Of late, there has been a lot of nervousness among the right wing regarding 2019. It is hard to believe that it’s been just a month since the same RW thought they were sailing towards victory.
First of all, the economy and the extreme overreaction to a drop in GDP in a couple of quarters. I am not a highly fashionable economist and so I will merely point out this simple thing:
Even the Right Wing has forgotten that in the Fiscal 2015-16, India had grown at its fastest pace in five years. Is it possible that all the big talking heads are missing out on the simple fact of the “high base effect”?
We’ll find all that out once the two difficult quarters : Apr – June and July – Sept pass. These were the two quarters when the economy stood still because of GST.
It goes without saying that the opposition will have a great time until we finally get to Q3 (Oct — Dec, 2017) of the current fiscal. But what you have to understand is that these few months are the best the opposition will ever get.
Have you noticed that the Congress didn’t actually oppose GST … they just desperately wanted it to be pushed back by another year? Why do you suppose that is?
It’s because they wanted these two bad quarters to happen in the last stretch of Modi sarkar before the 2019 elections. The problem is that (and they know it) over the next year, the Modi government will benefit from a “low base effect”.
Essentially over FY 2016-17, the government has paid the price for the economy growing at a five year high in FY 2015-16. Now, over the last two quarters of FY 2017-18, the government will actually reap the harvest for the slowdown in FY 2016-17.
The government knows this too. That is why they stuck steadfastly to the July 1 deadline this year. They wanted the difficult phase to pass well before the election year.
Let’s talk about the election now. As I say all too often, nobody can seriously predict an election 18 months in advance. What we can do however is look at the arithmetic and make an educated guess, like if Australia were playing Sri Lanka in a Test Match. Every election has its own dynamic, but the underlying arithmetic is always right … on average.
The BJP has three simple advantages going for it that will allow it to “dominate” politics for the foreseeable future.
(1) Among every caste, the BJP is at least second choice. Today a Hindu will typically look to BJP and Modi unless a specific caste or regional leader blocks the way. A Yadav in Bihar is not averse to BJP, he is just more loyal to Laloo Yadav. As such, whenever a regional leader does not look to be in a winning position, his voters will go with BJP. This lets BJP walk away with pretty much all of the incremental vote.
On the contrary, the Congress has been eliminated as a voting choice among many castes.
(2) BJP has a much bigger national bucket than the Congress. This is the key difference between Modi’s government and that of Vajpayee. Even during the Vajpayee years, the Congress was dominating India’s politics. The Congress had won many many more votes than the BJP in the 1999 elections and while Atalji ruled from Delhi, the Congress kept winning state after state. At one point, it had 15 Chief Ministers.
As such, when the freshness of a BJP government wore off and there was a slight change in the air, the Congress had a comeback in 2004. Today the Congress’ strongholds of yore have withered away. Their 2004 victory centered around a sweep of Andhra Pradesh. In recent bypolls in Andhra’s Nandyal, I think the Congress got around 0.2% of the vote. In absolute numbers, I think the Congress couldn’t get even 1000 votes.
The BJP has also cleaned up the Congress from the North East. The Congress has gone out of reckoning in urban Maharashtra. Remember that the Congress merely got 6 seats more than BJP in 2004. That six seat lead happened merely because of the Congress’ better geographical spread. Looks impossible now.
(3) Voter wants a stable government of 272+ : If there is one undeniable trend in Indian politics in the last 15 years, it is the voter’s decisive preference for a clear mandate. When Uttar Pradesh handed Mayawati a shock majority in 2007, everyone thought it was an exception. But no, the trend continued … weak coalitions were rejected everywhere. The Congress tally of 206 seats in 2009 was a huge step towards single party rule. That’s before the voter gave Modi a clear majority.
That trend has remained intact well after 2014 and in some ways has actually sharpened. One sided sweeps seem to be more common today than at any point I can remember.
The Congress isn’t getting a one sided sweep in 2019. That’s for certain. Then who will get that one sided sweep? Who else?
The BJP’s Achilees heel is, of course, Mahagathbandhans. Maybe I am a contrarian, but the 325/404 landslide in Uttar Pradesh terrified me. Hopeless opposition parties who think they have nothing to lose are the biggest problem for BJP. Because that’s when they enter into grand alliances … simply to survive.
When Yogi Adityanath was made CM, I read it as a near desperate move by the BJP to at least try and put up a fight in 2019. Because there’s no other way the BJP could beat a united BSP, Cong and SP combine.
To keep the grand alliances from forming, the opposition must feel like they have a real chance. If opposition leaders fight 2019 like a battle for political survival, they will make all the compromises needed to win. And they will win.
On the flip side, if the opposition thinks they have a real chance, they will each begin to push their own agendas. Only then will the BJP have the chessboard it wants for 2019, with the opposition divided in at least three crucial states : Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. One should also count Assam and Delhi, perhaps Jharkhand and maybe even Haryana.
A Modi sarkar that looks to be under mild pressure is a Modi sarkar that faces a divided opposition in 2019. And a Modi sarkar that is all set for a second term.