ith voting for the seventh and final phase of 2019 Lok Sabha nearing, all political parties are anxiously waiting for the final outcome for which counting will commence May 23 and results will be declared the next day after checking of VVPAT slips.
This general election is unique in many respects: it is the costliest thus far; it has seen deterioration in the tone and tenor of electoral discourse; and the vast majority of voters has been silent about their choice, leaving every political party guessing, despite tall claims. Undeniably, non-NDA parties, whether national or regional, are giving the BJP a run for its money at these elections, especially in the Hindi Heartland.
It has now become an accepted fact that the BJP’s electoral fate hinges largely on its performance in the Hindi Heartland. Interestingly, Amit Shah, the BJP president, who initially used to boast of winning over 400 Lok Sabha seats raising the slogan: ‘ab ki baar 400 paar’, meaning the BJP will cross 400 seats tally this time, has tempered down his predictions to BJP ‘breaching the 282 mark by wide margins’ just ahead of the seventh-phase of elections. Similar optimism of the BJP winning a comfortable majority of its own has been reiterated by Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister in the Modi government.
This writer recently visited 13 constituencies of UP, which are going to polls May 19 and in the course of his brief interview with Manoj Sinha, Minister in the Department of Telecommunication in the Modi government seeking re-election from Ghazipur, expressed confidence of his own victory and of his party winning comfortable majority to be able to retain power at the Centre. Despite this optimism. also expressed by the BJP brass, which many experts interpret as a strategy to boost morale of party workers at this crucial juncture, there is clearly a parallel undercurrent in the BJP, symbolizing inability of the party to muster numbers adequate to form a government on its own at the Centre.
Recently, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Ram Madhav, a senior BJP leader, expressed doubt about the ruling party securing majority on its own and expressed the hope that the NDA might be able to get the magic number at the ongoing Lok Sabha election. Interestingly, key allies of the BJP — Akali Dal, JD (U) and Shiv Sena — are saying the NDA could form the next government; but the BJP, unlike in 2014, will not be able to win a parliamentary majority of its own. According to media reports, Shiromani Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral has said no single party would get the majority at the election, but couched it by saying the NDA could get required numbers to form the next government at the Centre.
Congress has nothing to lose but to gain, especially in the Hindi Heartland, where it is in direct fight with the BJP
A similar stance has seemingly been reiterated by the BJP’s old ally, the Janata Dal (United). According to media reports, KC Tyagi, senior JD(U) leader, is sanguine about the BJP having reduced numbers this time compared with 2014, but not to the point that it will not be able to form the government. On the other hand, another senior JD (U) leader, Gulam Rasool Balyavi, is reported to have stated that even the NDA itself would fall short of the majority in Lok Sabha.
Another NDA partner, the Shiv Sena , has reportedly said the BJP would have reduced numbers this time compared with 2014 but not to the point that it will not be able to form the government. The Sena looks upon opposition alliances across the country as one reason for the arithmetical shift that would deprive the BJP of a clear majority.
Thus, major NDA allies are ambiguous about the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, indicating whoever is picked would be acceptable to the allies but s/he would need to take everyone along. Meanwhile, experts draw attention to the simmering disenchantment of the RSS with the Modi-Shah duo, who have built up their own larger-than-life persona overshadowing the BJP as such and they point to slogan ‘ab ki baar Modi sarkar’, meaning ‘Modi government this time’ instead of , ‘ab ki baar bhajapa sarkar’ meaning ‘BJP government this time’.
Experts also point to the simmering discontent among senior, old-time BJP leaders, who have been sidelined by Modi-Shah duo; these factors go against the party’s electoral prospects.
The resurgence of Congress after its triumph at assembly elections in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan; an improved tally in Gujarat; and formation of a government in Karnataka in alliance with JD (S) pipping the BJP to the post, is challenging the BJP at the ongoing election.
The Congress campaign has been focused on core issues to attract masses, focusing on corruption in Rafale deal, demonetisation, unemployment, agrarian distress and failure of the Modi government to fulfil its tall promises made in 2014. Experts say controversies surrounding Rafale deal have not shaken ‘brand Modi’ greatly; but the slogan ‘chaukidar chor hai’, meaning ‘the watchman is a thief’, has caught the imagination of a segment of the population and this slogan is often heard at Congress rallies.
There is unanimity of opinion that the Congress has emerged as the most powerful challenger to Modi. Interestingly, besides criticising the Modi government’s failure to fulfil promises made to people, the Congress has come out with a vision of its own, through its manifesto which promises income guarantee to the poorest 20 per cent of Indians, good healthcare, the right to affordable housing and a reduction in unemployment over the next five years. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has, of late, played a significant role in steering his party to victories in a number of state elections and is giving the Modi-Shah duo a run for their money at Lok Sabha campaigns. The induction of Priyanka Gandhi into active politics, in an attempt to boost the party’s popularity, has proved successful, especially in UP. Broadly speaking, Congress has nothing to lose, especially in the Hindi Heartland, where it is in direct fight with the BJP and had gotten mauled badly in 2014.
The inability of BJP to muster the magical number on its own will compel the party to seek alliances with new partners as existing allies may also not get to repeat their 2014 performance
In Bihar, Congress is expected to perform well owing its alliance with RJD. The party is also expected do better in Tamil Nadu in alliance with DMK; in Maharashtra its alliance with NCP and in Karnataka its alliance with JD(S) could also benefit the party. In UP, the SP-BSP alliance is the main challenger to the BJP; Congress has openly declared that its candidates would not affect SP-BSP alliance but will make inroads into the BJP vote bank; the party is likely to improve its tally in UP time.
While there is much uncertainty with regard to election results May 24, a flurry of hectic political activity is discernible across parties to form viable alliances.
Sonia Gandhi, senior Congress leader and former chairperson of UPA, is reported to have recently written to regional satraps for the formation of post-poll alliance to prevent the NDA from forming the next government. Similar efforts are said to be going on in the BJP camp as well. Until the results are declared, suspense continues and post-poll alliances will be subject to the number of seats won by each party; it will decide the bargaining power of the party in an alliance on either side.
Experts are of the view that the election could throw surprises that may upset calculations of leading national parties owing to the silence of voters. Minority votes are speculated to have shifted en-bloc to parties other than the BJP affecting their prospects. The likelihood of Congress emerging as the largest beneficiary of this cannot be ruled out.
The inability of BJP to muster the magical number on its own will compel the party to seek alliances with new partners as existing allies may also not get to repeat their 2014 performance. Under that circumstances, a change of leadership in the BJP, someone other than that of Modi, is likely to become desirable. At the same time, some regional satraps are waiting to play kingmaker. They have scope if the Congress wins more than 150 seats on its own. Some analysts rule out the possibility of a leader of some regional political grouping heading the new government at the Centre. Whatever may the outcome be, the people of the nation will give their verdict in consonance with the what Ramdhari Singh Dinkar has tried to convey: ‘Yaachna nahin ab ran hoga, jeevan, jay ya maran hoga, duryodhan ab ran aisa hoga, phir kabhi jaisa nahin hoga’ . Certainly, this will go in history as an unprecedented election.
The writer is Executive Editor, News24. He was recently in Uttar Pradesh. Views are personal.