Millennium Post

Has Kejriwal eclipsed Modi?

The Bharatiya Janata Party  (BJP) has reasons to be greatly pleased with the results of the recent Assembly elections in four northern and central states. It swept 163 of Rajasthan’s 200 seats, taking an unprecedented 12-plus per centage-point lead over the Congress.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won a convincing two-thirds majority. In Chhattisgarh, where it was expected to lose, it won albeit by a whisker. And in Delhi, it managed to keep the Congress out of power. Its seat-tally in the four states has risen from 50 per cent to 69 per cent of the total. This could translate into 50 of these states’ 72 Lok Sabha seats for the BJP, up from 30. Yet, the impact of the BJP’s success has been blunted to some extent by the spectacular performance of the Aam Aadmi Party  (AAP) in Delhi. Strange as it seems, AAP’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, not the BJP’s Narendra Modi, is leading the battle for the national popular imagination. Kejriwal’s ‘new politics’ has inspired large numbers of people. Has Kejriwal eclipsed Modi? Has Modi, with his aggressive high-profile campaign, peaked too soon? Has his macho style put off potential supporters? Has his belated, strained expression of ‘misery, pain, anguish, agony’ at the 2002 violence won him Muslim sympathy? It’s difficult to give a definite answer to all these questions just yet. But two things are clear. Modi’s feigned ‘hurt’ at the anti-Muslim pogrom convinces nobody; and his exoneration by a Gujarat court lacks credibility and legitimacy. Second, AAP’s entry has introduced a new variable and enlarged the shadow of uncertainty over the BJP’s ‘target’ of reaching the 272-seat halfway-mark on its own by fielding Modi.

Modi or no Modi, the BJP lacks the support-base to reach this. But can the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) do so? The NDA has shrunk from 23 parties to just three: the BJP (116 Lok Sabha seats), Shiv Sena (11) and Shiromani Akali Dal (4). It must more than double its present seat-tally to reach the half-way mark. This means raising its per centage-share of the national vote from 21.2 to over 30. This is a far bigger task than the highest jump in seats and votes ever achieved by the BJP, when it rose from 161 seats and 20.3 per cent (1996) to 182 seats and 25.6 per cent (1998) and collected enough allies to form an opportunist coalition, which expediently put all trade-mark Hindutva issues in abeyance. The NDA has lost – probably irrevocably – major allies like the Janata Dal(United), Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal, besides ethnic-Tamil parties and Telugu Desam, which quit earlier. For the NDA to come to power in 2014, the BJP must win about 200 (if not 210-220) Lok Sabha seats to create a nucleus around which smaller parties can coalesce and form a winning alliance.

Winning 200-220 seats, up from 116, is a tall order. Unlike in the 1990s, when the BJP rode a Hindutva wave, it has no social-mobilisation tailwind behind it. So where can the seats come from? Cold arithmetic, for which thanks are partly due to public-policy consultant Manish Dubey, suggests that the BJP’s success will hinge primarily on making huge gains in three major states – Uttar Pradesh (80 seats), Bihar (40) and Maharashtra (48). In addition, the BJP must further improve on its 2009 performance in its ‘base’ or ‘home’ states, which it has ruled in alternation with the Congress: Madhya Pradesh (29), Gujarat (26), Rajasthan (25) and Chhattisgarh (11). Only then can the BJP boost the NDA sufficiently to attract willing allies who agree with its policies, and indifferent ones who join it for the loaves and fishes of office.

Consider India’s political arithmetic from the BJP standpoint. India’s 35 states and Union Territories (UTs) fall into four categories. First are big states like Andhra Pradesh (42), West Bengal (42) and Tamil Nadu (39), somewhat smaller Kerala (20), and tiny northeastern states barring to an extent Assam, where the BJP has no effective presence.

In this big chunk of 168 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP’s score has always been in the low single-digits and is unlikely to improve. Second come states like Karnataka (28), Orissa (21), Punjab (13) and Jharkhand (14), where the BJP has a limited or unsteady presence via alliances, and the smaller states and UTs each with less than 10 seats, which account for 40 seats, making a total of 116 LS seats. These are unlikely to add substantially to the BJP’s tally. It has to share Punjab with the Akali Dal, and Jharkhand with regional groups. It’s marginal in Orissa after it broke with the BJD. And given AAP’s ascendancy in Delhi, the BJP cannot score handsomely in the UTs either.

What of Karnataka? After BS Yeddiyurappa’s disastrously corrupt performance as CM, his break with the BJP, and the Congress’s recent Assembly victory, it’s unlikely that the BJP will win anywhere near the 19 seats it bagged in 2009 even if the BSY faction merges or reaches an electoral understanding with the BJP. ‘Modi Magic’ won’t work here. So in the states and UTs listed above, which send 284 MPs – or more than half the Lok Sabha’s total – the BJP’s tally will on balance of probability be about the same as earlier: 40 seats.

Then comes the third category of ‘home’ states comprising Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The BJP won 45 of their 91 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, and did well in the Assembly elections held since. The BJP can legitimately hope to do better vis-à-vis a now-weakened Congress in Rajasthan (where it won only 4 of Lok Sabha 25 seats), Gujarat (15/26) and MP (16/29), but not in Chhattisgarh, where it took 10 of 11 seats in 2009, but didn’t do too well in the last Assembly elections.

Modi will draw in some votes both in Rajasthan and Gujarat – although his communal ‘strong man’ image and strident Hindutva rhetoric could prove counterproductive beyond a point to the BJP by further alienating Muslims and secular voters, and creating new opportunities for the Congress.
A new, quintessentially urban, challenge has arisen – in the shape of AAP. Despite its flawed start and many problems including near-silence on communalism, AAP could eat into the BJP’s votes in many cities, wrecking Modi’s dream.


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