FRIENDS FOR BENEFITS
FRIENDS FOR BENEFITS
As the nation gets into the thick of election season, alliances have become the favourite flavour of most vote-hungry political players on the national scene. While most of these alliances are undeniably opportunistic, in which party principles take a back seat to the quest of power, they are still within the realm of democracy and make for interesting stories replete with plots, sub-plots, speculation and analyses.
There have been plenty of those ahead of the upcoming big elections, and political pundits have been curious about some more than others.
With the Pulwama terror tragedy and Balakote surgical strike fresh in public memory, the pre-electoral political scene in Jammu and Kashmir has intrigued many political pundits.
After much dilly-dallying, when the Congress party and regional National Conference (NC) party finally decided to forge an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls in J&K. According to the terms of the alliance, NC president Farooq Abdullah and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad revealed, the two parties would engage in a "friendly contest" in three of the state's six Lok Sabha seats.
Dr. Abdullah, seeking re-election from the Srinagar constituency, will not have any Congress candidate pitted against him. In return Congress will face no competition from any NC candidate in the Jammu and Udhampur Lok Sabha seats. Ass for the remaining seats of Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh, the leaders of the two parties will engage in a “friendly” electoral fight.
Many experts reckon that if the NC and the Congress supporters in Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh give votes according to party loyalties, they may hand over the edge to rival parties such as the PDP, the Peoples Conference (PC) and the J&K People's movement (JKPM).
Although Dr. Abdullah’s chances of getting back to the Lok Sabha certainly improve with the Congress staying out of the electoral fray in Srinagar, the same may not be said for any of the other NC and the Congress candidates contesting in Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh because of a potentially suicidal "friendly contest" between the two alliance partners.
Only time will tell whether and how these two allied forces find a way to minimise the bitter dangers of their sweet alliance.
Moving down south, there are no such fears for the grand old party’s successful ruling alliance with Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in Karnataka. The two parties seem confident of keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party at bay by jointly contesting the 28 Lok Sabha seats across the state this month.
"With the JD-S and Congress contesting together, there will be no splitting of secular votes in the state. The seat-sharing pact well positions our parties to outsmart the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections," JD-S spokesman and a former Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Ramesh Babu revealed, adding that the prime goal of the coalition was to prevent the BJP from winning the majority seats.
While admitting that these coalition allies did engage in a bitter contest during the state assembly elections last year in May, and even continued to have “differences” in some constituencies, Babu assured that the leaders of the two parties were moving in the right direction towards bolstering their bond “right down to the worker level”.
The Congress party has also expressed belief that if a few leaders from both sides put an end to their differences, the coalition partners can retain power.
"If the JD-S and Congress stay united, they can project the failures of BJP at the Centre like the issue of unemployment. We can comfortably win the Lok Sabha elections if the parties avoid bickering," Congress state unit Vice President B.K. Chandrashekar said, adding that the BJP was highly unlikely to ride high on any kind of Modi wave in his state in the ensuing elections.
"The Modi factor did not work for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections in 2018 either, and it just about saved them in Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017. It is far less likely to work for the BJP in Karnataka during the general elections," Chandrashekar noted.
Besides, the Rs 48,000-crore farm loan waiver announced by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy is expected to have a big impact on the poll outcome. “Farm loan waiver is a palliative to farmers. If we didn't waive the loans, the indefinite suffering of farmers will continue," the Congress leader explained.
The BJP, on the other hand, lampooned the JD-S and Congress seat-sharing pact.
"The seat-sharing agreement is only on paper and is a superficial one. The two parties fought against each other in the Assembly elections in 2018. Their workers still can't stand one another and are spewing venom against each other," BJP state unit spokesman G. Madhusudhan pointed out.
The infighting between the two parties will only help BJP win more votes, he added.
"We are sure to gain more votes due to the positive work that has been done by the Modi government and also from the congenial atmosphere in the country after the recent air strikes against Pakistan in retaliation to the (February 14) Pulwama attack," the BJP leader asserted.
In the East, while the Congress and RJD – key members of the ruling Grand Alliance – have yet to reach a seat-sharing agreement in electorally crucial Bihar despite many rounds of discussion, it is a different story in Jharkhand.
In order to give the BJP a run for its money this year, the Congress, JMM, RJD and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P) together have formed another version of the Grand Alliance, hoping a repeat of 2004 results performance. Meanwhile, the BJP-led NDA expressed confidence about sweeping the Lok Sabha polls there just like the way it did in 2014.
"We will perform better than 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Our performance will improve in Santhal Pargna region. We are hopeful of snatching even the JMM chief Shibu Soren's Dumka Lok Sabha seat," said state BJP General Secretary Deepak Prakash.
He said: "Both state and Central governments have done lots of tribal-oriented work. Under the new leadership, our base has expanded among the tribal people."
While Jharkhand had been a BJP bastion since 1991 Lok Sabha polls, the saffron party got a drubbing by the Grand Alliance – comprised of Congress, JMM, CPI and the RJD – in 2004 where the Alliance won 13 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats, leaving only Koderma seat for the BJP.
In 2014, the Congress, JMM and the RJD again came together but did not do well, while the BJP won 12 seats. In 2014, the Congress, JMM and the RJD had fought on nine, four and one seats, respectively, but only JMM managed to bag two.
As per seat the sharing formula for the polls, the Congress, JMM, JVM-P and the RJD will fight seven, four, two and one seats, respectively.
"We will repeat the 2004 Lok Sabha results. BJP will face complete rout in the state. The Grand Alliance will contest unitedly. The people of the state are fed up with the polices of both Narendra Modi and Raghubar Das governments," said Supriyo Bhattacharya, JMM General Secretary.
Echoing Bhattacharya’s views, state Congress spokesperson Kishore Sahdeo said: "This time it will be difficult for the BJP to even open account in the state."
The BJP on its part is going to parliamentary polls in alliance for the first time with the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), which has been given one seat in the state what with its support from the sizeable Mahto community in the state.
And in the west, the big battle seems all set to continue between the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena coalition and the Congress-NCP combination in Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats (second only to Uttar Pradesh) and will see four phase voting on April 11, 18, 23 and 29.
Up again in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, probably the biggest, most high-profile three-way battle will play out between the BJP, Congress and the BSP-SP-RLD grand alliance, with the former seeming to be the firm favourite.
Yet the best thing about the 2019 general elections so far is the unpredictability of its outcome.