Forget 2019, Modi-led NDA, ‘united’ Opposition may reach break point before locking horns

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New Delhi | Updated: Jun 07, 2018 4:57 PM

It is always easy for political parties to express solidarity against a common enemy. But when it comes to elections, they are driven by self-interests of their leaders and the cadre as no one wants to compromise with their ambitions.

narendra modi rahul gandhiPrime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) hopes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma will help it retain power in 2019. In contrast, the opposition parties, who appear determined to put up a united front against Modi, claim that the growing “unpopularity” of the prime minister and the NDA government at the Centre will help them unseat BJP. But the road to 2019 is not going to be easy for either side, as current developments suggest.

It is always easy for political parties to express solidarity against a common enemy. But when it comes to elections, they are driven by the interest of their leaders and the cadre as no one wants to compromise with their ambitions. A year before 2019 elections, there are chances that many expected alliances may fall apart, or reach the break point, while some unexpected ones may come up.

For now, political observers are keenly watching developments in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – as the two states present the most vexed challenges for the formation of any type of permanent alliance. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, there two top contenders for maximum number of seats in the opposition camp – Mayawati-led BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. The are 80 parliamentary constituencies in the state. Both parties would vie for 40 seats each. But they will also have to concede a few seats to the Congress and RLD, if at all they contest together like they did in the recently-held Kairana by-election.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s BSP, which doesn’t have a single MP in the state at present, is planning to contest from at least 40 seats. Considering BSP’s hold over Dalits and also the backing of Muslims, SP and others will feel tempted to agree to Mayawati’s demand as she is unlikely to compromise. The Samajwadi Party may give up some seats but the question is – how much?

Congress, which is presently insignificant in UP politics, would like to gain on anti-Modi votes, and hence demand as many tickets as possible. The opposition parties in UP, however, seem unwilling to concede more than 7-8 seats to the Congress. Two-three seats may go to RLD in western Uttar Pradesh. If Congress wants to see Rahul Gandhi as the next prime minister, it can’t afford to give up the state to regional satraps, and be at their mercy, as part of a pre-poll alliance.

Secondly, if Congress does really well in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, the party would gain greater bargaining power during seat-sharing talks. In that case, who will compromise?

Recently, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said no talks have started on seat sharing. This will be discussed at an “appropriate time.” “Whatever seats are to be given will be decided once talks proceed. We will discuss at the appropriate time. Whatever is being reported regarding seats is only in newspapers. We have not discussed anything. We ‘samajwadis’ (socialists) have a big heart,” he told PTI. With just a year left for the elections, it remains to be seen when that “appropriate time” will come. In UP Assembly polls last year, SP had blundered by going for a last-minute alliance with the Congress.

In Bihar, while the opposition alliance looks almost settled, trouble is brewing in the NDA. Recently, ruling JD(U) took decisions that apparently surprised the BJP. The JD(U), which has just two MPs in the state at present, has decided to contest in at least 25 out of 40 Parliamentary seats, and be projected as the “big brother” in NDA.

“Nitish Kumar and JD(U) are playing major role in Bihar. We had contested election on 25 seats. They’ll have to give us 25 seats, no question of any lesser number of seats. If NDA wants to be benefited by Nitish Kumar’s image, they’ll have to do justice to JD(U) and him,” ANI today quoted Shyam Rajak of JD(U) as saying.

There is visible tension among NDA partners. While Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has started giving statements against NDA decisions like demonetisation and demanding once abandoned Special Status demand for the state, other alliance partners are also no different.

Recently, BJP leader and Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi claimed there was no tension in the NDA. However, alliance leaders talk in different tones. According to ANI, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party leader and Union minister of state for HRD Upendra Kushwaha will not take part in NDA dinner hosted by the BJP in Patna today.

“We are with NDA on grounds of ideology and policies but we’ll not be lying if we say that injustice has been done to us. We’ve not been given the priority we deserve but even if that is done to us, we’ll continue to be with NDA, as we’re now. There’s reservation in judiciary in Bihar. Why can’t it be done for SC and HC? It raises suspicions on BJP’s intentions. If they’re dedicated towards Ambedkar and Dalits, they must do justice with Dalits, Bihar and give us respectable partnership to prove it’s a strong alliance,” said Rajak

In 2009 Lok Saba elections, JD(U) had contested on 25 seats. The situation is different now. BJP currently has 22 MPs in the state, while partners LJP has six and RLSP – three. If JD(U) refuses to compromise, the smaller partners in the NDA would feel forced to explore other options. Also, when NDA will seek votes in the name of Modi, will BJP compromise?

Recently, BJP chief Amit Shah started ‘Sampark for Samarthan’ campaign to reach out to influential people and allies. As part of the campaign, Shah on Wednesday met disgruntled Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai. For around two years, Sena has been taking anti-BJP stand and even declared it would go solo in next year’s polls.

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