The battle will see a direct contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rest of the opposition parties including the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi.
The world’s biggest democratic exercise begins April 11 when India embarks on an electoral process to install a new government at the Centre. The battle will see a direct contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rest of the opposition parties which have sought to put up a united front with the sole aim to dislodge the current PM. The past few months have seen many ups and downs for both sides. While the Opposition’s charge against the BJP and PM Modi on the issue of jobs and alleged corruption in the Rafale deal have pushed the government on the backfoot, the narrative shifted quickly to nationalism after the IAF’s strikes at terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot and the safe return of captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.
For the Opposition parties, the idea of a united front — first pitched by the Congress — to take on the Modi dispensation has failed to take off in the way the primary opposition party would have liked. Though united in their resolve to oust Modi, state dynamics have forced the Mahagathbandhan to collectively emerge as an alternative on a national level. State-level arithmetics dictate all formal alliances between the Opposition parties who sought to contest on a unified plank. This perhaps explains why most of these parties, who put up a show of unity otherwise, are contesting against each other in many states.
Sample these. The Left Front, a prominent face of the anti-BJP alliance, will be taking on the Congress in Kerala and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Both parties are fierce critics of the Modi government. In the national capital, alliance talks between the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have failed. In the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, the alliance between Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have ignored the Congress. In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) will be taking on the Congress. Clearly, the illusion of a Grand Alliance has too many contradictions within to be effective in taking on the BJP’s machinery collectively.
The question of leadership also continues to dodge the united opposition. With the absence of a prominent face to counter Modi, the BJP is banking on turning these elections into a presidential campaign to present a narrative of ‘Modi vs who’. The situation is quite similar to what the country witnessed ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. At that time too, the showdown was mainly between then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and the rest. Riding high on the anti-corruption plank and anti-Congress sentiments in the wake of a series of scams, PM Modi scored big and stormed to power with a thumping majority. The Congress was decimated and parties like BSP could not even open their tally. The same narrative seems to be making its way into the election narrative this time as well.
Turning the upcoming elections into a presidential-style campaign where personalities matter more than the parties could work in Modi’s favour. The BJP stands to gain because the Opposition will have a difficult task to put up a formidable challenge given their inherent differences. The air strikes carried out by the Indian Air Force in Balakot of Pakistan has already given rise to patriotic sentiments, a plank which has worked well for the BJP in the past as well. Of course, the Opposition will try to restrict Modi from making the contest between him and the rest and will focus on state-level alliances. Even if this materialises, the Congress, the only national party in the proposed grand alliance, stands to lose the most. That appetite for compromise, however, appears to be missing.