Sometimes the effort is its own reward, no matter what the result. Neither the TDP, which moved the no-confidence motion, nor the Congress, the principal Opposition party, entertained the faintest hope of bringing down the Narendra Modi government a year before its term ends. But they reckoned the debating and voting exercise was still worth their while. For the Congress, and its still new president Rahul Gandhi, this was an opportunity to demonstrate that there is indeed a developing political chemistry behind the ragtag coalition of Opposition parties. But many of them had different reasons for voting against the government, and not all of them are keen on a Congress-led coalition. The TDP, for instance, wanted to use the vote to signal its clear break with the BJP as it prepares to fight the next election on the issue of the Centre’s refusal to give special category status to Andhra Pradesh. Far from drawing the battle lines for 2019 clearly, the motion brought to light differences within both camps. While the Shiv Sena, a partner in government, abstained from voting, the BJD and the TRS did not join ranks with the other Opposition parties. How the BJP will deal with the Sena’s defiance remains to be seen, but they need each other in Maharashtra: the BJP will probably need to renegotiate its terms of engagement with the Sena. Mr. Modi might have sailed through the vote comfortably, but this is no indication of how 2019 will play out.

If the BJP’s alliance concerns are focussed on Maharashtra, the Congress’s alliance-building will be hard work in most States. Even the TDP does not appear to be on the side of the Congress, its traditional rival that remains a contender for power in Andhra Pradesh despite being considerably weakened after the bifurcation. Although the Trinamool Congress voted with the Opposition, Mamata Banerjee still talks of a Federal Front of regional parties as the alternative to the BJP. What this means is that the Congress is not in a position to dictate the terms of alliance in many States. In Uttar Pradesh, the SP and the BSP are the key players; in Bihar, the RJD will take the lead position in any talks with other Opposition parties. In Karnataka, the JD(S) is in a position to drive a hard bargain; and in Tamil Nadu, the DMK is the leading partner. TRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao speaks of a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition of regional parties, but the fact is that he will be more comfortable with the BJP than with the Congress, which is his main rival. The BJD counts both the Congress and the BJP as opponents, and Odisha is not likely to see any mega-alliance. Rather than setting the scene for 2019, the no-confidence motion may have merely marked the beginning of a political churn.

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