Having cleared the Uttar Pradesh test with historic marks, it appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started preparing to take on an united opposition ahead of 2019.
This may sound a little funny considering the fact that the opposition has hardly moved an inch on its strategy. But back-to-back statements from leaders of many opposition parties such the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Left parties (both CPI, CPM), Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have been heard more than once since the Uttar Pradesh verdict. Only the Samajwadi Party leadership has not spoken very clearly on it. How, when and how much of this opposition unity will take tangible shape is anybody’s guess. But Modi would rather not wait for them to decide. He has, therefore, started putting things in place for future political consolidation along with tightening the screws in the government.
On the last Monday of the Budget Session, the Prime Minister, who is also the chairman of the National Democratic Alliance, invited leaders of all the alliance parties over dinner. At least 32 parties were represented in the gathering. The meeting was meant to showcase the pan-India nature of the NDA, its recent spread in the North East (under NEDA banner), BJP’s eagerness to care for the concerns of its old friends and making new ones. A section of the media speculated that the meet was about discussing the President and Vice President polls due in a few months but that was only a small part of the entire exercise. In a read out issued after the meet, the NDA partners expressed confidence in the robust governance and pro-poor policies of Narendra Modi and reiterated that 2019 would be fought together under the latter’s able leadership.
While the BJP is strengthening its alliance pillars, it is also scouting for new ones in uncharted territory such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It made some humble beginnings by aligning with a few small parties having limited influence such as the BDJS in Kerala and MKMK and IJK in Tamil Nadu. Though there was no reason to rejoice, the rise in its vote share in both states has given the BJP hope to scout for bigger partners. All this however, will not be at the cost of Amit Shah’s plans to strengthen the organisation BJP in weak or unconquered states. It is more likely to be a mix and match of infusing new energy among the cadres, aggressive membership drives and inviting influential dissidents to make up for its handicap.
That West Bengal is one of its priorities has already been made amply clear by the party leadership. Bengal politics was hardly conducive for BJP but with Mamata Banerjee beating all previous records of minority appeasement, the Hindus of the state have suddenly started veering towards the Sangh Parivar. It will not be long before this attraction for the Sangh starts translating into votes for the BJP. In the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma has taken his job of expanding the NEDA pretty seriously with full support from the party top brass.
Even as the party is working on a long-term strategy for its geographical expansion, the growth of its social base has also touched new heights. After becoming the world’s largest political outfit in terms of members, it managed to break the Mandal stronghold in Uttar Pradesh to get a three-fourth majority. Indeed, both Akhilesh-Mulayam and Mayawati have a lot of rethinking to do if they want to retain their relevance in the crucial state. In Assam, Haryana, Maharashtra and most recently Odisha, the party won the trust of the poor and deprived sections in large numbers. The party already boasts of the biggest number of Scheduled Caste MPs. Its support among the backward castes is also steadily increasing in various states and not just the Hindi heartland.
However, not everything is quite rosy.
Delving into the data of last two Assembly elections in various states, we found that the BJP may have gained substantially in votes and vote share in many states, but the picture changes if the voter share of its rivals is put together. Among all the states which went to elections post 2014, only in one, Jharkhand, the BJP has a slight (nearly 1 percent) edge over the combined vote share of the opposition. This coupled with the fact that it has touched a saturation point in many north Indian states poses a new kind of challenge for the party. Assuming that the opposition does manage to put its act together in most states, Narendra Modi has to draw the bigger line.
Apart from the expansion of the party, the strongest weapon for the Modi army could be its various pro-poor programmes aimed at creating the New India about which the PM recently spoke with great passion. Ujjawalaa, Stand Up India, MUDRA, Affordable Housing (both rural and urban) Skill India are some of the ambitious programmes which can defeat any caste or community based campaign by a mile.
While most such schemes in the past degenerated into black holes of corruption, Modi can ensure corruption-free implementation and transparency. His stress on giving ‘samaan avsar’ (equal opportunity), infusing new confidence by making young men and women job-creators and thrust on empowerment of the weak has already started showing results. With demonetisation, Modi has also made it clear that he would not shy away from taking drastic, unprecedented measures if it comes to that.
With a paradigm shift in policies and programmes, conquering new social and geographical boundaries, winning the trust of the minorities remains his next big challenge. Here too, a beginning has already been made with the govt’s unambiguous stance of Triple Talaq. It is quite clear that the centre will not cow down to regressive elements on the issue. With the Muslim women coming out openly against the discriminatory practice, Modi has already become the topic of conversation. Expect more firm steps in this direction sooner than later.
A good senapati, however, does not prepare for battles only on his own strengths. Working on the weaknesses of the enemy is an essential tool in battle craft. Factoring the inner contradictions of the major opposition parties and their leaders, one can expect Narendra Modi to start working on a couple of these opposition faces soon to prevent a larger conglomerate in future. Nitish Kumar, K Chandrashekhar Rao, Naveen Patnaik, Sharad Pawar could all be possible faces in that league.
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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2017 10:40:01 IST