The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wrapped up its Pratinidhi Sabha in Gwalior last Monday. In attendance was Amit Shah, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, who promised RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that his party would deliver on a “Hindu agenda” if the RSS, the real foot soldiers of “Hindutva”, helped the party win.
Bhagwat, who in the same crucial meet in 2014, had stressed that the RSS would not chant “NAMo NAMo”, this time around said every RSS member should take part in this “Mahayagya” (grand ceremony).
RSS help is considered crucial for the BJP to win any election as the RSS boasts a large, committed and disciplined cadre. With his promise to the larger Sangh, Shah managed to rope in another crucial ally.
While Narendra Modi attacks the Opposition alliance as “Mahamilavat” (tainted), Shah widely considered arrogant, has eaten humble pie and got critical and fractious allies, the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal, on board. Shah has, in a deft outreach, managed to even get tiny allies such as the Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh to come around.
Maharashtra, with its 48 Lok Sabha seats and Bihar with its 40 seats, is crucial to any party winning an absolute majority in the 2019 general elections.
The BJP is the most well-funded political party in Asia, and Shah and Modi have hit the ground running when it comes to the 2019 campaign. Both are working around the clock campaigning, stitching up crucial allies and making strategic inroads in breaking up Opposition ties.
So what of the Opposition?
With just a month to go for general elections, it appears shambolic, caught up in petty bickering over the number of seats in the alliance, lacking a common agenda, a narrative or even an ability to put the Modi government on the mat for its many governance failures.
Post the Balakot strikes, the Opposition seems to be reeling, unable to regroup and seize momentum or even puncture the Modi narrative of “nationalism” versus the “anti-nationals”.
The BJP has successfully managed to conflate Modi and the party with India. Anyone asking questions is portrayed as an “anti-national”.
The Opposition is doing itself no favours by not focusing on its own narrative. Consider this: while the well-oiled BJP juggernaut rolls on with just a month to go, the Opposition has not even got a common minimum programme. It is a disparate bunch of giant egos yoked together with a common ambition of being prime minister. While, Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief, and Mayawati, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo, have cobbled together an alliance, the cadres of both the parties, historic caste enemies in Uttar Pradesh, can’t seem to get over old grudges.
Those who are not getting tickets are defecting to the BJP.
Shah has also helped Akhilesh Yadav’s estranged uncle set up his own party to contest every seat and cut Samajwadi Party votes.
The Congress, which should have acted as a lynchpin of Opposition unity, is busy squabbling with every putative ally. With weeks to go, it does not even have a campaign slogan and a tag line in place. Says a senior leader: “Modi and Shah have been gifted by God with this Opposition. Instead of harping on Rafale, what stopped Rahul Gandhi from taking 20,000 youth and protesting outside Modi’s residence for the lack of jobs after Modi said he will create 10 crore jobs. That is a real bread and butter issue which would have struck a chord.”
Gandhi despite, coming a long way, still does not have a clear image in the eyes of India. He also lacks a personal chemistry with senior Opposition leaders which would help in alliance building.
The giant egos of the Opposition ensure that they view each other with huge suspicion. And Modi is capitalising on that, creating doubts on their governing abilities. What is conveniently forgotten is the truly mediocre Modi track record in governance – from demonetisation to foreign policy flip flops and a battering of institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India.
So at this point Modi and Shah appear to be in control. But a week is long time in politics and things could still change. Watch this space because we will bring definitive answers and analysis.