What will Narendra Modi be doing in the last week of May? For better or worse, many of the predictions about the final number of seats to be won in this Lok Sabha elections have been about the Bharatiya Janata Party. And setting the political analysts, and anyone with a number to pick, on a chase has been BJP president Amit Shah, who has predicted his party will win 350 seats when the results of the ongoing general elections are announced on 23 May.
Even if the BJP does not win as many seats as its leaders predict, many of them, citing several opinion polls, maintain that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will reach the majority mark of 273. That means Narendra Modi will be taking oath for a second term. Columnists like Meghnad Desai and Surjit Bhalla have expressed confidence about Modi’s return – either with a majority for the BJP alone or through coalitions under the NDA.
But quite a few political pundits have begun to say that the BJP-led NDA won’t cross even 200 seats. This means that the BJP spin doctors will have to mobilise about 100 more members to form a “stable” government. That indeed will put the system under huge convulsion and tension. Post-poll alliances are extremely difficult and even dubious.
One can recall how the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani in 1998 and 1999 remained in a limbo for almost a week when J Jayalalitha played truant. There are many mavericks and self-styled masterminds of political skulduggery, like Subramaniam Swami, who can disrupt the process. Swami can raise a red flag by just seeing Arun Jaitley in the new firmament.
There are quite a few in the Central Hall or corporate conclaves or Press Clubs who say with considerable confidence that if the BJP alone is just around 200, then despite being the single largest party, Modi won’t return to the Prime Minister’s Office. The party itself will stop him in the tracks.
The reason being, it is said, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the loyalists to the Sangh do not want Modi and Amit Shah. Indeed, there are many who feel that Raj Thackeray’s “toofan” against Modi-Shah in Maharashtra is backed by support from the top leadership of the Sangh. Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is not contesting any seat in this Lok Sabha elections.
People outside of Maharashtra might not be aware of the fantastic whirlwind and highly aggressive campaign that Raj Thackeray had been leading against Modi and Amit Shah, calling the duo a “threat to the nation”. Thackeray has taken a vow to make India “Modi-mukt”. Lakhs and lakhs of people are thronging to his rallies while the social media has been hailing him in a style usually reserved for Rajinikanth.
The BJP-led NDA could have anybody – from Rajnath Singh to Nitin Gadkari – replace the top two in the party’s rank should the Sangh Parivar decide to sideline Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This hypothesis is based on another presumption -that the RSS does not want Modi as he has become larger than life and unbearable to the party. Such speculations do not require evidence or data.
There are others who confidently say that even if BJP gets anywhere between 180 and 200 seats, Modi can manoeuvre the magical figure of 273 by roping in Biju Janata Dal (and meeting any demands of its leader Navin Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha) and by giving favourable signals to any of YSR Congress’ Jagan Mohan Reddy’s wishes. There are also people who predict like short-term Nostradamus that Mayawati Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will break its alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) to join Modi-led NDA. After all, she had campaigned for Modi in 2002 after the Gujarat pogrom.
There is also a doomsday-like scenario painted by some observers. They say that Modi will just not quit. With the help of the President, the Election Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a servile media and even the judiciary, Modi will continue to be in charge. Why, he can declare an Emergency or summon the army to help him “govern”.
It is interesting that nobody says Modi will sit on the opposition benches, or be ready to become the leader of the NDA-Opposition. Some do say that he would wait to let parliamentary chaos prevail and create situation for a mid-term Lok Sabha election.
Already crafty calculations and conspiracy theories have begun to float. There are supposedly many Brutus-like characters, who can destabilise the roles of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Kamal Nath, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati or even Rahul Gandhi, once redefining of the post-poll alliances begin to take shape.
Apparently, unpredictable and unimaginable alliances spring up confounding the media and politicians themselves. For instance, in 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not continue as the prime minister because he had the support of only three parties -Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Haryana Vikas Manch – which wasn’t enough. He could not get the needed numbers despite being his BJP emerging as the single largest party with 161 seats in the general elections.
But the same BJP under Vajpayee managed support of 24 parties just two years later, and the new NDA was born. The hardcore anti-BJP parties like the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazghagam (AIADMK) in 1998 and even the DMK in 1999 (after J Jayalalithaa parted ways from the alliance), joined the Vajpayee-led government. Later, Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee, Farooq Abdullah as well as the stridently “anti-communal” Lohia school socialist like George Fernandes became members of the Vajpayee government. If Atal Bihari Vajpayee can perform that rope trick, why not Narendra Modi, goes the argument.
Opinion polls maintain that Modi remains the most popular leader, more than the BJP, and that the Balakot air strikes have made him a “braveheart” nationalist. Even people in rural parts, about whom it is said that government policies and issues of daily life matter more, are believed to be seeing in him a “saviour of the nation”. All of this leads some to say that nationalism and national security has gripped the electorate’s psyche and is the dominating factor in this election.
The detractors, however, say that real issues like, jobs, farmers’ distress, GST and demonetisation-related chaos and collapse of the small and medium industry are more important for the voters than nationalism. At least, I have not seen the nationalist frenzy in the parts I travelled. But who and what can we say about the so-called silent voter?
After all Indira Gandhi and her Congress were routed in 1977 by the Janata Party and then the same Janata Party was demolished by Indira Gandhi in 1980. The BJP could win just two seats in 1985, and yet could win 182 seats in 1998 and 1999. Nobody visualised the defeat of Vajpayee’s “Shining India” government in 2004. And of course very few gave Narendra Modi a full majority in 2014.
With this kind of electoral history, who can really say what Narendra Modi will be doing in the last week of May?
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.
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