The Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19. Results will be declared on May 23. A recent survey has predicted that 52% people want to see Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister once again.
The stage is set for the biggest round of electoral battle in the country. The Election Commission on Sunday announced seven-phase polling across the country from April 11 to May 19. Counting of votes will be done on May 23. The stakes are high for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Opposition. While the BJP under Prime Minister Narednra Modi’s leadership will seek re-election on the plank of good governance and nationalism, the Opposition will be hoping to revive its fortunes by pinning the government on issues such as lack of jobs, farmers’ issues and the economic impact of decisions like GST and demonetisation.
Buoyed by airstrikes carried out by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan, the BJP is hoping that brand Modi, coupled with the nationalism and good governance plank will help it retain power in this high-stakes battle. While the BJP will be hoping that the momentum that this change in narrative has brought following IAF’s strikes sustains. For, the BJP knows that a lot has changed since the 2014 general elections and the Modi wave which helped its sweep the elections may have faded five years on. As opposition and BJP hit the election ground running, here is what has changed for the BJP since 2014.
Hindi heartland losses
To begin with, the Lok Sabha election comes close on the heels of the recent assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattigarh and Rajasthan that saw Congress gain majority in the three Hindi heartlands. Although the Congress couldn’t gain majority on its own in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party is hopeful of a good show. The BJP, on the other hand, is flexing its muscle to retain power. The BJP expects that it can cover the margin of loss in these states in the general elections as its campaign revolves around Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Yet, the election results of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram in December last year shows that 2019 will be no cakewalk for the BJP. In case of a fractured mandate, the BJP will have to bank on the arithmetic of its partners to go past the halfway mark of 272. Also, there is a fear that a few parties may have some reservations over PM Modi’s functioning and the saffron party may have to replace him if it wants to retain power. In such a scenario, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari could emerge as the front runners. Shiv Sena has already announced that if BJP gets 100 seats less than its 2014 tally, NDA partners will sit to decide on the new PM face.
Notably, in 2014, the BJP scored high on anti-Congress sentiments at a time when the country was looking for change. The BJP designed its campaign around the Congress and its scams unearthed during the last 10 years. This yielded desired results for the BJP and the country saw a single party government at the Centre after a gap of almost three decades. The BJP continued with winning streak and stumped the Congress in almost all assembly elections. At one stage, the BJP along with its partners was ruling in 21 states. This time though, the narrative seems to have changed, especially in the backdrop of assembly polls results in December and the Opposition’s ante against the government over alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, a charge the government has categorically denied. The BJP and PM Modi, on the other hand, are busy is presenting the account of work carried out in the last five years and comparing it with Congress’ 60 years of rule.
Trouble began for the BJP-led NDA last year when its allies started parting ways. The first one to quit the NDA was Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Chandrababu Naidu. The TDP quit the NDA because Modi government didn’t confer special category status on the southern state. Since then, over 10 constituents of the NDA have quit the alliance. Later, the BJP quit an alliance government in Jammu Kashmir headed by PDP citing rise in radical activities under Mehbooba Mufti. The other parties that quit the NDA include RLSP of Upendra Kushwaha, MDMK of Vaiko, Jana Sena Party of Pawan Kalyan, PMK of S Ramadoss, DMDK of Vijayakanth, Haryana Janhit Congress of Kuldeep Bishnoi, Kerala-based Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha, Swabhimani Paksha of Raju Shetti, Naga People’s Front (NPF), Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
The silver lining
The BJP has gained in terms of partnerships and Bihar is one shining example. The party gained maximum in the state where Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar returned to the NDA fold after almost four years. The JD(U) had quit the NDA in 2013 after differences over Narendra Modi’s candidature for prime ministership. The party contested general elections alone but won just two seats. In the Assembly polls held in November 2015, the JD(U) joined the opposition camp of Lalu Prasad Yadav and defeated the BJP. The BJP targeted Nitish and his alliance partners over corruption and the deteriorating law and order situation, forcing Nitish Kumar to dissolve the grand alliance government and return to NDA fold to remain the Chief Minister. The BJP and JD(U) have already signed an electoral pact in the Bihar. The LJP of Ram Vilas Paswan is also a partner of the NDA.
The BJP got another breather most recently when its ally Shiv Sena agreed to contest the elections together. At one time, the Sena was firm that it will go solo in the polls but timely outreach by BJP president Amit Shah helped the saffron party to retain its oldest ally. Another key factor was that BJP entered into an election pact with AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK of late Jayalalithaa is hopeful that PM Modi’s charisma will help party to repeat its 2014 performance in 2019 when it will seek vote for the first time without Jayalalithaa.
Banking on Brand Modi
A recent survey has predicted that PM Modi is the first choice of people for the PM’s role. Even though opposition parties have been trading charges against him, a lack of strong leadership from their camp has not impressed the public. According to latest round of Times Now -VMR poll, which was conducted between February 5 and February 21, 52% respondents said that they want to see Narendra Modi once again sitting on the Prime Minister’s chair. On Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, people said that they do not believe he has a better roadmap for the country, adding that grand alliance was nothing but mere opportunism.
A fresh narrative
The BJP’s win in 2014 ended the era of coalitions that prevailed for three decades, providing the the country with a strong and stable government. Ahead of the 2014 polls, the BJP rode on the wave of anti-corruption, highlighting the scams under the UPA rule and presented an alternative in the form of Narendra Modi who had an impressive record as a three-time Gujarat CM. This time around, the BJP is banking on nationalism and Brand Modi to help it tide over the Opposition’s onslaught. The struggle for Opposition parties is in countering the narrative that the BJP has built around the government’s performance under Modi’s decisive leadership. Turning the elections into a personality-driven contest is not something that the Congress would like either. Its efforts to stitch together an effective all-pervasive anti-BJP alliance has failed to take off and the question of leadership continues to dodge the Grand Alliance. On the other hand, the Congress knows that with the nationalism sentiment riding high among people, countering it will only help Modi. A few days ago, while addressing a rally Modi said that his government spent last five years fulfilling the basic necessities that were left unfulfilled for 70 long years, but the next five year would be about fulfiling the aspirations of people. In the upcoming polls, if he manages to convert it into a presidential like contest, the opposition will find it difficult to face him. If the BJP retains power, it will be the third time when people will see the saffron party in power. Moreover, with a strong RSS cadre and a disciplined booth worker set-up, if the BJP repeats its 2014 shows, it should not come as a surprise.