Those who began singing paeans of the ruling BJP at the Centre after the party gained upper hand in the assembly polls in two North-East states have barely calmed down when the news of the saffron party’s drubbing in by-elections in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar surfaced. The victories in the North-East is small comfort to the BJP if, in the end, the party loses the big states in the Hindi belt. The jubilant mood in the BJP camp seems reversed overnight, and the NDA allies who were cut up with the overbearing attitude of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah are bent on running away from what they see as a “sinking ship.” Understandably, they want to strike when the iron is hot.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu would not have shown the courage to bid goodbye to the BJP-led NDA had it not been for the saffron party’s miserable show in UP and Bihar by-polls. These, coming as they did a while after similar drubbings it got in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, showed which way the political wind has started blowing in the Hindi heartland a year before General Elections 2019. Naidu has much political sense to understand the danger that lay ahead for his Telugu Desam party if it continued to latch on to the main ruling party at the Centre. Also driving Naidu and his TDP to the wall is his arch rival at home in Andhra Pradesh, the Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRC) and its leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy. YSRC, it was being rumoured in Delhi, was being wooed by Modi and the BJP as an alternative to TDP whose members in Lok Sabha had been disrupting proceedings since the beginning of the current Budget 2018 session with a host of demands for AP. The self proclaimed failures of TDP in not being successful in extracting benefits for the state in spite of joining ranks with the NDA at Delhi and participating in the central government could have prompted YSRC to take advantage of the situation. Learning from the TDP, the YSRC may have calculated that hanging on to the Modi-Shah coat tails will not reap political benefits. It therefore went ahead and took the lead in filing the No Confidence motion in Lok Sabha against the government. Not that the motion would topple this government but the damage has been inflicted.
Another formidable NDA constituent, the Shiv Sena, is marking its time to cut and run, or put its friend-turned foe in an embarrassing situation. It also is convinced that Modi can no more perform any magic as he did in 2014.
To say that the loss for the BJP in UP and Bihar is a gain for the opposition is obviously the truth, though the principal opposition, the Congress, has not benefited from this scenario. Regional parties like the BSP and SP ended their long-held feud to jointly take on the BJP, and recorded success. This would now be the prescription for 2019, not just in UP, but elsewhere too. The RJD of Lalu Prasad Yadav proved in Bihar that it could still call the shots. The bypoll results have palpably enthused the Opposition as a whole. For them, the road ahead to the 2019 hustings is seen paved with roses too, not just thorns. People’s mood is seen to be, like the weather, changing. And changing fast. The cool months appear to be giving way to some hot uncomfortable times ahead for Modi. His brilliance at bluffing his way through campaign crowds might be a thing of the past as, by now, he has proven his limitations in governance. Especially noticeable failures were demonetisation, GST, utter neglect of the farming sector and the excessive pressure for Aadhaar which have all combined to impact the people negatively.
The plenary of the Congress held in Delhi, attended by a host of leaders, is noted for the new optimism that the party has come to possess after a period of downright disaster in the form of electoral defeats. Regional party leaders like Naveen Patnaik and his BJD as also Mamata Banerjee and her AITMC have risen their heads again, and so has the Left. Their sincerity of purpose is not questioned. But, first and foremost, what they need to prove – that is, if they seek acceptability as a viable, coherent force against the ruling BJP — is that they are capable to standing united against all odds. The past proved that most regional heads are individualists or hotheads when it came to crafting an alliance and pulling along together in a government. It is here that confidence-building is a matter of great importance for the Opposition, in the run-up to Polls 2019. With the BJP sliding fast and the Congress incapable of producing a strong counterpoint of policies and programs, the regional parties need to not only focus on an individual for the post of Prime Minister but to create a set of economic, security, foreign and social policies that would be acceptable to the average Indian. Those policies need to be practical, implementable and also should aim at touching the lives of the common citizens. Time has come to stop talking of only business and commerce. The time now is to refocus on how to protect and offer the average Indian ease of living.