If it were to be left to the Indians who use Twitter and Facebook, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, would have already been appointed the Prime Minister of the country. But alas that cannot be the case.
Yesterday (June 9,2013), Modi was appointed the Chairman of the campaign committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This appointment is being seen as the first step that India’s main opposition party has taken towards declaring its prime ministerial candidate for the forthcoming election.
The appointment has sent out a clear signal that Modi is the ‘leader’ among the leaders in the BJP. But even with that there is still a long distance between Narendra Modi and 7, Race Course Road (the residence of the Indian Prime Minister). As the old English saying goes “well begun is half done”. But its only half done and half still remains to be done.
First and foremost it is clear that the BJP does not have the wherewithal to get a majority on its own (Neither does the Congress. No party does in the current scheme of things). This has happened because the proportion of votes got by national parties has fallen over the years. In 1991, national parties among them got around 81% of the votes polled. By 2009, this number had fallen to less than 64%.
The party has a very small presence in large parts of Eastern India (West Bengal and beyond) and is practically non-existent in Southern India, except for Karnataka. The irony here is that across all states in India, the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh(RSS), the parent body of the BJP, has the highest penetration in the state of Kerala (though UP has more shakhas). Despite that the BJP has never been able to win a Lok Sabha seat in the state, till date.
The party is not much of a force to reckon with in Andhra Pradesh, though it has won a few seats in the state in the past when it was in alliance with the Telgu Desam Party (TDP). The state sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The TDP now does not want to be seen aligning with the BJP because that had cost the party its Muslim vote bank in the past. “This is not going to help the BJP. It will not improve the party’s fortunes,” said a TDP leader while reacting to Modi’s appointment. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the other big player in the state, has also said in the past that he won’t support the BJP. Though recent news-reports suggest that BJP is trying to get close to Reddy and his YSR Congress.
In the neighbouring state of Karnataka, the BJP was decimated in the recent assembly elections. This after BS Yeddyurappa, the most famous BJP leader in the state, quit the party. The going theory is that is the BJP has to be a serious player in the state that elects 28 MPs to the Lok Sabha,, it will have to get Yeddyurappa back into its fold. The question of course is will Modi attempt to get Yeddyurappa back into the state? And if he does that, how does he plan to handle all the corruption allegations that Yeddyurappa faces?
One of the major issues against the incumbent Congress government is the rampant corruption that it has unleashed. And if BJP decides to associate itself with corrupt politicians like Yeddyurappa and Jagan Mohan Reddy, then it will be putting itself in the same boat as the Congress.
In Tamil Nadu, which elects 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the BJP is non existent. But the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa currently seems to be on amicable terms with Modi. “At a personal level, Modi is a very good friend of mine, I have high regard for him as an able administrator. My good wishes are always with him whether he wins election in Gujarat or achieves an elevation in his own party. I’m happy for him,” she remarked after Modi’s appointment. Whether the two ‘good friends’ translate their friendship into a pre-electoral alliance remains to be seen. Also, the BJP cannot forget that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government fell in 1999, due to the mercurial Jayalalithaa, pulling out of the alliance.
The four southern states together elect 129 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The BJP has presence in only one of these states. Hence, its important that the BJP allies with other parties in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. But alliances in these states come with there share of problems.
Then come the states of Orissa and West Bengal which elect 63 Lok Sabha MPs between them (Orissa – 21, West Bengal – 42). The BJP was in alliance with Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa till 2009 for a period of nearly 11 years. But since then Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Orissa, and the main leader of BJD has been cold towards the BJP.
As he told The Economic Times in an interview today (June 10, 2013) “ I have always maintained that our party will not forge an alliance with either the Congress or the BJP, we will continue to maintain equi-distance from both.”
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, one of the main political parties of West Bengal, has also been in alliance with the BJP in the past. The BJP has been in recent times trying to get close to Mamata. It did not put up a candidate in the recent by-election to the Howrah, Lok Sabha constituency, which Trinamool won. Mamata is also known be as mercurial as Jayalalithaa, and hence can be a tricky alliance partner.
A major reason that Narendra Modi has been appointed the premier leader of the BJP is the fact, that the party expects this move to help it do well in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where it has rapidly lost support over the last 15 years. In the current Lok Sabha the party has only 10 MPs from the state, which elects 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. In the past it has even had more than fifty Lok Sabha MPs from the state. To tackle this Modi is being projected as an OBC leader in the state by the likes yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Modi’s protege Amit Shah has been appointed as the state party in charge. The resurgence of the BJP is not possible unless the party gets around 30 seats from Uttar Pradesh.
While Modi might draw in the votes in Uttar Pradesh, what does he do about Bihar? Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, does not want his party Janata Dal (United) association with a Modi led BJP. So even if Modi gets in the votes in Uttar Pradesh, a breakup of the BJP-Janata Dal(United) alliance in Bihar, might negate the overall effect. And if BJP and Janata Dal (United) fight elections separately in Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal might benefit from it. In Bihar, the upper castes vote for the BJP, whereas the a spate of lower castes vote for the Janata Dal (United), which is one of the reasons that makes the combination unbeatable. The state elects 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
So there are several tricky alliance issues that Modi needs to tackle. And the sooner he tackles them the better it is. Pre-poll alliances are much more beneficial in the first past the post system that India follows. This is the only way for the BJP to ensure that the anti incumbency vote against the Congress led UPA does not split.
Of course, Narendra Modi understands the alliance pressure on the BJP very well. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay quotes Narendra Modi in the book Narendra Modi – The Man. The Times as saying “When Atalji became prime minister for the first time in 1996 – we got no allies – Akali Dal and Shiv Sena had been with us earlier but not new allies. But in 1998 the situation changed – the parties and their leaders also increased (laughs). Then in 2004 our seats got reduced – the allies got reduced. The issue therefore is that the number of allies depends on the winnability of the BJP”.
And the winnability of the BJP will depend a lot on the alliances it is able to enter before the elections. Given, Modi’s hardline image, it will be difficult for the BJP to get prepoll alliance partners (not that it will be easy to get post poll alliance partners), given that no party wants to drive away the minority vote. As Abheek Barman writes in The Economic Times “A BJP led by Modi will find it much tougher, without minority votes. Modi’s supporters say, so what? Modi will help bring all Hindu votes together. This united Hindu vote is a tired, old RSS assumption.” There is nothing like a Hindu vote. The Hindus largely vote along caste lines.
On its own the BJP has managed a best of 182 seats in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Since then the number has fallen. After the 2004, Lok Sabha elections the party had 137 members in the Lok Sabha. This fell to 116 members after 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
If the BJP wants to come to power, it will have to best its tally of 182 seats, given that with Modi at the helm it will be more difficult for the party to find post poll alliance partners. As Sebastian PT writes on the Business Today website “There is little doubt that Modi is the most popular leader in the BJP today but he is still a polarising figure in Indian politics-very similar to L.K. Advani in the 1990s. Advani had to step aside for AB Vajpayee, who was seen as having the ability to take everyone along, especially the allies.” And for all we know Narendra Modi might have to step aside for someone else who is more agreeable to the potential allies. So one cannot write off the likes of Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh or for that matter even Arun Jaitley.
So Delhi is still faraway for Narendra Modi. Or as the sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia once said “Hunoo Dehli Door Ast (Delhi is still far away).
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 10, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)