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BJP weary of proposed grand secular alliance

Monday, May 14, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi
With the exit polls conducted by various news agencies and media houses predicting a kind of hung assembly in keenly-contested Karnataka, those involved in power politics have already began assessing situation based on various possibilities. The exit polls are also not exactly on the dot and may vary with the actual results so it is better to wait till the actual results are out rather than discuss causes and effects of the most keenly contested assembly election in the country.
However, without waiting for the results there are certain trends and major announcements made during the heat of the hectic election campaigning which have already created ripples in the political circles and people are assessing reasons behind such observations and its possible impact on the body politic.
The Karnataka elections are important as everybody conceded that it is going to be trend setter and set the tone and tenure of the election campaign for the coming general elections for the Lok Sabha scheduled in 2019. There are three assembly elections before the country faces the actual final fight in 2019 but these elections are not being taken so seriously as the one for Karnataka. One of the many reasons was the fact that the BJP considered it as a gateway to the Southern states and a dent in the Congress confidence.
Rahul Gandhi, who led the Congress campaign by camping in Karnataka for more than a month, said during the campaign that he was not allowed to speak in the Lok Sabha and would like to speak uninterrupted for 15 minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi kept quite on the issue for quite some time and took up challenge saying that he was ready for debate with Rahul at any place and anytime provided Rahul would not refer to any paper and speak any language of his choice.
With all kinds of possibilities being considered during the campaign, Rahul was asked whether he would become prime minister if his party gets to the position, he retorted saying, “Yes, why not?”
Actually, there was nothing wrong in such assertion and exhibiting his desire to lead the country but Rahul Gandhi’s friends as well as foes were confused by the timing of such assertion during an election campaign being carried out for a state legislative assembly. There will be lot of debate whether it was an impromptu reply or was it well considered observation to set the cat among the pigeons.  
Whatever may be reasons prompting Rahul Gandhi to make such assertions, the Bharatiya Janata Party was not going to let him go free without questioning his desire to lead the country.  
It actually provided a ready fodder, for   Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was not leaving any opportunity to hit back and ridicule Rahul Gandhi during his public rallies. Modi referred to dynastic tradition in the Congress Party and said there was nothing new in the Congress president, terming him   arrogant, immature and "namdar (dynast)" seeking power.
This also helped the BJP to turn the campaign from issue-based to war of words between Modi versus Rahul, obviously turning in favour of Modi who is more articulate and seasoned politician.
Modi took his own time to respond to the Rahul assertion to the prime ministerial aspiration and hit out with his story of how people form queues and wait for their turn instead of pushing their claim over others. While in a public meeting he narrated a story of a village where a water tanker comes in at early morning 3 am, and the people instead of queuing up throughout the night — put their buckets in a queue. However, when the tanker cames in at 3 am, a 'sarfira'   a 'dabang' (muscular person) comes out and places his bucket in front of everyone else's buckets. Modi claimed that Rahul had done something similar, ignoring senior leaders at the national level and claiming himself to be the prime ministerial candidate.
The BJP hit out at Rahul saying that he exhibited his dynastic mindset ignoring claims by other senior politicians from the regional   parties.
Modi used to ask people in rallies whether the people of the country will   accept such an immature dynast for prime ministerial post or reject him?" Modi had said. Rahul also hit back at the Prime Minister Modi, turning the entire campaign into Modi versus Rahul Gandhi fight, relegating the state leaders like chief minister Siddaramaiah and Yedduyurappa to background.
Whatever may be the outcome of the Karnataka assembly elections, the BJP has succeeded in using Rahul’s assertion as a prime ministerial candidate to divide the opposition camp. Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party was quick to question the timing and propriety of the announcement. Another prospective ally TRS has been showing some reservations about the leadership of the Congress Party.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has not made any comment but certainly would not like the issue of leadership being settled before the actual poll. Her political party, Trinamool Congress has 34 members in the Lok Sabha (34). She met large number of opposition leaders in Delhi and is not very happy with the Congress leadership for the proposed anti-BJP front for the coming 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Janata Dal (S) had shown interest in the anti-BJP front launched by the Congress but in Karnataka, the JD(S) was in an in-fighting mood and preserving its own identity and strength was on top of its agenda rather than create some anti-BJP front in Karnataka.
The BJP, in an election mode, was more sympathetic to the JD(S) when Rahul passed some remarks hurting former prime minister H D Deve Gowda. The Congress described JD(S) as B team of the BJP, closing doors of the JD(S) which may emerge as a king maker.  
The Karnataka election has also seen Mayavati’s BSP partnering with Gowda's JD(S) in Karnataka. Mayavati attended a rally in Karnataka along with top JD(S) leaders where she was hailed as a national leader who could be an alternative to Modi in 2019.The Congress is worried with such trends emerging out of the Karnataka elections. Many more regional parties are still keeping their options open and will be deciding about their national positions only after the results for Karnataka are out. If the Congress fails to retain its hold over Karnataka, then the other regional political parties would start taking different   positions prior to the 2019 general elections.
Once the election results of Karnataka are out and the state government settles down, the BJP would keep a close eye on what is happening in the opposition camp and will try to ensure that the Congress does not emerge as the consensus candidate to lead the anti-BJP campaign for the year 2019. The party has seen what happens when two enemies but powerful regional parties come together to defeat the BJP during recent bye election to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. So, it will do whatever is possible to keep the opposition divided on the issue of leadership of the proposed anti-BJP front.
The Congress will have to do a lot of tight rope walking to keep balance and attract more anti-BJP parties to join the grand secular alliance to take on Modi government in 2019. It will become easier if it retains Karnataka and stop the BJP’s winning streak.
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