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Can a grand alliance stop the BJP in 2019?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-05-2017 Dipti Jain

As the 2019 elections come closer, the clamour for a united opposition to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to increase. In an interview to The Economic Times, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav—whose party is the biggest constituent of the grand alliance ruling Bihar—has called for forging similar alliances in some states to prevent the BJP from winning the 2019 elections. “We have come to the conclusion that if we unite West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab—from east to west—we can stop the BJP in 2019,” Yadav said in the interview.

How effective can such a strategy be?

West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab account for 175 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats in the country. To be able to form a government, a party or alliance needs to go beyond the 272 mark. Out of 336 seats won by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), 112 Lok Sabha seats came from these states. This means that the NDA would have been less than 50 seats short of the halfway mark without seats from these four states.

How vulnerable is the NDA to a grand alliance in these states? NDA’s lowest tally in these four states was during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when it could win only 34 out of the 175 seats. A state-wise analysis shows that performance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar explains a large part of fluctuations in the NDA tally in these states. This is understandable given less seats in Punjab and BJP’s limited support base in West Bengal.

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Clearly, Yadav is looking to repeat the Bihar grand alliance formula by bringing together the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, which put together have more than 40% of the popular vote.

However, it would be too optimistic to assume that this would guarantee a Bihar-like result. A Plainfacts column after the Uttar Pradesh election results had explained how the BJP has been building its own social coalitions in the state, which excludes Muslims as well as Yadavs and Jatavs, two castes which are the main support base of the SP and BSP.

However, there is a bigger challenge to a united plan to take on the BJP in 2019 elections. Yadav or any alliance advocated by him can do little to address a bigger chink in the opposition’s armour, which the BJP has been exploiting the most. In states including Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand, it is the BJP and Congress, which have traditionally been in contest with each other. With BJP forming state governments in Haryana and Assam from a position of little support before the 2014 elections, it is likely that these states too will face a BJP versus Congress fight in the 2019 elections.

These states account for 152 out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, and the BJP won 128 seats in the 2014 elections. Such was the Congress’s collapse that the BJP won all Lok Sabha seats in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the 2014 elections.

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A large number of these states (Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan) would go to polls before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Unless the Congress can recover some ground in these states or another opposition party can provide an effective challenge to the BJP, it is unlikely that a grand alliance envisaged by Yadav would cause a lot of worry to the BJP’s election managers.

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