2019 general elections being a few months away, the haze that had surrounded the political scenario at the national level is slowly vanishing. The BJP seems to have come to a conclusion that it should not go in for simultaneous polls across the country but instead club some of the states where elections are due later this year. The BJP which does not want to be elbowed out so easily is now burning midnight oil to come with all kinds of “master” strategies to see that the Congress is kept at bay.
Challenges galore for both Congress, BJP
Passing the crucial bill to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes which gives powers on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is a major move in that direction. The duties of the NCBC include investigating and monitoring how safeguards provided to the backward classes under the Constitution and other laws are being implemented and probe specific complaints regarding violation of rights.
Under this measure, the NCBC will have the powers of a civil court while probing any complaint. Till date, the NCBC was simply a legal body, whose job is to advise the government regarding the inclusion or removal of caste/community lists.
From now on, this commission can effectively work towards the welfare and upliftment of people belonging to the socially and educationally backward classes. This commission will also discharge other functions related to the protection, welfare, and development of the backward classes and empower them by utilising the inherent powers of Articles 16(4) and 15(4) under the Constitution.
This gives the BJP a golden opportunity to tell the people that it is the only party which cares for the welfare of the BCs and OBCs. They can now go to town saying that they have done what the Congress did not do for 70 years. The BJP is also contemplating to take up categorisation of other backward classes so that the Prime Minister who won the hearts of voters with slogans like Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas last time can project himself as Pichade Vargon Ka Pradhan Mantri.
The government would also perhaps announce special incentives or benefits for the OBCs on the eve of the elections. With the opposition parties trying to exploit the caste cards, the BJP wants to take on the rivals using the same weapon. This assumes greater importance since the Kapus in Andhra, the Jats in Rajasthan and the Marathas in Maharashtra have been agitating for reservations.
This move would also help the saffron party to give a tough time to parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and Samajwadi party in UP. In Bihar, Kurmis and Yadavs are not with BJP. In UP the OBCs are a divided lot and are rallying behind non- BJP parties. The BJP feels that this move would split the OBC votes and with Congress not in a position to unite this section of the society, the BJP could reap benefit.
In this backdrop, the Congress has decided to vacate the space for smaller players to take the lead to unite non-BJP parties. This has thrown open doors for jostling among regional parties to occupy the vacant space. In fact, the unity façade had begun at Bengaluru after the Assembly elections. Interestingly for the first time the Congress too appears to be comfortable if someone else is in the driving seat.
This certainly is a step backward as the Congress Working Committee soon after anointing Rahul Gandhi as the Party President had announced that Rahul Gandhi would be the prime ministerial candidate. But having realised that there was a possibility of hung Parliament, it sent out a message that Congress has shed its earlier arrogance and that It was ready to shed its image of big-brother and support any non-BJP/RSS party for the top post. It has apparently reconciled to the fact that they cannot project Rahul as the prime ministerial candidate.
At one point of time it was felt that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu might take the lead but with Naidu making it clear that he was not interested, the Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be pitching for the post.
Given the current political landscape, the Congress party is well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It has become crucial for the grand old party to forge alliances. At the same time the Congress wants to defer the decision on who should become the next prime minister until it is known which party has won how many seats.
The Congress feels that politics being a dynamic situation and it being the largest party still may have the advantage but at the moment it does not want to give any indication that Rahul is waiting in the wings.
The aim of the opposition parties is the removal of Modi as Prime minister. Even if the Opposition cannot come to power, it wants to ensure that Modi would not become the Prime Minister for a second term. This can happen only if the BJP and its allies fall short of the majority and would have to look for support beyond NDA. The Congress believes that if this happens Modi will not be the next Prime Minister.
The front-runner as of now for the Prime Minister's gaddi appears to be Mamata. The stateless citizens issue has come at a convenient time for her. She is very aggressive and has warned the centre of a bloodbath if it goes ahead declaring 40 lakh people as stateless. Being a shrewd politician, she is trying to enlist the support of TDP as well. She has been praising Naidu and is in touch with him and his MPs. She has also invited Naidu for a proposed conference of all non-BJP parties which could come together.
There are indications that the Congress may not find Mamata objectionable if it is reduced to a stage where it would have to support a candidate outside the Congress to become the prime minister should the dice fall in its favour, giving an opportunity for the formation of the non-BJP government.