Replying to the No-confidence motion in Lok Sabha Prime Minister Modi said: “Opposition has betrayed the people of India. They have proved that their organisation is more important for them than the country.” Earlier addressing a gathering of MPs of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, Modi cautioned them to avoid making controversial statements and instead reach out to the voters of their constituencies. This is not the first time. In the past too, he had given similar advice.
The stage for 2024 big battle is getting ready with the Lok Sabha polls less than a year away. In all so far 26 Opposition parties, including the Congress, have forged an alliance at the national level named Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to challenge Modi-led BJP juggernaut. On the other hand, BJP has also revived the NDA and is trying out to reach out to the past allies like Shiromani Akali Dal, Telugu Desam Party and Janata Dal (Secular).
The political landscape of the country has seen a change after the Congress won the Karnataka Assembly elections handsomely in May. This was oxygen which the grand old party was looking for desperately. Also, other Opposition parties too got a boost. The election results once again showed that BJP is not invincible. To keep the momentum alive, the Opposition parties came together to form the INDIA alliance. In fact, the acronym of the alliance shows that the Opposition too is trying to catch up with BJP’sstyle.
Politics is also about perceptions and by naming the alliance as INDIA, it has undoubtedly put the BJP in a tough position. This is felt from the sheer fact that the saffron leaders are avoiding callingit as INDIA and instead calling I.N.D.I.A. Home Minister Amit Shah has said this alliance is the same United Progressive Alliance (UPA), tainted by corruption as a result of scandals like 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Cash for Vote etc.
That the BJP is not taking it lightly can be witnessed from the fact that its senior leaders, including Modi, have sharpened the attack on the Opposition alliance, calling it as a representative of corruption and dynastic politics. Modi has even called the alliance Gamandiya (arrogant). Besides, BJP has been calling out the rivalries that exist among the constituents of INDIA in some States to send the message among voters that “the parties who can’t unite forgetting their rivalries in the States, how would they be able to rule together for people’s interests”.
Why is the BJP worried? The reasons lie in the changing ground realities of three major States — Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal. These States together have 130 seats in the Lok Sabha, and in the last 2019 elections, BJP-led NDA won 98. However, the situation has changed with Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Shiv Sena’s faction led by former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray having moved away from the NDA and currently are part of INDIA alliance. Although Shiv Sena under Thackeray later broke up after Eknath Shinde along with majority of party MLAs joined the NDA, this faction hasn’t faced elections yet. Also, there is a sense that although Shinde became the Chief Minister, his faction of Shiv Sena isn’t that popular among the party cadres and instead Uddhav’s faction is seen as the real heir.
This ground reality forced the BJP to ally with former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ajit Pawar, who broke the Nationalist Congress Party and took away majority of MLAs to join the NDA. It must be mentioned that Ajit-led NCP faction had allied with BJP in 2019 but that alliance didn’t last for more than 3 days. It is another matter that seat sharing is going to be a difficult task with Shinde-led Sena and Ajit-led NCP attempting to contest as many seats as possible and in addition to this, there are small allies like Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, Prahar Janshakti Party and Republican Party of India led by Union Minister Ramdas Athawale.
In fact, many within the Shinde camp are uncomfortable after the Ajit-led NCP faction joined the NDA as there is a sense that this was done by the BJP to curtail the strength of the Shinde-led Sena. However, the BJP’s worry is that like Shinde’s Shiv Sena, Ajit-led NCP faction isn’t electorally tested. Importantly, NCP derives its strength from its founder-President and former Chief Minister Sharad Pawar, the veteran leader with decades of political experience.
The BJP remains concerned with Bihar, a State which has played a critical role for NDA’s victory in both the 2014 and 2019 elections. The INDIA alliance comprising Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav, JD(U), Congress and the three communist parties — CPI, CPM and CPI(ML) — is strong in arithmetic and in chemistry. Particularly, the Yadav-Kurmi-Muslim combination, which played a major role in RJD-JDU-Congress victory in the 2015 Assembly elections is likely to pose a strong challenge to the BJP-led NDA.
It is not that the BJP is sitting idle. The party this year appointed Samrat Chaudhury, an OBC coming from the Kushwaha (Koeri) community, as the State Party President. Often the Koeris are put together with the Kurmis and are termed as Luv-Kush, a vote bank, comprising 7% of the state’s population, cultivated by Nitish Kumar. Clearly Samrat’s appointment is an attempt to weaken JD(U) and ultimately, the INDIA alliance in the state. The BJP has also been able to expand the NDA by bringing smaller parties, having a base among marginalised communities, like Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (Ramvilas). Another party waiting in line to join the NDA is Upendra Kushwaha led Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal.
Coming to West Bengal, the situation has been challenging for the BJP, which had won 18 seats last time. In the recently held panchayat elections, marred by strong allegations of rigging by ruling Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and Calcutta High Court hearing allegations of irregularities, the BJP saw a drop of 16% votes in comparison to last Assembly polls. Instead, the CPM-led Left Front saw an increase of around 8% votes, despite fighting elections under an undemocratic environment of political violence. Congress, an ally of CPM, also saw an increase of 4% votes.
The BJP didn’t perform well in its strongholds like North Bengal, where it won 7 out of 8 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, and in the region of Junglemahal. After the drubbing, it sent Ananta Maharaj, a Rajbanshi and leader of the ally, Greater Coochbehar People’s Association, to the Rajya Sabha as its first party representative with the aim to retain its stronghold, where Rajbanshis account for 30% of the population.
The BJP although portrays confidence, it’s aware that big fight isn’t going to be easy, particularly in these three States. As a result, it has been very cautious and is busy in trying to address the organisational weakness of the party and the NDA too.—INFA