The Congress–JD(S) alliance on Tuesday won the Karnataka by-elections 4:1 but what may appear a shot in the arm for the Congress leaves numerous questions unanswered--is there something in between the lines? Did the BJP play a strategic card which just passed unnoticed by the Congress leadership? Can strong regional alliances take on the aggressive BJP? Perhaps yes or may be no but there seems a lot more behind the scene at work.
The trail of possibilities
The Karnataka bypolls might have not been keenly contested by the BJP. It seems as if they have intentionally let go of them because of some obvious reasons. May be, BJP’s loss in the Ballari constituency is a subtle message to Sushma Swaraj who in past was alleged to have close links with the mining baron Reddy brothers, conveying that the diamond belt is still stronger than the cow belt faction in the saffron party.
Another possibility could be, the BJP knows very well that the win in Karnataka will be credited solely to the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. As a consequence of which Rahul will get projected as the most acceptable face for the PM post. This is what the BJP ideally wants because given the public persona of Rahul Gandhi, it can conveniently counter all his poll strategies. Rahul’s projections as the future leadership of the Grand alliance, will also curtail the Prime Ministerial aspirations of some of the political heavy weights.
The third take can be, with all recent wins of the Grand alliance partners,the BJP perchance wants to win the trust of Opposition parties on the EVM technology to ensure no hue and cry is made over EVMs during the final battle of the Lok Sabha polls, at the same time ensure the sanctity of the Election Commission.
The litmus test for the BJP
The litmus test for the BJP is the upcoming five state assembly elections. In the initial days, it appeared as if the Congress was in the driver’s seat in Madhya Pradesh but some latest developments have swayed public opinion. The Congress appears to be battling a strong infighting within the Madhya Pradesh unit which has also surfaced in public domain. This has given the BJP a chance to bounce back. Recent tiff between Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia has brought the feud in public notice. Reports also suggests that Kamal Nath appears unhappy with Rahul’s proximity with Jyotiraditya, as he may be eyeing the CM’s post as a reward for decades of his loyalty to the party. On the other hand, in the BJP, the leadership of Shivrajsingh Chouhan remains mostly in challenged with the saffron party also throwing its weight behind him. In spite of strong anti-incumbency, the BJP still has an edge, courtesy to the triangular contest within the Congress itself .
Also, in the Congress bastion in Mizoram, already there is dissent in the party and a few members have joined the BJP recently. And the anti-incumbency factor at play. However, the chief minister is confident of the people's faith in his government.
In Chhattisgarh, the fight between the Congress and the BJP may be spoilt by an ex-congressman, Ajit Jogi. He may emerge as the king maker or perhaps end up giving an edge to the BJP. Chances are there of dissent votes being cast for Jogi instead of the Congress, driven by the anti-incumbency factor. In case Jogi bags sufficient number of seats, the Congress may be forced to forge an alliance with him like Karnataka, giving the Chief Ministerial baton to Jogi despite winning more number of seats.
Rajasthan sees a trend of alternate government every five years. The BJP under the leadership of Vasundhara Raje Scindia may not have been able to win public sentiments but the Congress seems to be more organised. Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot are two pillars of the Congress here, but question arises whom will the Congress leadership favour. Reports suggests that while Sachin is close to Rahul, Gehlot is trusted more by Sonia. What may be the politics inside the party but it hasn’t surfaced in the open unlike Madhya Pradesh. Anti-incumbency against the Raje government and better perception management by the Congress gives it an advantage in Rajasthan.
So, is the BJP testing poll waters?
As the country enters into the election season, the BJP seems to be testing waters with these bypolls results. Its election machinery is yet to go full throttle and the coming days will witness a blistering campaign by the BJP to retain is strongholds. However, by now, the BJP must have realised that strong regional combinations may pose a challenge in 2019.