New Delhi: Though the results of the general elections will be announced on 23 May, the Bharatiya Janata Party, rather than wait for the electoral outcome, has started working on how it will cobble up the required numbers in case the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) falls short of the required majority mark of 272 Members of Parliament.
Senior BJP party sources told The Sunday Guardian that though the chances of the NDA falling short of the 272-mark were quite remote, yet, keeping recent history in mind (Madhya Pradesh and Goa Assembly elections and the 2004 general elections when the NDA faced a shocking and unexpected defeat), party leaders have started talking to “like-minded” leaders and fence-sitters who are not a part of the NDA yet. A top BJP functionary said: “We are very sure of crossing the 272-mark on our own. There is no doubt about it. Yet, we have already held multiple levels of talks with some parties even before the elections began. These interactions have been held at an informal level. Even if we do not need their support in the end, we will support their reasonable demands when we come to power.”
The party believes that the maximum losses that it will suffer will be in Uttar Pradesh where the NDA won on 73 out of the 80 seats in 2014. “If the loss in UP is more than 40 seats, we will need newer allies. We will be able to balance some of the losses in other states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat) through the gains in West Bengal and Odisha,” the leader, a BJP Rajya Sabha member, added.
To offset these losses, the party is looking at the five states of South India comprising Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana that have 129 seats among them. In 2014, the BJP had won on 20 seats across these states. However, this time, BJP strategists believe that it will improve its performance in Karnataka where it won on 17 of the 28 seats and in Kerala where it won on 1 of the 20 seats. “In these two states, we are looking at a figure of 23 (20 in Karnataka and 3 in Kerala). Other than that, we will get support from regional parties that are going to do well in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu,” the functionary said.
Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), which won 8 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, may join the NDA post 23 May, sources said. Jagan Reddy is being aggressively wooed by the Congress, however, YSRCP sources said that they would not attend any meeting called by either the BJP or the Congress before 23 May. In the past, Jagan Reddy has said that his party will support the alliance which gives “special status” to Andhra Pradesh. “The YSR cadre are not in the mood to extend support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Our people still remember the 16 months between May 2012 and September 2013 when Jagan Reddy was kept in jail by the Congress-led government. His only mistake was that he had asked to be declared as the rightful heir to the Congress party in the state after the untimely demise of his father, who single-handedly took the party to great heights in the state. Though it is too premature to say anything right now, the chances of us supporting the UPA are very remote,” said a party leader, who has contested the Assembly elections that were held simultaneously with the general elections in the state.
It is pertinent to mention here that Jagan Reddy had employed the services of election strategist Prashant Kishor Pandey for his campaigning. Kishor, who is the national vice-president of the JDU, an NDA constituent, has also helped the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Sources said that Kishor was acting as the common friend between Jagan Reddy and the NDA.
Jagan Reddy’s political enemy in Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu of TDP, has already emerged as a prominent face of the anti-BJP, pro-Congress front and this equation, too, will not allow Jagan Reddy to join hands with the UPA. K. Chandrashekhar Rao and his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), as per BJP sources, have also shown their willingness to support the NDA in case the party comes to power post 23 May.
“While there are reports that he is looking at the chair of Deputy PM for himself, it is not a demand that is non-negotiable from his end. The TRS chief is aware that in a Modi-led government, there is little scope for the post of Deputy PM being created. Hence, he is unlikely to stick to his unreasonable demand when the time comes,” said a Hyderabad-based political observer.
“The shortage of seats, if any, will be filled by the support of YSRCP and TRS. Congress and other political observers are obsessed with our surge in Odisha and West Bengal, but they have forgotten that we have become strong in the South too,” said the BJP functionary quoted earlier. He added that the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leadership has dropped enough hints that it is not averse to joining the NDA in case the need arises at the Centre post 23 May.
Commenting on the likely scenario for BJP in South India, Sudarshan Ramabadran, who is a Senior Research Fellow with the India Foundation, and is an expert on politics in South India, said that the best chances for the BJP were in Karnataka. “Karnataka has been the best performing state in the South for BJP and I believe that it will repeat or near its performance of 2014 in 2019. The alliance between the JDS and the Congress in the state is deteriorating every day, which is helping the BJP. Not to forget they are the single largest party in the state Assembly. In Kerala, post the Sabarimala judgement, things have changed. The two seats where the NDA is doing well are Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta, which is witnessing a tough electoral fight. Due to significant and consistent surge in vote shares previously, the BJP has successfully managed to turn it into a three-cornered fight—LDF vs UDF vs BJP/NDA,” he said.
“As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the best case scenario for the BJP is 2-3 seats and the toss up is among Kanyakumari, Coimbatore and Ramanathapuram. In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the mood is in favour of TRS and YSCRP currently. TRS has done very well in the recently held Assembly elections. But don’t be surprised if BJP makes inroads into these states or significantly improves its vote share as well,” he added.