Just as opposition leaders fastened their seat belts for the rough electoral road ahead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifted gears for 2019 as the government has already got into an election mode with a publicity blitzkrieg to highlight four years of Saffron Raj.
The results of the Karnataka assembly polls clearly demonstrate that the battle in 2019 will not be a US presidential election-type personality clash between Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The BJP will have to gear up for Narendra Modi versus all scenarios scattered across the country. If the BJP is aiming to win through its very own vote bank consolidation, the anti-BJP alliance wants to consolidate the anti-Modi vote under one umbrella to stay relevant.
That is the reason why the Modi government’s fourth anniversary celebrations saw the opposition unity becoming the main target of Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah’s public speeches. The strategy is clear: project the 2019 contest as the battle between a clean, hard-working and development-oriented Prime Minister against a corrupt, discredited and failed opposition.
Prime Minister Modi is happy playing the victim card. The BJP will project how the opposition leaders have ganged up to stop Modi’s victory chariot.
While inaugurating two highways around Delhi, the Prime Minister targeted his opponents as those who were scared of the crusade against black money launched by him. At a public meeting in Orissa, he did not mince words in lampooning the opposition.
The Congress and other opposition parties have hit back in equal measure and have been relentless in attacking the government. If Rahul Gandhi came out with the Prime Minister’s report card and expectedly gave him low grades, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Choudhary reminded the BJP leaders about the death of a farmer in Baghpat not far from the place where the Prime Minister was delivering his speech at the inauguration of two highways in the state – one linking Delhi with Meerut and the Eastern Peripheral highway around the national capital.
If the opposition remains united, the BJP will be up against regional satraps in their citadels. The BJP had managed to castle these caste and regional bastions in 2014. But the story is likely to be different in 2019. Despite its string of victories in assembly elections in the last four years, the BJP looks vulnerable and certainly not invincible.
There is no doubt that while Modi remains the tallest among the leaders for the top job, he may not be able to win the numbers he got for his party in 2014. The NaMo wave has certainly calmed down.
A close look at the current standing of the BJP across the country shows that it has a majority on its own in only 10 states. It has no presence in some smaller states like Mizoram and Sikkim and a big assembly like Tamil Nadu.
Besides, its numbers are extremely low in state legislatures of Andhra Pradesh (4 out of 75), Punjab (3 out of 117), Kerala (1 out of 140), Telangana (5 out of 119) and Orissa (10 out of 147).
These states comprise 96 Lok Sabha seats (Andhra Pradesh – 25, Telangana – 17, Punjab – 13, Kerala – 20 and Odisha – 21). At present, the BJP has only one Lok Sabha seat in Orissa, its strength in Punjab is down to one from two after the death of Gurdaspur MP Vinod Khanna whose seat was wrested by the Congress in the by-election. The BJP has two MPs in Andhra Pradesh and one MP in Telangana and no presence in Kerala. This is clearly not the area of strength for the party but at the same time provides the opportunity to make gains.
Added to this list is Tamil Nadu where the BJP has no presence in the assembly but has one MP from the state which sends a sizeable 39 members to the Lok Sabha.
In some of the states where the BJP is part of the ruling party, it is standing on weak legs. The party has only 53 MLAs in Bihar assembly of 243. It has only 13 seats in Goa out of 40 and 25 in Jammu and Kashmir out of 87.
Where the BJP is part of the ruling coalition, it is not the main partner. Bihar is one such state where it has only 53 MLAs and is the third largest party after the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United). However, it has 22 MPs out of a total of 40 from Bihar. Goa has only two MPs, both belonging to the BJP. Jammu and Kashmir has five Lok Sabha seats out of which three are already with the BJP. Out of 47 seats in these three states, the BJP has 27.
It remains to be seen if the BJP is able to make gains in the areas it is not strong enough to stand on its own legs. In most of these states, the BJP is up against regional satraps instead of the Congress. The Tamil Nadu politics is muddled with multiple parties and the ruling AIADMK appears weakened by factionalism. The BJP is facing regional rivals in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.