The results of the five elections are awaited with bated breath. But preparations are already underway for the Big Match in 2019. You can say, of course, that each and every state election is a stepping stone to the next general election. But the results in Bihar and Delhi last year enthused the forces ranged against BJP/ NDA. So there are stirrings to organise the forces for the battle ahead.
We have on the one hand the formation of the slightly larger JD(U). This is described as a move for the Uttar Pradesh election. But it is more than that. It is to put Nitish Kumar in a commanding position to lead the anti-BJP coalition in 2019. The Congress has already eagerly declared its willingness to join the bandwagon.
Last year, at a conference in Delhi, Akhilesh Yadav announced that Mulayam Singh Yadav was to be the prime ministerial candidate for 2019 and invited Rahul Gandhi, who was present, to be the deputy PM candidate.
Lucky Rahul Gandhi has thus two leaders he can play second fiddle to. The issue remains whether the Samajwadi Party will join the anti-BJP coalition led by Nitish Kumar. It depends of course on what happens in the UP elections next year. As of now, it is a three-cornered contest, with the SP, BSP and BJP fighting it out. The JD(U) can only be a marginal player, whether the Congress joins it or goes on its own.
The BJP in the meanwhile has been giving two clear signals. First of course is nationalism rather than Hindutva as its core message. The other is the prominence it has given to OBCs in the state-level leadership. With Keshav Prasad Maurya they have found an almost ideal leader in UP, who is strong (though aware of the legal issues) on the temple and an OBC. The Brahmins of UP face a Hobson’s choice between the SP and BSP, if they leave the BJP.
The dark horse in the 2019 race is Arvind Kejriwal. If the Aam Aadmi Party wins convincingly in Punjab, Kejriwal’s national ambitions will be revived. The AAP does not have to be the single largest party in Punjab. It only has to force the Congress or SAD to rely on its outside support to form the government. That done, Arvind Kejriwal becomes a contender for leadership in 2019. If you listen to Kejriwal’s attack on the BJP’s Pakistan policy, you can discern his national ambition. Though one hopes that, if elected, he would follow Narendra Modi’s policy of moderation with Pakistan than rattle the nukes.
Before the 2009 elections, as many will recall, there was an 18-party coalition which stood against the UPA and failed. Now again we expect more than one coalition in 2019, or perhaps a jumbled up multi-coalition with multiple prime ministerial candidates — Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal and Mayawati .
When the Congress was the dominant national party, the only rival to defeat it decisively was the Janata coalition of 1977. That coalition dissolved with the BJP emerging as a large single unit and the rest of the Janata splintering into the Janata Dal with various parenthetical descriptions. Now that the BJP is the big beast, there will be an attempt to revive the Janata. This time the Congress will be a bit player.
Whether the new Janata will succeed is hard to forecast.