‘If I leave the BJP now, will the Congress give me ticket?’ BJP MPs are wondering.
The grand success of the opposition unity rally organised by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, attended by leaders of more than 20 regional and national parties, has left the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadre demoralised.
The party’s workers are increasingly growing sceptical about the bravado of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.
My private conversations with BJP MPs in Delhi, and interactions with some leaders in Chhattisgarh and party MLAs and aspiring candidates in Maharashtra show that they are not certain about the party’s showing in May.
Sentiment in BJP camp
There is anxiety and panic among the BJP’s leadership on the ground. The party leaders who were confident that the Congress and its president Rahul Gandhi cannot rise from the ashes of the 2014 defeat are now worried about their own poll prospects.
They are seeking answers to a variety of questions: “Should I seek re-election? What are the chances of winning? But will I get ticket in the first place?
If I leave the BJP now, will the Congress give me ticket? Has Modi effect started fading rapidly?
Will Shiv Sena break away and what will be the impact on our party if they do?”
Just about two years ago, the same leaders were confident about the BJP winning every election, about Narendra Modi’s charisma, Amit Shah’s fabulous strategies, the RSS’s network, the party’s famed ‘panna pramukhs’ at the booth level, and its funding plans.
Now their anxiety is a result of a fear that the BJP’s tally could fall below 200, or even below 160 in the Lok Sabha.
In such a situation, will Narendra Modi be the PM, they ask. Can that Mr X build a new NDA and which parties will come with the BJP, they worry.
Most of them feel that the so-called 10 per cent reservation for the ‘weaker’ upper castes
and the party’s stand on triple talaq have not managed to impress people much.
However, there is a widely-held view that the anti-Muslim sentiment is still strong and the polarisation of voters can be achieved, at least in north India.
There is also relief among some BJP ticket seekers that the proposed ‘mahagatbandhan’ has failed to take off formally and there is no ‘consensus candidate’ for the PM’s job and that Modi remains ‘numero uno’.
In the absence of a challenger, Modi, they believe, will swing the electorate in his favour.
The opposition camp too is anxious and uncertain but the shift in the mood is more profound in the BJP cadre, which was overoptimistic even a year ago.
It has reached the point where speculation by political experts begins.
Here are some of the projected scenarios:
1. The BJP will be the single largest party and the President will be obliged to call Narendra Modi to form government. Once he is called, he can ‘deal’ with new or old partners to take the figure to 275+ seats. After all Atal Bihari Vajpayee too had 182 seats, both in 1998 and 1999, and he could work out the National Democratic Alliance. If Vajpayee can, Modi surely will!
He can manage to win the confidence vote and then the alliance will be streamlined in next six months.
2. The second scenario is, the BJP will be forced to change the leadership, because the electorate would not repose full faith in Modi. So other names like Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh are tossed. But there appears no confidence among the cadres that these leaders could win friends.
3. In the absence of a working majority in the Lok Sabha, the President will be forced to call on the second-largest combine from the opposition to try and form the government. Then, there would be a scramble for power.
Names of various potential candidates, from Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati to Sharad Pawar to the non-controversial Naveen Patnaik to Chandrababu Naidu are mentioned, but with little enthusiasm.
4. All of them feel that the Congress’s performance will improve considerably, but it won’t be enough to demand the top post. In any case, there are no bright chances for Rahul Gandhi to emerge as a consensus leader because all these parties have legacy of anti-Congressism.
Some feel that even if there is dramatic improvement in the Congress’s numbers, Rahul would not pick up the gauntlet.
5. This is a long shot: There is a strange feeling that Pranab Mukherjee or even Manmohan Singh will be brought in, as they seem to have the least negatives. Even the RSS would not mind Pranab Mukherjee, they argue.
6. Another assessment of very few, but important leaders, is that all speculation is worthless because Modi will win close to 250 seats and then the question of any challenge to him or to the BJP will cease to exist.
7. Then the real question: What will anyone do in the next five years? Will the instability lead to mid-term polls, bringing back the ‘strong leadership’ of Modi?
Modi supporters are still confident that he is here to stay till 2024 and his haters are sure he will be cut to size by the electorate.
There is neither a consensus among astrologers on how stars will align nor among political commentators and pollsters (advisers) on what voters feel and what they will do once they face the EVM.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha.