It’ll take more than math to upset Modi applecartby Opinion Express September 23, 2018 0 comments
The initial reaction to the Bahujan Samaj Party choosing to have an alliance with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, rather than the Congress, has followed expected lines. The BJP, understandably apprehensive about the consolidation of anti-BJP votes in a State where only a very thin margin separates it and the Congress, is all smiles. On its part, the Congress which has been banking on grand alliances in the three States that go to the polls post-Diwali, is a little dejected. The dejection is coupled with concern in view of the BSP also suggesting it will fight without alliances in Rajasthan and even Madhya Pradesh — States the Congress believes it can win.
The importance of the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh need hardly be overstated. The overall outcome may not have a direct bearing on voting patterns in the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for April-May 2018, but there is little doubt that the atmospherics of the pre-campaign will be influenced. If the Congress performs creditably and wins, say two of the three States, it will enter the general election campaign with three booster doses.
First, there is nothing like the smell of political power to galvanise the Congress network, especially its sleeper cells that have gone into hibernation after the party’s ignominious performance in 2014. A good harvest in the three Assembly polls will propel Congress sympathisers — and critics of the Narendra Modi Government — to emerge from the woodwork and show their loyalty. A large section of the media which in any case is wary of the Modi Government will bare its fangs more explicitly. The buzz of a lame duck Government awaiting dismissal by the electorate will resonate and affect governance in the final months of the five-year term.
Secondly, the Congress — and, for that matter, all the regional parties that are dominant in their respective States — will once again have access to funds. The funding of political parties before a general election follows a complex pattern. While most corporate groups try to be even-handed and donate to all parties on a proportional basis, a bit of extra is always kept on the side for the party that is emotionally favoured. This was the basis on which funds poured in for the BJP in 2014 — although the greater visibility of the Modi campaign had more to do with the fact that a section of the Congress, knowing defeat was inescapable, chose to conserve its war chests for another day. Whether the concealed war chests will emerge for the general election will depend to a large extent on the perceptions that are formed after the three Assembly polls. This perception will also determine the quantum of target fulfilment of the Rs 500 crore the Congress has reportedly set as its goal.
Finally, the outcome of the three Assembly polls will influence the future of the Grand Alliance that many Opposition leaders believe is the key to defeating Modi in 2018. Mayawati’s decision to not ally with the Congress has already set tongues wagging. Various reasons — both political and personal — have been offered to explain the decision. The non-political reasons are a matter of pure conjecture and need not be addressed. From the political perspective, it is important to understand that the BSP ecosystem has a logic of its own, quite distinct from the logic that drives the Congress.
It is important to recognise that the core vote of the BJP is made up of social clusters that were traditionally associated with the Congress. An alliance with the Congress runs the automatic risk — in the three States at least — of these groups drifting back to their original political home. Moreover, borrowing a leaf from the old Left, the BSP has always used elections as an instrument of mobilisation and organisational expansion. For the old Kanshi Ram BSP, the important thing was not to win — though that is a bonus — but to expand and consolidate its support among Dalit communities. In Uttar Pradesh, this process is at an advanced state, although the BSP is yet to achieve total dominance among the most marginalised of the Dalit communities. However, in the three States that go to the polls now, the BSP penetration among Dalits is still patchy. Mayawati clearly hopes to increase her party’s popular vote substantially. This will give her the leverage to bargain hard with other parties, including the Congress, for the general election.
For the moment, the Grand Alliance project has suffered a setback. However, to argue that this will also be the case in 2018 is, as yet, premature. Even a major BJP victory could propel a nervous alliance of the defeated.
However, purely in terms of optics, Mayawati’s decision to opt out of the Congress net is damaging for the Opposition. In the course of the past four years, ever since the Modi-Amit Shah duo transformed the BJP into becoming India’s principal (if not dominant) party, the BJP has painted itself as the party of stable Government — a claim that was made by the Congress in earlier decades. This claim has been bolstered by the shambolic nature of the Janata Dal (S)-Congress coalition in Karnataka that was forged only to keep the BJP out. It is entirely possible that shoddy governance will not affect the arithmetic of elections — after all, it is only the swing vote of around 5-6 per cent that decides electoral outcomes. However, elections that turn out to be quasi-presidential in nature often lead to a breakdown in traditional voting patterns. This was certainly the case in 2014 and could happen once again in 2018 if the issue becomes either Modi versus Rahul Gandhi or Modi versus the post-election lottery winner.
Clearly it will take much more than a plan centred on arithmetic aggregation to upset the Modi applecart in 2018. Nevertheless, the Assembly polls in three States will offer loose indications of which way the wind is blowing.
Writer: Swapan Dasgupta
Source: The Pioneer