You cannot make a soufflé rise twice. So, it is a no-brainer that while 2014 was a Narendra Modi wave election, 2019 won’t. But watch the opposition narrative and you understand that it is still going to be a Modi election. The sentiment of remove-Modi is so strong that it is acting as the binding glue to bring a disparate group of political ideologies together. Politics cannot make stranger bedfellows when you have a Sharad Pawar, having quit Congress on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origins, commends her leadership of UPA. Post Congress’s December spring that saw the principal opposition party wrest Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh from the BJP, there is a renewed purpose in the opposition narrative. It is most visible in the aggression that one sees in Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s conduct, even if it still lacks substance. The Prime Minister summed it up himself while speaking at a rally in Mayurbhanj (Odisha) Saturday, when he said, “thieves want to remove the chowkidar at any cost.”
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have decided to forge an arithmetically strong electoral alliance in Uttar Pradesh (UP). After concluding seat-sharing talks with Mayawati in Delhi on January 4, Akhilesh Yadav said that the BJP has taught him the art of making friends. Yadav claimed that he lost the 2017 UP Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh for lack of coordination with non-BJP parties that essentially divided the opposition vote. In Maharashtra, Pawar’s NCP has already reached an understanding with the Congress on seat sharing. The State sends second highest contingent of parliamentarians after UP. In Bengal, that comes third, Mamata Banerjee holds strong, and Congress has already given tactical leadership to Trinamool, in return of support in Delhi. Mamata even sent Abhishek Manu Singhvi to Rajya Sabha providing her support to take care of Congress’ shortfall. And in Jammu and Kashmir, forgetting their old animosities, Omar Abdullah of National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came together for a joint action to force the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and impose President’s Rule in the State. An ascendant DMK has firmly in Congress alliance, with party chief Stalin even anointing Rahul Gandhi as PM candidate much to the annoyance of some opposition leaders. But that’s a different story.
How is this different from 2014 from the BJP’s perspective? Then, each opposition party fought its own battle against the BJP. This time they realise unity-is-strength for sheer survival. Having faced a rout in 2014 – Mayawati even drawing a blank – the SP and BSP tasted blood in the Gorakhpur, Phulpur, and Kairana bypolls of 2017, leading to the present alliance that is BJP’s nightmare in 2019 in UP. Where does it leave the party strategists? In his first victory speech in Vadodara on May 16, 2014, Modi had termed the mandate one of chemistry trumping maths. By which he meant the Modi-wave defeating the arithmetic of entire opposition vote-share.
Where then it leaves the BJP strategists? In Narendra Modi the party has a brand that is still going strong. By all accounts, there is no slack in the personal approval ratings of the Prime Minister. Hitting 2019 with a first-day marathon interview, Modi has hit the ground running, already having addressed rallies in Punjab, Odisha, Jharkhand, Manipur, and Tripura last week, and addressed thousands of party cadres through video conference across south India. PM’s first week on the campaign trail shows that he has full measure of the challenge that lies ahead. But while Modi continues to lead as an indefatigable campaigner, he comes out ploughing a bit of a lonely furrow. Amit Shah’s parallel party work only adds to the perception that the campaign is running between the two Gujaratis. The party needs to plug that perception gap with a more broad-based rollout of other leaders.
Sonia Gandhi is throwing another dinner Monday to test the index of opposition unity as parliament winds down the winter session, even as the Supreme Court picks up Ayodhya hearings later this week. The BJP might want a sum-total of emotions from Ram temple to triple talaq, from anti-corruption crusade to surgical strikes, to back Modi’s ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas’ brand of development as it picks up threads for the 2019 general elections.