With Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, BJP-led NDA had registered an emphatic win over Congress-led UPA in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on May 16. As the rightwing government completes three years in power at the Centre, it does face challenges, particularly on the job creation and Pakistan policy fronts. However, on the political front, the Modi government is going strong.
In fact, no other prime minister after Pt Jawaharlal Nehru would have enjoyed such political atmosphere than Narendra Modi after completing three years of rule – a situation where there is neither any resistance in the ruling dispensation nor any potent leader or party to throw a challenge to it.
Even Indira Gandhi – who is touted as one of the most successful prime ministers – or Rajiv Gandhi – who had won the 1984 Lok Sabha elections with three-fourths majority – was perhaps not as formidable after three years on chair as Narendra Modi is.
In the prevailing political circumstances, PM Narendra Modi and BJP have been left with hardly any competitors for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
CONGRESS AND RAHUL GANDHI
Electorally, Congress finds itself in nadir ever since its most humiliating defeat in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Since then, the grand old party of India has lost about a dozen states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand.
Its only decisive victory has been in Punjab. It won the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections by being the junior most partner of the three-party grand alliance. Among the states – for instance Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh – where it is in power, Congress is not in a comfortable position.
As far as Congress leadership is concerned, it is also in doldrums. Party president Sonia Gandhi is not keeping well. Her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi has yet to provide a decisive leadership or inspire confidence among the party workers. Perhaps this is why despite Sonia’s ill health, he is not being promoted to the president’s post.
With the current rate of nose dive, Congress and Rahul may not be in a position to give any fight to BJP and Narendra Modi respectively.
AAP AND ARVIND KEJRIWAL
The harder Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) strives to expand its base beyond Delhi, weaker its grip becomes on its seat of power in the national capital. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwalsought to spread the wings of the party at the national level in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, both he and AAP failed to impress the voters. Kejriwal was forced to forfeit his deposit while contesting against PM Modi in Varanasi. Despite fielding a large number of candidates, the party could win just four Lok Sabha seats, coincidentally all in Punjab.
After making a comeback in the 2015 Delhi Assembly election, Arvind Kejriwal had made a promise to the people of the capital – that he would not be over ambitious and that he would stay put in Delhi. However, the Delhi chief minister broke his promise. AAP contested Assembly elections in Punjab and Goa. While losing Goa decisively, AAP failed to open its account in Goa.
To make matters worse for Arvind Kejriwal, AAP is beset with internal feud. One of party founders Kumar Vishwas and former Delhi minister Kapil Mishra raised banners of revolt. While Kumar Vishwas has been placated for the time being, Kapil Mishra is on a war path, pledging to ensure that Arvind Kejriwal went to jail in cases of financial irregularity and impropriety. Revolt and defections stare the party in the face.
Arvind Kejriwal finds himself discredited and AAP is crestfallen. There are no signs of improvement in their predicament in the near future. On the contrary, the situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming days to come. The Election Commission is likely to pronounce its verdict in the office of profit case of 21 AAP MLAs. Moreover, senior party leaders including Arvind Kejriwal and Minister Satyendar Jain are under the scanner of the investigating agencies for irregularities.
Just after winning the 2015 Assembly elections, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had emerged as the strongest rival of PM Modi. BJP’s juggernaut had been stopped following its second crucial defeat in Assembly elections that year, the first being in Delhi. Narendra Modi’s wave had been declared as “over”.
Nitish Kumar was emerging as the fulcrum of the Opposition unity. However, fate turned for both Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. The PM’s popularity soared again following surgical strikes and demonetisation initiative. BJP’s winning streak came back to it – be they municipal, panchayat, or Assembly elections.
On the other hand, Nitish Kumar was pushed to the defensive following deterioration of law and order situation in the state. The murders of teenager Aditya Sachdev in Gaya in a road rage and journalist Rajdeo Ranjan in Siwan dented Nitish Kumar’s image of an able administrator (sushasan babu).
The situation has deteriorated following revelations of financial bungling by RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and members of his family. Moreover, the Supreme Court has restored conspiracy charges against Lalu Prasad in the Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam. It has ruled that Lalu would face trial in all the cases linked to the scam. RJD is a senior partner in the grand alliance.
The relations between RJD and Nitish Kumar led JD (U) is also far from cordial. Doubts are being expressed over the longevity of the alliance.
The once powerful Nitish Kumar is now in the dock and fighting for survival of his government. A weakened Nitish may not pose any threat to the dominance of Narendra Modi.
AKHILESH YADAV AND MAYAWATI
Apart from Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was another young leader who could have given PM Modi a run for his money. He was the chief minister of the most populous state of the country which sends the maximum number of MPs in both houses of Parliament.
Like Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh’s secular credentials were beyond doubt. His name did not get embroiled in any controversy or scam either. However, Samajwadi Party’s crushing defeat in the UP Assembly polls changed his position.
BSP supremo Mayawati could have been a potent threat to PM Modi’s supremacy had her party won the state polls. However, her position is the weakest amongst all opposition leaders. BSP failed to open its account in the last Lok Sabha elections and won just 19 of the 403 Assembly seats.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee too is fighting from a weakened position. Senior TMC leaders are either in the jail or are under the scanner of the investigative agencies in scams. Mamata finds herself pushed to the corner.
On the other hand, BJP is witnessing resurgence in the state. It has emerged as the strongest rival of TMC. BJP is likely to put up a tough challenge to TMC in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections. It may even turn the table on the regional party. The forthcoming civic elections may be a pointer towards the forthcoming scenario in the state. However, Mamata has failed to strengthen her position as a leader who can match PM Modi in nationwide popularity.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik never showed any inclination to come on the national stage. He seems to be content heading his state. However, of late, he is fighting immense anti-incumbency. BJP has emerged as a serious threat to Biju Janata Dal’s hegemony in the state. It improved its tally in the last local elections to come second, pushing Congress to the third position.
BJD’s return to power in the 2019 Assembly elections does not appear imminent. The state and Lok Sabha elections are held together. He would struggle to win the state elections and would hardly find time to focus on leading a national front.
The Opposition leaders now perhaps realise that individually none of them has the capability to take on Narendra Modi. Hence, the idea of unity has dawned on them. Calls are being given to form a Bihar-type grand alliance at the national level to give a tough challenge to BJP-led NDA. Hence, it is being expected that traditional rivals such as SP and BSP or DMK and AIADMK would come on the same platform.
However, while coming together of arch opponents may be a tough call, finding a leader would be a tougher challenge. While the Congress may not accept anyone else outside the Nehru-Gandhi family as the front’s leader, others may not accept Rahul Gandhi as their torch-bearer.
The united opposition front may even choose to go to the Lok Sabha polls without declaring any prime ministerial face. But that may be advantageous to PM Modi and NDA.
The Opposition still has about a couple of years to put its act together or get defeated at the hands of Modi. Or the Opposition would face a situation as described by National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah just after the UP Assembly election results were declared on March 11. He said, “In a nutshell there is no leader today with a pan India acceptability who can take on Modi & the BJP in 2019. At this rate we might as well forget 2019 & start planning/hoping for 2024.”