2014 polls: Why Cong will look to alliances and not Rahul Gandhi

Jharkhand will see the annulment of its third spell of President Rule and the installation of its ninth elected government in the 13 years since the state was created.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren will lead the coalition that will also include Congress, RJD and some Independents. However the timing of the formation of this government suggest that its implications could be more than just another event in Jharkhand’s political calendar. It’s also about the way the Congress and the BJP look at the coming parliamentary elections.

The Congress leadership knows that it cannot repeat a 2009 poll pattern when results showed a pro-incumbency national trend. In its bid to make a comeback to power at the centre in 2014 therefore, the Congress is looking to 2004, when the parliamentary election results came up as an aggregate of state polls, not showing an all India pattern. This allowed the Congress to form the government because it had stitched good pre-poll alliances with regional players.

The BJP in contrast is looking at the poll purely from a Presidential perspective, even though it has made only an indirect projection of Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate.

It won't be Modi vs Rahul after all?

It won't be Modi vs Rahul after all?

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley highlighted this in an article in The Hindustan Times where he said “Irrespective of whether the two principal parties declare their candidates for the Prime Ministership in the next elections, the de-facto leaderships (Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi) are becoming clear. Besides the conflicts of parties and ideologies the next elections could also be a contest between personalities… The possible Presidential type contest between the two emerging personalities will make it worse for the Congress. The possibility of one of the two major parties forging way ahead appears real.”

An overwhelming section in the BJP believes that persona of Narendra Modi embodies the core ideology of the party and Sangh Parivar thanks to his strong leadership and good administrative skills. They believe that this combination along with his charismatic personality will attract substantive votes to the BJP. Whether the party is in a mood to declare him the Prime Ministerial candidate though, is not yet known. But by indirectly projecting Modi, the BJP is trying to steer the discourse of the next parliamentary elections to issues like corruption, price rise and poor governance.

The Congress for its part, would like the polls to be fought on the basis of a secular-communal divide. The party has thus started meticulously working on making new alliances to compensate for lost ones, while the BJP after losing JD(U) is still on the drawing board, hoping to win some partners after the elections.

It is this context, the political developments in Jharkhand, which has 14 Lok Sabha seat becomes important. The Congress is sending a message that that every single seat is important for the party.

As of January this year, Jharkhand had a BJP-JMM government.  But the alliance ended after the JMM insisted that the BJP honour a pact and hand over the Chief Ministerial role to Hemant Soren and Arjun Munda refused to do so. Now the BJP will have to sit in the Opposition and contest parliamentary elections on its own. There is still a conflict of opinion in the BJP whether the initial decision to go with the JMM was the right one, but that’s a different subject altogether.

The Congress and JMM had fought the 2004 Lok Sabha polls together with CPI and RJD, and succeeded in securing 13 of the 14 seats in the state. In the next election in 2009, when they fought separately, Congress could  only win one seat, while the JMM managed just two. This time round, the Congress wants to contest 10 seats, leaving four for JMM.

The Congress is also eyeing an alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) in Bihar. If that does not come through, RJD Leader Lalu Prasad Yadav along with Ram Vilas Paswan is ever willing to revive its pre-poll electoral alliance with the Congress.

There are indications that the ruling party might create a separate Telangana state by bifurcating Andhra Pradesh where the prospects are otherwise not so good for the party. There is an assessment that if Congress fails to deliver a separate state for Telangana, it would be a massive advantage to the TRS and even to the BJP in the region. However this situation could change if a separate state is carved out.

 

The Congress is carefully weighing the prospects. In the remaining parts of the state, the political equations and popular mood has changed a bit since the arrest of YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy. His mother, wife and sister have not been able to carry the momentum of YSR Congress without him and they have dropped enough hints that their party might align with the Congress, making hurried statements that they would not go with the BJP.

The party is also cozying up to the DMK again. An opportunity came by way of the DMK seeking support from Sonia Gandhi for Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi’s re-election to the Rajya Sabha. Though they are not talking in terms of alliance yet, it has firmly put Congress back in the comfort zone.

The BJP too is seeking allies but for now it is talking in terms of making the campaign Presidential. The party is talking brave after the exit of Nitish Kumar from the NDA. “The possibility of the Party contesting under one leader is now real. The BJP had won 12 seats in Bihar in the last Elections where its alliance has recently suffered. It has an opportunity to improve upon this figure”, Jaitley says. He also hints of getting erstwhile party leader and Lingayat strongman Yeddyurappa back in the party fold: “In Karnataka, the party has to factor in electoral realities rather than internal imbalances.”

Though much of the BJP leaders time and energy is going in either defending Modi or getting aggressive with the Congress on Ishrat Jahan and such other cases, there is a feeling that with the CBI’s credibility crisis, these developments could polarize votes for Modi on a national scale like it did in Gujarat for him.

“The more the CBI is misused in relation to Gujarat, the support base of Narendra Modi gets further consolidated. A potential loser can never use the CBI for vote gathering”, Jaitley says.

The poll perspective of the two national parties is hugely different, but it has to be that way. After all the initial hype on Rahul Gandhi leadership, the Congress is now settling for small alliances so that they can remain seated in treasury benches post 2014 polls. The BJP rank and file want to ride on what they believe would be a Modi wave but the leader has asked his party colleagues not to be over confident and work hard to make constituency and state wise strategy.