Just two weeks back, the pictures of opposition unity at the oath-taking ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka created waves in the national politics and became the biggest talking point in national media. The oath-taking ceremony attended by a large number of opposition leaders and chief ministers was seen as a big development for a broad-based anti-BJP platform before the Lok Sabha polls next year.
If the state elections scheduled for the end of the year in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are the semi-finals in the run-up to the general elections in 2019, then bypolls to four Lok Sabha constituencies and 9 assembly seats were no less than a warm-up match. Although it doesn’t make sense to read too much into the results of such warm-up matches, they definitely indicate the latest voting trend, vote share and the strength of the individual or combined political parties contesting elections.
Hence, from that perspective, the opposition can take some cheer from the bypolls. Boosted from the earlier success of the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, the BSP and SP contested the Kairana bypolls together by supporting a common RLD candidate. Congress which stayed away from the BSP-SP alliance during the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, this time joined them for the Kairana test.
The result was that in front of opposition unity, BJP lost the critical Kairana seat in LokSabha, which it won in 2014, to an RLD candidate jointly supported by the entire opposition. The BJP has now lost three by-elections in a row in UP, the state that sends maximum no. of representatives (80) to the LokSabha.
The opposition victories in bypolls (tally of 2-2 in LokSabha and 9-1 in assembly bypolls) were largely due to a strong and electorally relevant alliance, between regional parties, or between a national party and a regional one. While factors such as high fuel prices, jobs crisis and farmers distress may have also played a part, the main drivers of the results were alliance arithmetic and grassroots issues.
But the opposition parties need to keep in mind that the road ahead is not easy for them. The opposition needs to focus on its natural strengths if it wants to give a tough fight in 2019 elections. The opposition lacks a roadmap and a face with which they will be going ahead in elections. There is also an absence of a counter-narrative against the BJP. The Opposition really needs to be coherent and consistent in its approach.
The first task would be for each party to ensure its own support base and then to build local state-level coalitions. It needs to arrive at a mutually agreeable seat-sharing formula much before elections and then needs to campaign together effectively for each and every seat. Strong regional leaders and cadres, loyal caste arithmetic and strong grip on the roots of home-grown state’s culture, ethnic identity and vote base are crucial for fighting BJP in 2019 elections.