On to semi-final

With the Election Commission announcing the dates of Assembly polls in five States the stage has been set for what politicians and commentators see as the ‘semi-final’ to the final match – the 2019 general elections. Several changes in the political situation have taken place over the last few months. The latest development is that Mayawati has decided not to enter into any poll alliance with the Congress. Akhilesh Yadav of SP has also dumped the Congress, alleging that Rahul Gandhi’s party was taking too long a time to make up its mind for him to wait. After BSP and SP turning away from the Congress, the Left also seems to have developed cold feet to the Grand Old Party. The CPI-M has remained vertically divided for the last couple of years on the question of forging an alliance of opposition parties including the Congress. Now the anti-Congress lobby in the party headed by Prakash Karat has got a shot in the arms.
However, the veering away of the BSP, SP and the Left from the Congress may not harm Rahul Gandhi and his party much. People’s perception of the Congress and Rahul has changing, and changing positively, for some time past. From his old ‘Pappu’ image, Rahul is fast maturing into an experienced politician. Though Prime Minister Modi is still far ahead of him in popularity index, recent opinion polls show that Modi’s popularity is slowing dipping while that of Rahul is slowly rising. There is a perceptible change in BJP’s attitude to Rahul as well. No longer does the saffron party draft junior spokesmen like Sambit Patra to rebut Rahul in press conferences or TV panel discussions. A battery of senior ministers like Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nirmala Sitharaman, etc. replies to Rahul’s criticism.
In public perception, next year’s general election is becoming more and more a battle between the BJP and the Congress, or between Modi and Rahul, whichever way one may put it. No other political party or alliance of political parties is seen to be the BJP’s main challenger. It is the Congress all the way. If the Congress wins the Assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, as pre-poll surveys indicate, then the political scenario will undergo a sea change in December. It will be the other parties that may seek alliance with the Congress for the Big Fight in 2019. Much will depend on the outcome of the Assembly polls.

Tuesday, 9 October, 2018