Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has shared the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, but has not agreed on seat-sharing arrangements. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has shared the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, but has not agreed on seat-sharing arrangements. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Elections 2019 dates announced, focus now shifts to forging alliances

  • Even as BJP banks on PM Narendra Modi to win Elections 2019, alliances could hold the key to forming the next government
  • While opposition parties are talking about a united front, there's no clear decision on how they'll battle the BJP-led NDA

NEW DELHI: New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is forging new alliances and trying to put its house in order before Lok Sabha elections begin on 11 April, when it faces off against a loosely stitched but resurgent coalition of opposition parties. Even as BJP banks on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to power for a second straight term, political alliances could hold the key to the national elections this year.

While opposition parties are talking about the idea of forming a common anti-BJP front to defeat the ruling party in the polls, the plan has faced several setbacks, with no clear decision on how they will battle the BJP-led coalition.

Senior BJP leaders said that while the party is comfortable in the northern part of the country, it has been working to find new alliance partners in the North-East and in southern states, where it has not been able to play a dominant role, except in Karnataka.

“If we look at our alliance with Shiv Sena, BJP has managed to convince them to contest together in Maharashtra. In this election, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) is back with NDA and the party has managed to ally with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu," said a senior BJP leader, who is part of the party’s strategy.

The alliances in north-east states are already formed and BJP has an alliance partner in each of the eight states in north-east."

But BJP has lost a crucial ally in Andhra Pradesh, as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is no longer in NDA and BJP does not have much political presence in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Two BJP members said the party has been more than accommodative with alliance partners to prepare itself for the challenge posed by opposition parties in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra.

The three states together have 168 seats and NDA had won 145 of them in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

However, BJP has suffered setbacks in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it lost power to arch-rival Congress just before the national polls. BJP had bagged 62 out of 65 Lok Sabha seats in these states in 2014.

The road ahead for BJP will be challenging as the party had won 282 seats in the 2014 polls, but its present strength in the Lok Sabha is 268, after losing 14 bypolls in the last five years.

A key loss was the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, which was represented by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. In Phulpur, BJP lost the by-election for the seat vacated by deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. It also lost in Kairana.

The common thread in these three bypolls was that BJP was facing the combined might of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

While NDA has managed to put its house in order in most states and Modi has held at least 40 public meetings in the last two months, the opposition is yet to find a common ground to come together against NDA.

The tussle between Congress and regional parties is most visible in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, where Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have shared the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi at recent meetings but have not agreed on seat-sharing arrangements.

“In most states, where we aimed to have an alliance, we are hopeful of going ahead with a united face. Either formal alliances have already been announced or seat sharing will be announced soon, which includes states like Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In Bihar too, talks are in final stage and we are confident we will strike a fair equation with RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal)," a senior Congress leader and parliamentarian said, requesting anonymity.

While Karnataka became an example of opposition unity when Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) came together to form the government, there is no clarity on seat sharing yet between the two parties, as the coalition has faced several problems since it came together.

“The only problem area we see right now is Uttar Pradesh, where formally we have said we are contesting alone, but some channels are still open. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has said it in public, too, that Congress is part of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh, but Mayawati is still taking a tough stance. We are hopeful there would be some movement there too," the leader added.

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