2019: It all boils down to stability!
By Karan Bhasin
Given that we are months away from the election fever, there has been a lot of talk about the 2019 elections and factors that will influence the election. This discussion has resulted in many stating the fact that elections of 2019 would not be based on personality of the Prime Minister against another opposition leader as the opposition would go into the elections without declaring a Prime Ministerial Candidate.
While the decision to not declare a prime ministerial candidate does prevent the contest into becoming a presidential style contest with it being fought on personalities, but at the same time it puts the opposition at a serious disadvantage. It is this disadvantage that most critics have understated in their considerations which lead them to a conclusion is erroneous: that a united opposition could challenge the Modi Government.
Even if the Opposition gets the arithmetic and the chemistry right, it would not be able to make a mark on the national front; in fact, it does invariably become a personality based election as it now becomes Modi versus the rest making Prime Minister the “outsider” in these elections. This narrative would sell easily in the north and all anti-incumbency that the opposition is hoping to cash on would simply disappear. The narrative makes the Opposition the existing ecosystem that failed the people of the country while Prime Minister Modi becomes the outsider who is waging a war against the system for the people of our country. Such imagery is powerful enough to render any counter narrative by the opposition as ineffective.
The issue of getting the arithmetic and chemistry right also assumes that the core vote bank of regional parties would remain intact and that this election would not be a wave election. The problem is that, it would be a wave election the moment the opposition parties come together because of India’s experience of instability under many such mahagathbandhans.
Opposition Unity has been well established as a myth by the Prime Minister both in the upper and the lower house. In the lower house, during the vote of no confidence, NDA emerged as a stronger alliance than in 2014 while despite having more members in the upper house, the Congress failed to win the election of the deputy chairman. This demonstrated the cracks in the opposition: if it can’t stand united before the elections then how can it run a stable government for the next 5 years?
To even get the alliance to work, a lot of egos and sacrifices would be made with Congress (and even other alliance partners) probably contesting on the lowest number of seats in recorded history of Indian General Elections (as a percentage of total seats of Lok Sabha). The Congress by contesting lesser seats may accommodate their alliances by doing so, but they would disenchant their workers and local leaders in the process making the party as a whole unstable thanks to infighting. The same may happen with other alliance parties who may not be able to handle their workers and thus, their ground management of the entire 2019 campaign would be visibly weak. This would further signal to the voters that the Opposition does not have its house in order.
This is not the first time that India is talking about a grand alliance, but the key question voters are asking is what is making all of them come together? People in India, are smarter than what they are given credit for and they all respond by stating “opportunism” as the main factor behind this unnatural alliance. It is interesting to see how stability becomes the key issue of the election and if stability as an issue can create a larger wave that could give India a full majority government. The Prime Minister enjoys a clean image and his humble origins add to the narrative of anti-establishment making him an outsider. This in itself helps him fight anti-incumbency in the north while the issue of stability generates the wave that can take the BJP pass the 272 mark.
The people of India are very different from most of us assume them to be. The growing aspirations of the country has created a shift in the issues on which people would vote. Vikas has become an anthem and people have realized the importance of political stability for vikas to take place. 2014 simple majority was by the hard work of the party to ensure Sh. Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister, but the party couldn’t have anticipated a simple majority of the BJP alone. If the simple majority of 2014 was by chance, the simple majority of 2019 would be by choice of the Indian voters.
If the opposition does unite, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the BJP cross a 320. 2019 is indeed a lost cause for the opposition so they might as well put on a respectable fight rather than dig their own grave by combining with the Congress. As far as Congress goes, whatever little shot at a face saver that the Congress had, has been quivered away by the immaturity of the Congress’s Supreme Leader.
Karan Bhasin is a Political Economist by academic training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @karanbhasin95. Views Personal.