NEW DELHI: Two-and-a-half months from now, on May 23, the nation would deliver its verdict on the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that was sought to be blunted by a joint Opposition front.
After the Pulwama attack in J&K and the Balakot bombing by the air force in Pakistan, Modi has added nationalism to his basket of talking points that included development, performance and a big welfare push. The Congress though is gunning away at the Rafale deal, with juicy details emerging frequently to strengthen its narrative. It is also counting on doles, such as unemployment allowance and farmers’ loan waiver that helped it in three Hindi-speaking states a few months ago.
With the field wide open, leaders of powerful regional parties too fancy their chances, hoping to call the shots at the Centre if they do well in their respective states. As for Modi, he has a reputation to protect. The BJP has never lost an election under his watch—not in Gujarat when he was chief minister and not at the national level. In Gujarat, he piloted the party to power in three consecutive elections. His party sees him as politically astute, who lays the foundation for a long reign in power. “He carves out constituencies and cultivates new support bases with sustained focus. The NDA government with its ‘garib kalyan agenda’ has remained focussed on targeted welfarism, which could help the BJP make inroads into vote bases of regional outfits,” said a senior BJP functionary.
The party also hopes to make Modi’s counter-terror credentials its most potent swing factor. “Against an aspirational plank in 2014, the BJP now has an emotive narrative in nationalism to dwarf all other issues,” noted another BJP functionary.
The BJP is contrasting Modi’s leadership with that of Congress president Rahul Gandhi to make it a presidential-style election. “Modi versus anarchy is the BJP’s slogan. The issue of leadership will, indeed, find resonance. While the Vajpayee government lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the demography has substantially changed now. So, trying to draw comparisons with 2004 would not be proper,” the BJP functionary said.
Yet, Modi has cautioned BJP workers against the 2004 experience. Also, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has already gone on an overdrive. “Unlike 2004, BJP workers are already in battle mode in tandem with RSS functionaries. The cost of a repeat of the 2004 verdict is too high for the organisation,” added the BJP functionary.
Will basket of goodies deliver?
The government loosened its purse strings with direct cash transfer for farmers, I-T rebates for the middle class, besides announcing welfare schemes for the poor. However, the the job losses on account of demonetisation and the GST rollout remain thorns in its aspirations
BJP hopes to improve 2014 tally in Assam
The Lok Sabha polls in the Northeast will be fought in the backdrop of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The entire region had erupted over the Centre’s attempt to get the Bill passed in Parliament. Assam, which accounts for 14 of the total 25 seats in the Northeast, including Sikkim, had been on the edge for weeks over the issue. But despite that, the BJP comfortably won the panchayat and autonomous council polls in Assam. The party is hopeful of similar support in the LS polls. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is optimistic about improving upon BJP’s 2014 tally of seven seats to 12 this time.
Cong banks on Bill to retain lost ground
The BJP’s alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) could be the key. Alliance and seat-sharing arrangement had benefitted both parties in 2016 Assembly elections as it prevented the split of anti-Congress votes. But the alliance had fallen apart last month on the issue of Citizenship Bill. For the Congress, the polls will be an opportunity to regain the lost ground. It had ruled Assam thrice on the trot from 2001-2016. The Congress is expected to try and capitalise on the issue of Citizenship Bill. The other issues that it is likely to play on are alleged corruption in job appointments, hooch tragedy that claimed 150 lives, and unemployment, among others.
Local issues to rule in other N-E states
In other states of the Northeast, the polls will be fought on local issues. Arunachal, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura have two seats each while Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim have one seat each. The fight in these states is expected between regional parties and the BJP and/or the Congress. In Arunachal, the Congress is trying to cash in on ruling BJP’s failed attempt to grant permanent residence certificate to six non-tribal communities which sparked off protests resulting in the deaths of three persons recently. In Tripura, it will be an opportunity for Left parties to make a mark after being drubbed by BJP in 2018 state elections.