votes. Now that the BSP, SP, RLD and the Congress have come together, they pose a big challenge to the Modi-Shah combine in the general elections due in a year’s time.
Today’s byelection results put a big question mark if the BJP can repeat its 2014 performance in UP. The BJP had already anticipated this eventuality and was scouting for newer areas to expand – Northeast and South India.
The top BJP leadership’s strategy seems to have met with partial success: it managed to win Northeast and has its governments there, but finds the South a no-go area, so to speak. All the South Indian states together account for 130 seats and in this big chunk, barring Karnataka, the BJP appears to be nowhere in the fight.
In Karnataka too, for the general elections, the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular have made it clear they would fight together and have the potential to block the BJP here too.
Whether it is Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, the BJP’s aggressive politics have scared allies and potential allies, who could prefer a weaker Congress instead. Telugu Desam leader and AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has already broken away from the BJP.
In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the BJP is still searching for an ally who could win it seats. Kerala continues to be a no-go area for the BJP.
As BJP scares away its allies, like the Shiv Sena taking on the BJP in Phalgar in Maharashtra, the Congress has adopted a more friendly and flexible approach when dealing with allies and potential allies.
The Congress gave up the Chief Minister post in Karnataka and on a day when it won Bangalore assembly seat with over 40,000 votes it even conceded crucial Finance portfolio to coalition partner the JD-S.
Meanwhile, regional parties retained their power. Mamata Banerjee proved that in West Bengal she was the big boss and in Kerala, the CPM retained its seat beating the Congress with ease.