The BJP, however, calls the 'faceless coalition', a selfish one with nepotistic dynastic goals.

 The BJPs TINA strategy Regional parties in the south to counter it
news Politics Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - 13:40

Like a refrain, the phrase has been repeated again and again by different voices. From Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath to Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, BJP leaders have reverentially said, “There is no alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP.” 

In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP’s refrain has turned into a strategy to discredit the Opposition – primarily Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who is derisively referred to as ‘Pappu’.

By making ‘TINA’ – there is no alternative – one of their key strategies, the BJP has made the Parliamentary Election a clash of personalities, with all bets on PM Modi.

Though the BJP will directly clash with the Congress in many states in north, east or west India, it is in states like West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka that they will clash with regional giants. And parties in these states are getting ready to counter the BJP's TINA strategy.

K Kavitha, Lok Sabha MP and daughter of Telangana CM K Chandrasekar Rao points to history. Following the victory in the 1971 Bangladesh War, Dev Kant Barooah, who later became Congress President, famously proclaimed in 1974, “India is Indira, Indira is India”. Barooah’s slogan, as Ajaz Ashraf writes in is akin to the BJP’s today.   

Kavitha observes, “The Congress party depended heavily on Indira Gandhi. BJP’s campaign has been like that. It is similar to what it did in 2014 when the campaign was focused around Narendra Modi.” The counter strategy, she says, is to highlight what the ruling BJP couldn’t do.

Kavitha’s TRS and its party chief KCR have been leading efforts to cobble together a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative – a Federal Front – to take on the BJP in 2019. 

In three months, KCR has met a number of regional leaders – West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Karnataka CM and JD(S) chief HD Kumaraswamy, DMK Working President MK Stalin, former Uttar Pradesh CM and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Odisha CM and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik.

Arguing that only regional parties can highlight the issues of the people, and fulfill their aspirations, the TRS MP echoes KCR’s thoughts stating that that Congress and the BJP’s successive failed policies have hindered progress.  

“As of now, both national parties have been telling people what can be done. An issue in Tamil Nadu or Telangana is just one among a hundred other issues for a national party. A non-Congress, non-BJP alternative is needed. It is not about uniting against the government in power. It is about representing India as a federation of states. TRS’s proposal is to fulfill aspirations of all states,” says Kavitha. 

Pointing to a list of broken promises by the BJP including special status to Bihar, skyrocketing fuel prices and the Indian rupee’s free-fall against the US dollar, Kavitha says 2019 will be BJP versus regional parties.   

36 state/Union Territory elections

Like the TRS, the DMK also subscribes to the same strategy. Citing TMC leader Derek O’Brien from his book Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row, DMK spokesperson Manu Sundaram says, “Derek O’Brien makes a good argument. He says the Lok Sabha election will be 36 state/Union Territory elections. In each state, the best leader should be put forth – in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in Tamil Nadu, the DMK, in Karnataka – now the Congress and the JD(S) together. If you take on the BJP together, you can defeat it. That is what Mamata has also said and this strategy has found resonance among regional parties.”

But unlike the TRS, the DMK maintains that its ally Congress will be a part of this political bloc.

The road to 2019 has already witnessed frenemies coming together to bring down the BJP. Take for instance, the recent show of unity among the CMs of four states – West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Andhra’s Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka’s HD Kumaraswamy – over the political crisis involving CM Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.  

But there is no clear structure or consistency here. K Chandrasekhar Rao who first proposed the federal structure was missing at Kumaraswamy's swearing-in-ceremony and at the meeting with Kejriwal's wife. CPI(M) and TMC are arch enemies in Bengal, but Mamata and Pinarayi don't mind sharing the stage together.

More than just an anti-bloc?

The anti-BJP bloc, however, will be more than just opposing the ruling party at the Centre, says CPI(M) MP from Palakkad MB Rajesh. “It is not that regional parties are united to form an anti-BJP bloc. But the unity would be developed as a political force based on common issues, like it happened in the Arvind Kejriwal issue, which was a unity for federalism.”

As far as BJP’s TINA strategy is concerned, Rajesh notes, “Coming up with a personality-based contest shows the BJP lacks any achievements to project in their rule. They have no other way but to do that. We, the Left, would counter it with highlighting the failures of the NDA government and its disastrous policies. The NDA government lacked an alternative policy.”

Hitting out at BJP, DMK’s Manu argues, “If TINA is their campaign, then it is a concession of admission of defeat. It doesn’t matter who the alternative is. People should decide who the alternative is, the PM need not pick or appoint the rival. I feel by making it a personality contest, it means they done nothing for development, policies, their electoral agenda for 2014.”  

Telangana BJP spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao, however rejects the idea that the BJP’s strategy is a personality-based contest, stating “It is not a personality-based contest. It is the developmental outcomes of the BJP, and Modi happens to be the face of this agenda as of now. Our works speaks, they have not done in 60 years what we have done in 4 years. People will not go for perception, people will go with outcomes and numbers.”   

Emphasising that there is no alternative to the BJP and to PM Modi, Krishna Sagar Rao says, “No individual party can take on the BJP. Congress today is not in a position to take on the BJP by itself. It takes 20 parties to come together to take on the BJP. It goes on to show that the BJP is strong. This is survival politics.”

But will merely opposing the BJP be enough to not only sustain a Parliamentary campaign but to bring together an otherwise fragmented Opposition?  

One of the biggest tests for this regional bloc would be in naming the Prime Ministerial candidate, given that KCR, Mamata and Rahul will all be eyeing the PM’s chair.  

“They won’t come up with a face to this faceless coalition. This entire pack of losers will fall like a pack of cards. There is no sync- it is selfish, nepotistic dynastic goals,” says Krishna Sagar Rao.

One regional leader, who wished to remain anonymous, says, “A year ago, Kumaraswamy wouldn’t have tied up with Congress. If Pinarayi and Mamata can come together, times are changing. And we can acknowledge, it is about a fight for survival. Everyone has to bury differences. It is a mature acknowledgement that Mamata is the tallest leader in West Bengal and there is no point fighting. If people want to survive, they have to come together and oppose the BJP.”

(With inputs from Saritha Balan)

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