Modi hits back at Congress, sets tone for big clash of 2019
Fifty weeks before the next general election for the 17th Lok Sabha and the BJP seems to be ready to don the war paint for the big clash of 2019 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounding the bugle in his reply to the President’s address in Parliament.
Taking fresh digs at the Congress for its record on corruption and management of the economy between 2004 to 2014, Modi today made it clear that he will not allow any criticism to go unchallenged – and that he will take the lead in personally and aggressively combating his opponents. In a speech marked with repeated jibes at the Congress, the PM made it clear that he would not surrender even an inch to rivals. Reacting to the speech, many observers of the political scene feel that the PM has made it clear that the fight for 2019 is engaged and while these may be early skirmishes – the tone for the big battle will only become harder in the months ahead.
Modi is known to be an aggressive speaker and never lets go an opportunity to pin down his rivals. That has been his political makeup from the days he was suddenly catapulted to the office of Gujarat Chief Minister in 2002 from an organizational post in the BJP. The attitude has so far brought rich political dividends.
The blame for setting the mood for the next general elections a year in advance does not lay with Prime Minister Modi only. All the parties, BJP allies and the principal opposition, have been acting in a similar manner. The Telugu Desam Party, the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, which have been part of the Modi government for the past four years have been making discordant noises in the recent past.
The BJP allies have been acting tough largely to cater to their regional constituencies and to strike a hard bargain with the BJP in the run up to the next general elections. The final contours of the ruling coalition as well as the Congress-led opposition would be known only once the elections draw nearer.
A certain churning is already underway in Bihar where the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of Upendra Khushawa and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) of Jitan Manjhi have moved closer to BJP bête noire Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav. Both have been aligned to the BJP for the past four years and might have been guided by local consideration in distancing from the BJP.
The principal opposition, Congress party, has been holding discussions with other like-minded parties to put together an alliance to challenge the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The current budget session of Parliament has seen close coordination and cooperation between the non-BJP groups. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) central committee has ruled out any chances of alliance with the Congress. This may result in an alliance between Trinamool Congress and the Congress in West Bengal to keep BJP out of the fray. Recent bye-elections have shown the BJP has emerged as the distant second to Trinamool Congress led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The coming months will witness Congress and the BJP locking horns in regional elections. Mehalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, the three north-eastern States will go to polls later this month to elect their Assemblies. Karnataka will be the bellwether State that will elect its Assembly in April. BJP seeks to oust the Congress under Chief Minister Siddaramiah.
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will elect their Assemblies towards the end of the year. The recent bye-election results in Rajasthan have added to the woes. The governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh face anti-incumbency of 15 years and reverses in these States could make the 2019 elections a close call.
But then Modi is a smart politician who is known to spring surprises on his rivals at the last minute.