Post UP 2017, 'Bihar Model' is dated, Opposition must find a new template
Article first published in @abplive.in (Photo courtesy PTI via ABPNews)
It has been a week since the Assembly election results that stunned the nation came out. Politicians and media were shocked by the now seemingly unstoppable rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While most people are still trying to gather their wits to formulate a response to the stupendous victory of the BJP, the discourse has been dominated by theories on the future of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi.
No doubt there has been discussion on the fate of the major losers, namely the Samajwadi Party, BSP and AAP. But, not much attention has been paid to the reactions of other regional leaders and what this mandate means for them.
The person who has been extremely quiet after these developments is Mamata Banerjee. We saw a brief flash from her before the declaration of UP results, when she tried to broker a post-poll understanding between the BSP, the SP and the Congress to keep the BJP out. But, like all others, even she had not anticipated the Richter scale of the political quake that was to follow. Since then, she has been silent.
Naveen Patnaik is characteristically reticent. Arvind Kejriwal, still not having come to terms with the drubbing both in Punjab and Goa, has been ranting about EVM tampering. Others, however, have been on a wait and watch mode.
There are a few reasons for this pregnant pause. First, contrary to the prescription of pontificating pundits in TV Studios, seasoned leaders like Nitish Kumar have realised that putting together a rainbow coalition of non-BJP parties (popularly referred to as the 'Bihar Formula') may no longer be the answer.
Narendra Modi has convincingly demonstrated that, it is possible to rise above narrow sectarian agenda by creating an over-arching vision of a 'New India' that the young and the millennials can relate to. But, such a construct is beyond the comprehension of the older generation of netas and also a few younger ones who are still trapped in the archaic template of caste, communities and clichés of development.
Narendra Modi’s Dalit outreach, especially after the meltdown of Mayawati’s BSP, is sending jitters down the spine of his detractors. If commentators are already talking of a tectonic shift after UP circa 2017, they can hardly imagine the potential intensity of the impact if the BJP succeeds in cracking the Muslim bloc, which has been the hegemony of the so-called 'secular' parties.
Besides, there is a huge problem with disparate alliances as was seen in Uttar Pradesh. Large egos at the top and vested interests at local levels are the twin challenges of managing such short-term liaisons of convenience. Also, workers of the dominant party are unlikely to put in their heart and soul for a partner’s candidate, especially if the latter is on a weaker footing. This was apparent across constituencies in UP, including the Gandhi pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli, where the Congress fared miserably.
However, all this while, the BJP and RSS have been quietly working at the grassroots to extend their ground network. Maharashtra taught the BJP, going it alone, even if they do not capture power at the first instance, it is beneficial in the longer run.
It can, therefore, be safely said that, after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the BJP will not be pro-actively seeking out allies on their own in States where they have a strong base, including those where they are not in power at present, such as Bihar.
However, the BJP will need allies down south where it still does not have the critical mass of support yet. It is important for Modi and Shah to secure some seats in non-traditional BJP geographies in the south and east, to insure against anti-incumbency losses in the north.
But, the most thrilling political games will still be played out in the North of Vindhyas in the run up to 2019. In the north, one can expect to see two sets of trends. First, there will be a new wave of defections as politicians become convinced about the invincibility of Narendra Modi. Netas realise their shelf lives are shrinking and they would not like to remain in wilderness for the rest of their political career. They all know being out of power is bad for business.
The second development is likely to be a review of pole positions by some regional leaders like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav. While Lalu will be keen on cementing the future of his sons, Nitish Kumar will need to guard his own turf eschewing ambitions of becoming the next PM. This might lead to his changing partner mid way and once again getting into bed with the BJP. In the process, he can bargain for a couple of berths at the Centre and also ensure a fair share of Lok Sabha seats from Bihar in 2019. The BJP may not be averse to such an arrangement, as it will pour cold water over all ideas of Opposition unity.
In West Bengal, the BJP may need to progress with a two pronged strategy of both organic and inorganic growth (by engineering defections) to give Trinamool Congress a serious challenge in 2019. The BJP lost the momentum after 2014 by dithering, but cannot afford to let go the fresh wind it has got in its sail post-UP. Mamata Banerjee is too astute a politician not to read these straws in the wind. So far she has been pinning her hopes on a national coalition. Would she revisit or recalibrate her strategy now, is a tantalising thought.
Similarly, how Naveen Patnaik will plan his rear-guard action to fight anti-incumbency in Odisha or smoke the peace pipe in private with the BJP, can be a political analyst’s delight to dissect.
These will be fascinating dynamics to watch in the coming months, much more interesting than the slow denouement of the Congress under the Nehru Dynasty.