Gujarat 2017, Dress Rehearsal For India 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat  may well witness a full dress rehearsal for the 2019 general elections with a Congress helmed combined opposition firming up an alliance to take  on the BJP in the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha  elections due later this year.

The building blocks of an opposition alliance were first put together in the Bihar elections in 2015 which saw Nitish Kumar return to power at the head of a coalition comprising his bitter political rival Laluprasad Yadav’s RJD and the Congress. Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party had opted out of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance)virtually playing into the hands of the BJP by putting up candidates in almost all the seats but the ploy did not work. A family fracas later with son Akhilesh Yadav dominating, the ruling SP firmed up an alliance with the Congress for the just concluded Uttar Pradesh polls but Mayawati’s BSP remained the loose cannon  and the triangular contest saw the BJP sink the opposition in still waters to annex the state.

Annihilation teaches you to analyse .If an upbeat BJP realizes the importance of Gujarat, a chastened opposition also feels the need for presenting a united front to take on a party which has ruled the state for almost two decades at a stretch and now sits comfortably placed at the Centre as well.
 The election scene in Gujarat has begun warming up with the NCP and the JD-U going in for a poll hug, urging the Congress to join in as well and the BJP holding a meeting of it’s  state executive at the hindu pilgrimage town of Somnath from April 21.

Both the NCP and the JD-U announced their poll alliance in Ahmedabad on April 7.

Though both Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Nitish Kumar’s JD-U do not count for much in Gujarat, the state assembly polls in the state due this Nov-Dec could well become a precursor to the grand alliance that the opposition is seeking, to take on the BJP nationally in 2019.The opposition unity moves in prime minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat thus acquires added importance. It is in this backdrop that the assertion by the local NCP-JD-U that they were open to an alliance with the main opposition in Gujarat has political meaning. Very recently NCP leader Sharad Pawar had a meeting with Gujarat Congress Legislature Party(CLP) leader Shankersinh Vaghela in Ahmedabad. A day later Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki said that his party was open to an electoral tie-up with like-minded parties.”While we are capable of fighting the elections on our own, we are open to the idea of a joint front against  BJP in the ensuing Assembly elections”,he said.

Meanwhile, in a virtual affirmation of this line of thought, the Congress national leadership on April 10 had a meeting with many opposition party leaders to explore a broad based unity of like minded parties and discuss the ‘growing dangerous agenda’ of the ruling party and government.

The meeting attended by 16 major opposition parties, as a first united step, urged the Election Commission to revert to paper ballots as the centre was holding back funds for ensuring voter verifiable paper audit trail(VVPAT).These included, among others, BSP,TMC,JD-U,RJD,NCP,CPM and CPI.

The  closest test of this opposition unity resolve, however, is expected to be in the  Gujarat Assembly elections this year.

In the 182 member Gujarat Assembly the Congress has a strength of 57,the NCP two and the JD-U only one with the ruling BJP accounting for the rest. The NCP, however wields influence in Charotar belt of central Gujarat while JD-U has a following in some tribals areas.

The NCP, however has had a none-too-happy experience with the Congress in Gujarat in the 2012 State Assembly elections.So said NCP leader Praful Patel pointing out that Congress candidates had filed nominations in all the nine seats allotted to the NCP in the last assembly polls.

JD-U leader K.C.Tyagi cited the example of the last Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections to point out that though Congress had a mere five seats in Bihar, JD-U offered it 40 seats and as a result it’s tally rose to 28 seats.”It’s time to reciprocate in the same spirit of magnanimity”,he added.

Both Patel and Tyagi pointed out that the BJP has been in power in the state for over two decades and all political entities have failed to uproot it from Gujarat.”It is high time that all democratic and like-minded  forces pooled their might in a political alliance to take on the saffron brigade.

Gujarat Congress spokesperson, Dr Manish Doshi while agreeing with the concept of unity amongst secular minded parties said that there was need to factor-in the situation prevailing on the ground.”It is the Congress and the BJP which have traditionally been battling it out. We need to be realistic in our aspirations if we aim to restrict the BJP. However the final decision in matters of the alliance are taken at the national level”, he added.

The state BJP executive meeting in Somnath coupled with prime minister Narendra Modi’s eleventh visit to Gujarat in recent times has fuelled  speculation that the BJP led NDA may be looking at early elections in Gujarat.

More grist to the early poll rumour mill was added by CLP leader Shankersinh Vaghela when he told mediapersons recently”expect the Gujarat Assembly to be dissolved early.No problems,though,we are prepared”.

Widespread speculation notwithstanding, this hardly looks possible. Why would a party in power forego the opportunity of launching a state funded publicity blitzkrieg in the run up to the polls?

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