Alliance pangs have already begun to show for the Congress party too, threatening its leadership role and the very prospect of stitching together a grand alliance of opposition parties to beat Modi in 2019.
The growing disenchantment of regional parties with the Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party over their alleged high-handedness could prove costly for both national parties. With the 2019 Lok Sabha polls due in a few months from now, regional parties have taken the spotlight, with their significance set to grow in days to come.
Over four years into its tenure, the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah has already seen some of its key regional partners deserting them. The first to part ways was Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh, alleging that the demands of the state were not being fulfilled by the Modi government. The latest blow to the BJP came from one of the most politically significant states, Bihar, where Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP drifted away from the BJP and joined the UPA.
The recent defeats in Assembly elections in three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh also brought about a change in political equations. Sensing that Modi had lost the halo of invincibility around him, more alliance partners have begun to flex their muscle for a greater respectability in the BJP-led NDA. The desperation of the BJP was evident when Ram Vilas Paswan and his son Chirag Paswan managed to pull off a higher number of seats from the BJP-JDU in Bihar. Apna Dal’s ultimatum to the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is another such recent example.
However, it isn’t the BJP alone that is suffering after poll losses in states and the possibility of a significantly reduced tally. Alliance pangs have already begun to show for the Congress party too, threatening its leadership role and the very prospect of stitching together a grand alliance of opposition parties to beat Modi in 2019.
Take Uttar Pradesh which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha as an example. Foes turned friends Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have already sent ample signs that it was not too keen on getting the Congress on board in their proposed alliance. Both SP and BSP have not opened their cards on their support to the Congress. Having ruled UP in the past and with considerable support in other states too, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who before the UP assembly election used to say that his ‘cycle’ (party symbol) needed ‘Congress’ hand,’ is now miffed with the grand old party for not allocating a ministerial post in Madhya Pradesh government. The same goes with the BSP.
On December 10, a day before the election results of 5 states, opposition parties organised a grand-meeting cum unity event in the national capital to show the Modi government that opposition is united. However, Akhilesh, Mayawati skipped the meeting leaving space for speculation. As if by design, Akhilesh was quick to voice support to Telangana Chief Minister K Chadrashekar Rao’s efforts to bring together non-BJP and non-Congress parties into an alliance for 2019. The TRS chief’s efforts for a federal front are contrary to TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu’s campaign which has hinted at accepting the leadership of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Forget bigger partners, even smaller allies Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM have begun to assert themselves after Upendra Kushwaha’s entry into the UPA fold in Bihar.
In a strategic move, regional parties from north to south have taken a considerable space to register their voice in front of the two biggest parties, BJP, and the Congress. For the past few decades, India has been under the rule of the two parties, whether in alliance or with full majority. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is the Congress-led arrangement to run the country, while BJP leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The newfound aggression of regional parties stems from a clear understanding that their role will be crucial in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the event of both the BJP and the Congress falling short of the required number of seats. In a scenario of where both national parties are considerably weakened, regional parties, which harbour a number of powerful and ambitious leaders, sense an opportunity to play a greater role on the national level.
It is to be noted that the current government of the NDA, led by BJP is the full majority government after 30 years. Till 2014, the country was ruled by the coalition governments, where regional players were the ‘game-changers’. When Manmohan Singh government faced uncertainty over the nuclear deal issue, it was Mulayam-led SP that offered its support and saved the UPA government and the same party supported the government over FDI issue.
It the was regional parties that enabled Congress to be a part of the government in many states, including Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and the BJP in Punjab, Assam and Bihar. Accomodating regional players thus becomes more crucial for bigger parties than the other way around. Ultimately, being dismissive of their role in government formation in 2019 can be politically suicidal.