The year of a few hits and misses

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The year of a few hits and misses

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 | Kalyani Shankar

The year 2018 was the most crucial for political parties as they learnt a few hard lessons. Next year, however, will see them battle for the top office. Parties need to move from the existing machinery and build a new narrative to woo voters

As 2018 comes to a close, it will be pertinent to look back and see how the year fared, politically. The year was especially important because it taught a few lessons to political parties of all shades. Until a few months back, no one expressed doubts about Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming back to power in 2019. But now, it looks like the next general election will no more be a cake-walk for the Prime Minister. More importantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) juggernaut was haulted during the year, at least temporarily, giving a jolt to the Modi Government and the BJP in particular.

The saffron party’s defeat began with it losing the battle in Karnataka. Its deafeat in the just concluded Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, that for long remained the ruling party’s bastion, dealt a further blow, making it clear that the Prime Minister was no longer invincible. Besides, results to these three Hindi heartland States also showed that the BJP could not escape anti-incumbency even in its bastions.

Second, post the Congress’ victory in these States, its electoral fortunes are said to be looking up. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his party received a major boost after registering impressive wins in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rahul Gandhi emerged as a leader in his own right. The Grand Old Party has now become the biggest party in relatively five large States — Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. So, the idea of a ‘Congress-mukt bharat’ is no longer a reality. The Congress has also shown that it has strong regional leaders in these States.

The tide began to turn from December 2017, when the BJP won  by a narrow majority in Gujarat. Then in May 2018, the Congress, in its bid to stop the Saffron Party’s surge, surprisingly backed the Janata Dal (Secular) JD(S) to form the Government in Karnataka. The efforts of the Congress proved that coalition could well be the best bet for the Opposition.

The picture of senior Opposition leaders, which included UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh among others, joining hands during JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony, flaunting a ‘show of unity’, was telling. Since then, Rahul Gandhi and the once-dithering Congress, appear to be more focused and consistent. Post this development, the Opposition has been making efforts to forge a common anti-BJP front for the 2019 polls.

Third, the BJP’s alliances are showing signs of strain. Most of its allies have voiced concerns about the party’s ‘big brother’ attitude. Some even abandoned the NDA fold during the year. Most important of them all was the Telugu Desam Party’s (TDS) decision to break alliance with the NDA in March. Bihar’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, (RLSP) led by Upendra Kushwaha, was the latest one to quit. What’s worse is that both leaders have now joined the Congress’ ranks. What was also strange was the tie-up between the Congress and the TDP in the Assembly elections in Telangana. The two parties remained bitter rivals ever since the 1980s.

Earlier in year, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-BJP experiment in Jammu & Kashmir, too, collapsed, thus proving that unnatural alliances cannot work in Indian politics for long. The BJP lost the support of Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha in Bihar. On top of that, the Shiv Sena has been threatening to quit the alliance in Maharashtra. Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena also quit in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress, on the other hand, did the unthinkable by joining hands with the TDP and the JD(S).

Fourth, today, the BJP and its allies are ruling in seven States. This is indeed a big change from the earlier days when the Congress ruled the ‘seven sisters’ for long. The BJP has proved that it has become a pan national party by spreading its wings in the west, east and central India, besides having roots in Karnataka. The North-East has become Congress-mukt now.

Fifth, agrarian crisis has led to more than 3,00,000 suicides among farmers in the last 20 years. The BJP is in denial mode even after suffering electoral loses in some States. Agrarian crisis is going to be one of the biggest issues in the 2019 polls. The party should have taken note of it when 30,000 farmers came knocking at the doors of the national capital in October-November. Few of their demands included unconditional loan waiver, implementation of the recommendations of the MS Swminathan Commission, et al — a demand ignored by successive Governments. The Opposition as well as the ruling dispensation will have to come up with a new narrative. Farm loan waivers are not an answer to their problems. More innovative solutions are needed.

Sixth, the issue of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST), too, needs to be addressed. It is clear that the former hit the people hard. Even two years after demonetisation, the informal and agricultural sectors are suffering. Demonetisation also resulted in job losses and a decrease in labour force participation rate.

Seventh, Mayawati cannot be ignored politically. The year 2019 will see more and more parties running after her for alliance.

Eighth, national parties have not been able to defeat regional satraps, as was proved by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrashekhar Rao. Also, the BJP has not been able to expand its base in the south. The year 2019 will show how much the political parties will address the lessons learnt in 2018. It will be visible in the poll results but both the NDA and the UPA need to move from the existing machinery and build a new narrative to woo the voters.

(The writer is a senior political commentator)

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