“No dream is too big. No challenge is too great. Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach.”
– Donald Trump
Political parties, when in Opposition, are the closest to the ground reality. Leaders have the mind space and inclination to gather ground intelligence. It is that ground reality which brings parties to realign their politics and tune it to changes. Same is the case with Bharatiaya Janata Party (BJP). When it was in Opposition, the saffron party was open to the reality and suggestions. But after coming to power the party changed its colour. All through the tenure of this government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisers have committed the greatest blunder of making the government a one-man affair. It is all about Modi. More than 100 million voters in five states across India went to the polls in November and December. The results announced on December 11 put the current governing BJP led by Modi on the defensive: they didn’t win a single state. With national elections to be held by May 2019, the narrative has shifted in India. For the first time in a while, the BJP no longer looks invincible. While there is no doubt that the BJP is the dominant pole of Indian politics today—and by a bit—the party is not really invincible. It is worth noting that even in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections—which the BJP swept—the party could not surpass the vote share it had in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Simply retaining the 2014 vote share in 2019 would not make the BJP invincible.
Whether or not a party leverages its core support base smartly by building effective alliances can have a large effect on its ability to convert votes to seats. The BJP has mostly outdone the Congress in this regard. The BJP’s 2014 performance is the best in terms of conversion of votes to seats by the two major national parties since 1984. The last few months have seen some interesting developments. On the one hand, Opposition politics has moved inexorably towards some kind of an anti-BJP coalition. On the other, the recent loss of the three Hindi heart-land states—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh—have sent shockwaves in BJP circles. In a panic reaction, the saffron party made significant concessions to its Bihar allies JD(U) and LJP in seat-sharing for the general elections. Swiftly moving to counter the fall-out of ex-ally RLSP joining the UPA and the LJP leader Chirag Paswan making dissenting noises, the BJP has offered JD(U) 17 seats, LJP six seats and an assured Rajya Sabha nomination to Ram Vilas Paswan.
If there is any prospect of Modi versus the rest in 2019 general election, it is not because everybody finds Modi invincible and has come together to defeat him. It is because the parties, which were already finding it humiliating to deal with the Modi-Shah duo, now also do not find it beneficial to have any deal with the Modi-Shah-led BJP. The magic of Modi is surely on the wane, but he still has unlimited money, an uncritical media and an unmatched election machine with him. So, BJP versus the rest may or may not happen.