When the NDA came to power in May 2014, armed with a huge mandate under the leadership of Narendra Modi, not many had presumed that the victory trail of BJP would not only continue but increase in leaps and bounds for such a long spell.
Three years down the line, Modi has not only retained his popularity but has managed to consolidate the BJP’s hold on the masses, breaking new ground in uncharted territories and shrinking the Opposition space further. So much so, that when one looks at the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019, there is practically no challenger visible in the Opposition ranks for now who can turn the tide against the NDA.
With just two years to go for the next general elections, a desperate attempt to gather all opposition parties under one umbrella has started once again alongside the move to finalise a common Opposition nominee for President but no concrete alliance seems to be in sight given the contradictions within such a grouping due to the pulls and pressures of regional politics in various states.
The Modi juggernaut which was stalled in the Delhi Assembly polls by Arvind Kerjiwal’s AAP in February 2015 and the victory of the Nitish Kumar-led JDU, RJD and Congress alliance in October the same year, steamed full speed ahead in 2016 with BJP forming its first government in Assam, uprooting the three-term government of the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress.
However, the most spectacular victory came earlier this year in Uttar Pradesh where it defeated an alliance of the Samajwadi Party and Congress on one hand and the Mayawati-led BSP on the other. The election saw BJP consolidate its support among non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits while the Muslim vote got divided between the SP-Cong alliance and BSP.
Post election there have been noises of a grand alliance comprising SP, BSP and Congress but there are also apprehension that such an anti-BJP grouping could also turn counter- productive.
In Uttarakahand, the BJP got a decisive mandate. In Goa and Manipur, though the Congress won more seats, the BJP acted swiftly and formed governments while Punjab was won by Congress where the BJP was a junior partner in the alliance government led by Shiromani Akali Dal.
As of now, the BJP seems to be in a strong position in most of the states going to the polls in the next two years and before the next general elections. This year polls are scheduled in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat while Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Karnataka will go to polls in 2018
While most believe the party will have no major problems in retaining Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it is in a strong position in Himachal Pradesh. Retaining Rajasthan and winning Karnataka from the Congress could be more difficult but not impossible seeing the way elections are being fought and won by the BJP in the name of Modi.
The Prime Minister has been quick to make amends whenever some decisions went wrong and has been assiduously cultivating a pro-poor image for the government. With demonetization last November, the Modi government staked the BJP’s traditional “baniya” vote bank and managed to shed some of its “pro-corporate” image. The party has cited the outcome in civic poll bodies, especially in rural areas in Odisha, as a vindication of the government’s demonetization stand saying it created new constituencies of support among the poor and won seats even in areas like Kalahandi, infamous for famines.
With wins in smaller civic body elections in Mumbai and Delhi or in the recent assembly bypolls, the BJP has much to rejoice about in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Assam. . Also, with victories in UP and Uttarakhand and probably in Gujarat and some other states, the BJP hopes to blunt the Opposition strength in the Rajya Sabha by 2018 end, where a combined opposition strength has posed trouble for it many times. The main opposition Congress is in power in Punjab and Pudhucherry, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Karnataka. Except Punjab and Puducherry, its governments in other states will end in 2018.
The expectation of the Opposition that after three years in government, the BJP may lose sheen due to “unfulfilled promises” has been belied. While Rahul Gandhi is yet to emerge as a potential rival to the PM, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was being projected as an alternative face to Modi has taken a backseat of late. The Modi government has virtually set the agenda and opposition parties are reacting to it, as Nitish pointed out at a recent event in Delhi.
Besides focusing on Congress ruled states, BJP has also set its eyes on Tamil Nadu where the AIADMK has split and the BJP is hopeful of cine icon Rajnikanth’s support. It also hopes that voices of dissension in BJD in Odisha, Samajwadi Party in UP and AAP in Delhi will end up helping the BJP.