Going by the combative tone of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Parliament, it appears that he has virtually sounded the poll bugle. At a time when efforts are under way, albeit in a very tentative and clumsy manner, to build an anti-BJP formation at the national level ahead of the 2019 general elections, Modi has raised the stakes and used the floor of Parliament to tear into the Congress, holding it responsible for all the ills facing the country, from poverty to corruption. While replying to a debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, he outlined at least seven deadly sins of the Congress — Partition, PoK, Dynasty worship, Emergency, Bofors, Corruption and NPAs. The aggressive tenor in attacking the opposition comes against the backdrop of BJP’s pyrrhic victory in Gujarat, humiliating drubbing in Rajasthan byelections and the growing tension with its allies like the Telugu Desam Party. The NDA is also coming under increasing opposition attack on its handling of the economy and the pressing issues of unemployment, agrarian crisis and crumbling informal sector. Modi has virtually set the agenda for the elections and punctured the Congress’ new-found aggressive posturing, saying the opposition party’s sermons on democracy sounded trite and hollow given its long history of abusing the democratic traditions in the country. The Prime Minister’s oratory was no doubt impeccable, particularly when he talked about how the previous Congress regimes misused constitutional provisions to dismiss the opposition-ruled States with impunity, but it would have been more appropriate if he had thrown light on his government’s strategies to create jobs and deliver on his party’s promises.
The 2019 polls will no doubt be a battle of alliances. The key to success lies in forging smart alliances. While the sulking allies of the BJP are expected to raise their pitch and become assertive ahead of elections, the opposition parties, despite being a disparate group driven by divergent interests and personal ambitions, will step up efforts to stitch together a broader coalition to take on the NDA at the hustings. But, the opposition grouping has a long and difficult path ahead, as they have egos to shed, seats to share and personal ambitions to be set aside. The key question remains whether a heterogeneous mix of parties can work under a single leader like Congress president Rahul Gandhi. NCP chief Sharad Pawar and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, key players in any anti-BJP formulation, are known to be averse to play second fiddle to the Congress. The return of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the NDA fold and the incarceration of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have come as a severe blow to the efforts to build an anti-BJP alliance.