With Prime Minister Narendra Modi comfortably ahead of the opposition, he has managed to keep at bay any threat to his leadership so far. He has managed this ever since he became the Head of Government on May 26, 2014.
Having completed three years in office last month, he has continued to gain in strength with hardly any opposition threat to him. Modi has consolidated his position over the last three years without any threat from any quarter.
This is because the BJP’s rivals have hardly tried to be competitive. Consequently, matters have been smooth sailing for him so far. At least as of now there is no leader anywhere close to emerging as a threat to Modi on the national scene. This is primarily on account of not a single leader in the opposition ranks being popular among large sections of society.
Given his high popularity ratings even after completing 36 months in office when the honeymoon period for a Head of Government starts waning, the chances of Modi enjoying a second consecutive five-year term as Prime Minister appears certain. It is primarily on account of a fragmented opposition.
It has been so since Modi secured a majority on his own for the Lotus party in the Lok Sabha in 2014 since its formation in 1980. The opposition is in desperate need of evolving its own socio-economic programmes different from that of the ruling BJP led NDA.
The BJP’s success lies in large measure to restructuring and effecting subtle changes in the major socio-economic programmes of the UPA with the Congress in the vanguard which has caught the imagination of the people.
If the Modi bandwagon is to the stopped in the general elections two years hence in 2019 then the opposition must not only remain united but ensure an effective challenge to the BJP.
On her part Congress president Sonia Gandhi tried to bring the opposition together late last month in May for putting up a common candidate for July’s presidential election.
Strategist Modi has once stolen a huge march over the opposition by announcing that their Presidential nominee in next month’s election for the Head of State will be Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit lawyer and a politician from Uttar Pradesh. Having served as Governor of Bihar since 2015, he has since resigned.
Having emerged from RSS stable, the ideologue of the BJP, the low profile Kovind, is a self made man proficient in politics and constitutional matters having a clean record. As a lawyer Kovind has practised in the High Court and the Supreme Court and is an expert in constitutional matters. He has been a member of the Rajya Sabha for two terms and hails from Kanpur Dehat.
Once again the opposition has been caught leaden footed. The first Dalit to occupy the highest Constitutional office in the country was K R Narayanan. On his part, Modi did not waste time in contacting some of the opposition leaders personally like Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and others to inform them that Kovind will be the BJP’s Presidential nominee.
This is also intended to send a clear political signal to the Dalits that the BJP is with them as well as seeking to allay apprehensions about caste disturbances being whipped up deliberately against them in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and some other BJP ruled states.
Be that as it may, many non-BJP opposition leaders met in Chennai recently and spelt out their political differences with the Centre. The important aspect is that these busy bodies have at least begun to sit together and discuss matters.
Another significant step is expected to be taken in Patna in August where Lalu Prasad Yadav proposes to invite a large number opposition leaders for a mass rally.
BJP’s stunning victory in the recent assembly elections in crucial Uttar Pradesh has created the necessary climate for bringing non-BJP parties together like the Left, the RLD, JD (U), NC, NCP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in a bid to form a coalition in the run up to the 2019 general elections which is representative of the country as a whole.
However, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has announced that the JD (U) will extend its support to Kovind. This has inevitably created fissures in the 18 party non-BJP opposition grand alliance.
This group has to identify and agree on minimum issues on which they can work together to effectively counter Narendra Modi’s policies. In any personality based contest Modi will be a runaway winner. Therefore, care has to be taken to focus on “issue based politics” in a bid to corner Modi and bring to the fore his blunders connected with national security as well as saddling the common man with disasters on social and economic fronts.
So far the Modi government has faced unprecedented Dalit turmoil with countrywide protests sparked by the suicide on the Hyderabad University campus by Rohith Vemula, the agitation in the wake of the atrocities perpetrated by the so called ‘gau rakshaks’ and the Dalit-Thakur violence in Saharanpur, UP.
With Modi having essayed his gambit, its impact on the Dalits is expected to be known in the medium to long term.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)