Assembly Polls Will Decide Which Way the Fortune Cookie Crumbles for the Big Five
Opportunism trumps ideology, come election time. The axiom appears to be metamorphosising into a fact in the ongoing countdown for the Assembly elections. During the next few weeks, over 170 million voters in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry will vote and elect 824 new leaders. But, even before a single nomination has been filed in any of the states, political parties and their supreme leaders have begun looking for new allies and causes for seeking a legitimate mandate. Since politics is the art of converting symbolic-egotistic impossibility into a remunerative possibility, the leaders are working on a negative agenda, where the others’ defeat is more important than their own victory.
In Tamil Nadu, the Karunanidhi clan wants to dislodge current Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa by forging an alliance with those who have hardly anything in common with the DMK, including caste or religion. In West Bengal, the Reds have gone forth and merged with the tricolour to defeat Mamata Didi. Never before has a formal alliance between the Marxists and Congress taken place in the state just to trounce a ruling political deity. In Kerala, the BJP is out to cohabit with caste-led small parties only to stop both the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic front from grabbing power. The BJP doesn’t and can’t become the ruling party in the state but, in anticipation of a photofinish outcome, it wants to win at least a couple of seats and thereby play kingmaker. In Assam too, the BJP is confident of forming its first legitimately elected government in the Northeast by polarising the entire electorate along regional and communal lines. It has been able to instal a rebel Congress government in Arunanchal Pradesh by breaking it. In Assam too, the BJP has split the Congress by admitting a large number of partymen during the past few months.
A prerequisite to winning the battle for ballots is a meticulous deployment of logical contours and formations. Hence, breaking parties matters more than projecting an alternative leader or an agenda for governance. From Thiruvananthapuram to Guwahati, thus, political parties have unleashed deal-makers to strike visible and invisible deals with caste dons, religious gurus, corporate promoters and local opinion-makers to market their parties. But none of them have put forth even a strategy that’s synchronised with its ideology or leadership for seeking the mandate.
The outcome of the coming elections has serious implications for five individuals: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, DMK chief Karunanidhi, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. All of them have points to prove. But the stake is especially high for the BJP, which is still battling the dilemma of whether or not to fight the elections in the name of the Prime Minister. Of the 824 Assembly seats, the BJP won less than double digits during the 2011 state elections. Riding on the massive Modi wave, however, the party led over its rivals in 114 Assembly segments in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Currently, the BJP has the highest number of about 1,000 MLAs in all the states put together; that is some 100 more than the Congress.
But the BJP doesn’t expect to form the government in any of the states except Assam. It is neither a ruling party nor an influential group in any of these states. After its ignonimous defeat in Delhi and Bihar, Shah and his team need to reverse the downward turn in the electoral fortunes of the party. The beating in the two northern states was seen as a mark of the diminishing appeal of the Prime Minister and the fallibility of Shah as master strategist.
But the saffron party doesn’t have a single local leader in any one of the four states, much like Bihar and Delhi. In fact, it is confronted with formidable local leaders. Even a 79-year-old chief minister like Tarun Gagoi is giving the BJP a serious fight in Assam after remaining in power for just over a decade. Though the BJP has formally forged an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad and appointed a new state party chief, it is still depending on the Congress rebels to give it a majority. Buoyed by winning seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the BJP is confident of forming a government on its own. The party led in 79 of the 126 Assembly segments during the Lok Sabha elections although it had won barely five seats in 2011. Its share of popular votes rose tremendously from 11.45 per cent in 2011 to 36.50 per cent in 2014.
According to party managers, both Modi and Shah have decided to move manpower and resources to Assam and win it at any cost. Though it has indirectly projected Union Minister of State for Sports Sarbananda Sonawal as its chief ministerial candidate against Gogoi, it dreads an unprecedented backlash from the Muslim community, which determines the outcome in about 30 seats. The Muslim-dominated AIUDF won 16 of the minority seats and led in 24 segments in 2014. The Congress party is already trying to strike a strategic alliance with the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF to defeat the BJP+AGP combination. West Bengal’s case is more dire. There, the BJP is faced with the same threat of polarisation of votes along religious lines to prevent the division of anti-Mamata votes. The party has only one MLA in the current Assembly and has not been able to groom a state-level leader even after leading in 24 Assembly segments. In southern states, the party is conspicuous by its token presence outside the state Assemblies.
Well, 2016 is not 2014 when Narendra Damodardas Modi was taller than all the other leaders put together. In 2016, he may still be the tallest leader individually, but the BJP has failed to create anyone who can stand up to the likes of Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Nitish Kumar. Going by the early signals, both Mamata and Jayalalithaa are likely to romp home with handsome victories while the Left may stage a comeback in Kerala. For the BJP to prove to the country that the Modi-Shah partnership wasn’t a one-knock wonder, it needs to beat or at least repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in terms of vote share.
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