How time flies. Three years of the Modi Sarkar are already behind us and, before long, the 2019 election will be here. No one can definitively predict the outcome, even though on current reckoning, another five years for the NDA may seem certain. A lot will depend on the intervening events. How, for instance, will the farmer unrest in large parts of the country is relieved, and how Kashmir is returned to near-normalcy, are bound to have a bearing on the voter mood.
But if any party is battle-ready, it is, without doubt, the BJP. Whatever their other failings, you cannot blame the Modi-Shah duo for taking the eye off the electoral battleground. The BJP president is forever on the move, crisscrossing the country, energising the cadres, sharing meals in their homes, giving pep talk to the party faithful to gird up for the coming electoral challenges. In recent months, he has concentrated on the farthest corners of the country, where the BJP has had a thin presence.
Quite clearly, Shah reckons that regardless of the fairly decent performance of the government and high popularity of the Prime Minister, it may well-nigh be impossible to improve on the tally of the NDA in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, etc. In states where the party won all the seats such as Gujarat and Rajasthan, for example, it may actually, drop a few seats. Indeed, the party may drop some seats in UP too, where, together with the allies, it had walked away with 73 of the 80 seats.
The BJP will have to make up for the shortfall by expanding its footprint in newer areas, especially in the South and in the Northeast. It is a sensible approach. While shunning complacency in traditional strongholds, the party espies opportunity in Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, etc. With regional parties ruling these states, the BJP would first seek to replace the Congress as the main Opposition party. And given the disarray and drift in the Congress, it may not be hard for the BJP to project itself as the main challenger to a Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and to a Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.
In Telangana too, the BJP cannot but improve its tally. From one seat out of 17 in the current Lok Sabha, the party can pick up many more, given that traditionally it has had a strong support-base in the Telangana region, rather than in the part which now constitutes the separate state of Andhra Pradesh. Anyway, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, a member of the NDA, resists any BJP effort to grow in his state, though the two had partnered in the Lok Sabha election in Telangana.
It is, however, in Odisha where the BJP seems to have its best chance. It can certainly improve its performance both in the Assembly and the parliamentary polls which are due in 2019. The party won only one Lok Sabha seat out of a total of 21, though it polled 22% of the popular vote. As the recent local bodies’ elections showed, it left the Congress far behind to emerge as the main alternative to the increasingly unpopular Naveen Patnaik government. Mounting anti-incumbency and corruption charges against the leading lights of the government will bolster the BJP cause.
Again, the current flux in the Tamil Nadu politics may play into the hands of the Modi-Shah duo. After the demise of Jayalalithaa, various factions of the AIADMK may be ready to do business with the BJP, especially when that translates into a helpful Central government. If, as expected, the proposed entry of superstar Rajinikanth further muddies Tamil Nadu politics, the BJP might be spoilt for a choice of electoral partners. The reigning matinee idol is more likely to gobble up a large chunk of the AIADMK, which, after Jayalalithaa’s death, is feeling adrift without a charismatic leader. In all eventualities, one or the other faction of the rival Dravida parties is certain to ally with the BJP, thus bolstering the NDA numbers in the Lok Sabha.
In Bengal too, the BJP is slowly establishing itself as a main challenger to the ruling Trinamool Congress. The inherent contradictions of the Congress-Marxist Opposition alliance in the state, and their felt need to cooperate at the Centre with Mamata Banerjee, in order to jointly fight the Modi government, have further eased the way for the BJP to emerge as the foremost challenger to the ruling party in West Bengal. The party won only two of the 42 seats in 2014. It most likely will improve its tally, given that increasing polarisation in the border state, with over 30% Muslim population, is fast emerging as a favourite hunting ground for the Sangh Parivar.
There might be a few more seats to be had from the Northeast, especially given the natural tendency of the politicians there to drift towards the ruling party at the Centre, as also the concerted efforts by the Modi-Shah team to expand the BJP footprint in the entire region.
Of course, the biggest thing favouring a second term for Modi is the on-going confusion in the Opposition ranks. So long as there is Rahul Gandhi at the head of the Congress, there is little chance of the voters turning away from a Prime Minister who is both incorruptible and efficient in providing targeted welfare to the weaker sections of society. And who is an excellent communicator to boot. All in all, a depressing situation for the Opposition.
BJP will have to make up for seats it drops in UP, Rajasthan etc, by expanding in newer areas.
Binding him down
Sharad Pawar, the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, has been given the unenviable task of selecting the joint Opposition candidate for contesting the presidential poll against the NDA’s nominee. Pawar might be flattered, but Sonia Gandhi’s reason might not be so straightforward, especially when he has an insignificant number in the electoral college as against the Congress’. Could it be that by entrusting him the onerous task of picking the Opposition candidate, they want to ensure that he does not go and does a deal with the ruling party? You can never tell with the crafty Maratha. However, the fact that the CBI has at long last registered a case for preliminary enquiry against his confidant, Praful Patel, might suggest that Pawar, per force, will stay with the Opposition. Patel, as Civil Aviation Minister in the UPA government, had been close to particular private operators but, surprisingly, had thus far got away without a blemish. Though even now there is no guarantee that anything would come out of the CBI inquiry.
A case of an elusive bone, really
Arun Shourie, a minister in the Vajpayee government, says that the Modi government is run by “two-and- a-half persons”. The NDA leaders should take it as a compliment, given that the UPA government was supposed to be run by a mere one-and-a-half persons, the reference to one being to Sonia Gandhi and the half to her son. But there are those who say that had Modi made him a minister, Shourie would have shouted from the rooftops that the present government is the most democratic, most consensual, most popular, enjoying the confidence of multitudes, barring the few vested interests in the media who have their own axe to grind. Depends on that “bone” actually, which Shourie referred to at a protest meet the other day. Had he got that bone, he too would have sung a different tune. And by the way, if Modi and Amit Shah are supposed to be the two in two-and-a-half, who is the half? Is the reference to the one whose ministerial job he is said to have set his heart on getting? We think our guess is right.