The row over the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the flames of Marathwada, allies roaring like foes and the changing friendlier tones of political heavyweights who had till now been spewing venom! The one common thread in all these contradictory developments has to be the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Without waiting for the Election Commission, our politicians have gone on the offensive. This is an illusory battle. Please don’t be misled this time.
Much more is simmering in the political cauldron than is visible to you on the horizon. Here’s an example. One of the seniormost politicians in the country, Ram Vilas Paswan gave an ultimatum to his own government on the amendments to the SC/ST Act. Dalit MPs, including Ramdas Athavale, joined him. Now that the government has announced it will amend the law to overturn a recent Supreme Court order on the SC/ST Act, the question is: the government is your own and you have a majority in Parliament. Then why discuss your internal matters in the public? The sole intention appeared to be to create some hype and take credit so that adversaries could be hurt.
This was one way of battle. On the contrary, the Shiv Sena, despite being entrenched in the power corridors of Mumbai and Delhi, doesn’t miss any opportunity to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the top government leadership. Why do this? If you want to play the opposition, you should shun the fruits of power. The Shiv Sena is a large party, but even local regional outfits are behaving in a similar manner. The two national parties appear to be struggling to evolve strategies to stay above this morass. If you want, you can call it political saudebaazi (bargaining).
The Congress, too, is suffering owing to this bitter negotiation. The party has nominated Rahul Gandhi to decide on electoral alliances. Rahul knows he has to simultaneously grapple with the party’s internal and external affairs. He is making a Herculean effort, but when friends and foes join forces against you, the road ahead becomes arduous. Uttar Pradesh is a glaring example. Now that news is emerging that the Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Lok Dal are close to finalizing an electoral understanding, speculation is rife about who has got how much? The top leadership is silent on this. They know that any statement may cause dissent.
This unspoken agreement has given rise to another question: Are the Congress and the BSP also working in tandem for the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections? The BSP enjoys small pockets of support in these states. Similarly, Ajit Singh can be of marginal assistance in Haryana. Should they join them in these states? From the outside, these alliances appear to be very promising. But the Congress has reasons to be anxious. In the past, it has lent support to the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and diluted its own mass base. The experiment in Karnataka is an example of this.
Politics moves forward on the fuel of courage and conviction. These days, Rahul appears to be living by this credo. He wants to stop the BJP’s victory juggernaut in 2019. For this, he isn’t hesitating to seek the help of old friends of the party. The meeting between Sharad Pawar and Mayawati, Omar Abdullah’s Kolkata visit and Mamata Banerjee’s trip to New Delhi and during her visit, touching L.K. Advani’s feet. Leaders from many parties, including the Shiv Sena, met her. Encouraged by this, Didi made her position clear with two announcements: One, she wasn’t the prime-ministerial candidate. And two, the BJP will face a united opposition in 2019. Do you think all this just happened suddenly? Don’t be under any misconception. Nothing happens overnight in politics.
The BJP knows this coalition is going to place hurdles before its ashwamedh (juggernaut). Without delay, the saffron party evolved its own counterstrategy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Uttar Pradesh five times between 27 June and 29 July. He tore into the opposition on every occasion. The strong language used by Amit Shah on the NRC issue indicates that he was sending out a message to voters across the country, not just the North-East and West Bengal. The BJP knows there is only one answer to the problem of taking on a united opposition: polarize 50% of the voters by any means. But this is something the BJP and its leadership has been dreaming of for many years and have not managed to achieve. Amit Shah fights an election every day of the year to realize this dream.
The Congress and the BJP are adopting policies that are in conflict with each other. Both have their own pros and cons. Let us see who the nation decides to support.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin