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One-man show! 2019 is going to be a presidential-style campaign

Swapan Dasgupta

The broad political trends arising from the outcome of the five Assembly elections have, by now, been identified and digested. The Congress, it is clear, is on a mighty high, having wrested control of three Hindi-speaking states from the BJP. Its leader Rahul Gandhi, hitherto the object of derision and mockery, has established his claim to be taken seriously. Many of those who hate Prime Minister Narendra Modi with passionate intensity now accept Gandhi as a credible alternative face for the election next year. Conversely, the self-confidence of the BJP has suffered, and a question mark has been placed on its ability to repeat its spectacular 2014 performance. Even those unwilling to attach excessive national significance to regional elections now believe that the outcome of the forthcoming general election is not pre-determined. Regardless of the outcome, every vote will be bitterly contested.

The terms on which the 2019 general election will be contested are also becoming visible, although unanticipated intervening events could alter things. First, since it has been established that the popularity of Modi far exceeds the natural appeal of the BJP, the ruling party will do its utmost to make the leadership of the Prime Minister the dominant issue of a parliamentary contest. Like Indira Gandhi did in the past, a vote for an NDA candidate will be projected as a vote for five more years of Modi.

Secondly, while the Congress will be inclined to project its party chief as the rival presidential candidate, it will try and blend a presidential and parliamentary contest. This is not because the Congress has tempered its desire to re-emerge as the principal, if not dominant, national party but because the appeal of the de-facto challenger is far less than that of the incumbent. In 2014, the awareness of Modi was patchy and corresponded to the BJP’s areas of influence. After a full term as Prime Minister, Modi is an instantly recognisable face in every corner of India. He is a known commodity. Rahul is not similarly blessed as yet. For the Congress, it makes greater sense to highlight its opposition to Modi than project the leadership attributes of the Gandhi dynast. If Modi is anxious to view the general election as one big war, the Congress will be inclined to fight localised battles in the seats it contests.
Finally, there is the complicated question of the proposed Mahagathbandhan. Traditionally, alliances have involved two distinct routes: the pre-poll alliances, where the allies have seat adjustments, and the post-poll alliances, where erstwhile competitors come together to form a government. The proposed Grand Alliance, it would seem, is seeking to combine both approaches. There may be state-level alliances against the BJP, and there will probably be states where the NDA candidates will be involved in multi-cornered contests. For them, the unit of battle is not the country but the constituency.

The proposed Mahagathbandhan seems based on two strands of understanding. First, there is an attempt to reach a conclusion that whatever the nature of the electoral contest, the victorious candidates will come together after the election in an anti-BJP front. Second, as of now, the broad consensus is that the question of who will lead a government — in the event Modi fails to secure a majority — will be left unaddressed till after the election. The regional parties, including the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamool Congress and the Telangana Rashtriya Samity, feel that if their combined strength exceeds that of the Congress, a new prime minister should be chosen from their ranks. A combination of regional parties will, therefore, be the counterweight to any possible overbearing attitude of a Congress that hopes to emerge as the largest party in any anti-Modi formation. Of course, there is absolutely no surety that the regional parties themselves will agree on a common candidate, either before or after the election.

The Mahagathbandhan, as presently envisaged, is a convoluted, multi-layered parking lot of those with a common hatred of Modi and the BJP. The model is based on an acceptance of both its transitory nature and political incoherence. Although described as a federal arrangement that accommodates regional aspirations, the possibility of it becoming a confederal menagerie with partners pulling the Centre in conflicting directions remains high.
In a presidential-style campaign, Modi is certain to invoke the fear of instability and the consequent loss of national momentum in the event the NDA fails to secure a majority. The counter argument that a weak and fragmented India is preferable to a Hinduised India will require magical persuasiveness to become saleable.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

via TOI Blog

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One-man show! 2019 is going to be a presidential-style campaign


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