Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Far from Chaar Sau Paar


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By H. Srikanth

Prior to the first phase of the polls, most people, including those who were critical of Modi’s regime, believed that the BJP was going to be back with a decisive victory. It was assumed that Modi’s charisma is still intact, and that BJP, aided by media, ED, IT, and EC, is headed for a third term, as voters in India are swayed by the Ram sentiment than rational spirit. Scholars like Parakala Prabhakar, who asserted that it would be difficult for BJP to secure over 250 seats, did not have many takers. However, after the initial two phases of elections, many started saying that the victory of the BJP is not going to be that easy. Of late, BJP leaders have themselves stopped talking about ‘chaarsaupaar’, and started focusing all their energies to spread fears about what would happen if the INDIA Alliance comes to power. Taking advantage of BJP’s dilemmas, the INDIA alliance supporters have started a counter campaign as if the NDA alliance is trailing in all states and there is a nation-wide undercurrent against Narendra Modi. As the post-opinion polls are prohibited, we really do not know the ground situation across the country. It is a different matter how far the opinion polls conducted by biased corporate media channels are able to comprehend what is going on in the minds of the masses. Hence, we need to wait till the evening of June 4, 2024.
While admitting the fact that the final tally of the two alliances are difficult to predict at this moment, based on the feedback, one can predict this much, that it will not be easy for the NDA to keep the number of seats that it gained in 2019. There is no nationwide wave for any party alliance. Modi is definitely not as popular as he was in 2014 and 2019. The people do not have any illusions today about any ‘Acche Din’ that Modi promised. This time, there is no situation like the Pulwama terrorist attack, which galvanized the entire nation behind Modi. Inauguration of Ram temple at Ayodhya no doubt evoked admiration for Modi in some Hindi speaking states, but it had little or no impact in other parts of India. After seeing the manner in which BJP welcomed corrupt leaders from opposition parties and the revelations of the electoral bond scheme, no one thinks Modi is a force that can fight corruption and black money in the country. Further, BJP’s rhetoric of ‘char soupaar’ has created fears among the minorities that BJP intends to change the secular character of the Indian constitution and meddle with reservations. Issues like price-rise, MSP for the farmers and growing unemployment in the country have dented the popularity of Modi’s regime and are likely to influence the election results in different states.
The opposition parties in the country have not yet taken full advantage of the failures of the ruling regime. Still, there are bickerings and differences among the INDIA partners. However, the INDIA alliance could arrive at some understanding in some key states like Bihar, UP, Delhi and Maharashtra. In Bihar, Delhi and UP, BJP won almost all LS seats in 2019. But this time, BJP is bound to lose some seats. In south India, the INDIA alliance continues its domination in Kerala and Tamilnadu, and is likely to gain in Karnataka and Telangana. Although Modi invested considerable efforts and resources for the southern push, it is unlikely that BJP will get over fifteen seats in all the southern states put together. In Kashmir, BJP is likely to win the LS seats in Jammu, but it has fielded no candidates from the party for the LS seats in Kashmir valley. Similarly, in the northeast, it has not fielded candidates in the hill states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram, and also in the hill constituency of Manipur. It appears the NDA may lose the LS seats in Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram.
However, BJP still has full control over states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and, to a considerable extent, even UP. It appears to have some edge, even in other northern states like Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, where Ram and Modi sentiments are still strong. Total number of seats in these northern states is much more compared to all the southern states put together. Overall, the NDA has an advantage in these northern states. In northeastern states, the NDA may lose some seats, but BJP may still hold on to most LS seats, especially in Assam, thanks to its pragmatic alliance, electoral strategy and the weakness of the Congress in the state.
Despite these advantages, BJP still finds it hard to reach the 270+ mark on its strength, unless it makes further inroads in states like Maharashtra, Bengal, Bihar and Rajasthan. But in all these states, BJP faces resistance this time. In Maharashtra, a substantial number of people are aggrieved over the manner in which BJP engineered split in Shiv Sena and NCP. The rise of TejashwiYadav in Bihar poses a challenge to BJP-JDU’s aspirations. Rajasthan has witnessed Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot patching up their differences for the time being and working together. Considering the fact that the NDA won all 25 LS seats in Rajasthan in 2019, any inroads by Congress would reduce the NDA’s national tally. Modi’s desperate speech in Rajasthan invoking the Muslim threats and ‘mangalsutra’ shows that not everything is going fine for BJP in Rajasthan. In Bengal, although seat sharing failed among the INDIA partners, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC is giving a tough resistance. In the background of the Balakot strikes, BJP won 18 seats in Bengal. It is trying to take advantage of the Sandeshkhali incident, but one needs to see whether it can gain more seats. In Punjab, both NDA and INDIA alliances have failed to arrive at the pre-poll alliance. The NDA partners in Punjab i.e BJP and Akali Dal are contesting separately. So are the INDIA alliance partners–Congress and AAP. As all four parties are contesting for 13 LS seats, it is difficult to predict who in Punjab will get how many seats. Considering the fact that the Sikhs were at the forefront of the farmers’ struggle, it is very unlikely that the NDA would get more than three seats. While focusing on the NDA and INDIA alliances, one should not ignore states like Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, where regional parties are dominant. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRP is neither with INDIA nor with NDA. If he gains more LS seats, he will decide which alliance his party would support only after the poll results. In Orissa, BJD was part of the NDA alliance. But BJD and BJP are contesting separately in the 2024 elections. Ideologically, BJD has little to do with Modi’s hindutva agenda and he may not stick to the NDA if BJP performs badly.
In view of these complexities, BJP’s ‘char saupaar’ wish remains a dream. Modi’s BJP appears to be on the defensive and may find it difficult to retain the 303 seats that it won in 2019. But one should not underestimate its strength. Still, BJP is the richest, and the most organized party in the country. It draws its strength from the RSS and many other hindutva organizations, and also from the industrialists, corporate media and top bureaucracy. Many people still consider Modi a charismatic leader. Hence, one cannot wish away the BJP. Most likely if it gets less than 250 seats it will be compelled to depend on other NDA partners for forming a stable government. But some keen political observers like Yogendra Yadav anticipate the repeat of what had happened to Indira Gandhi in 1977, and to Vajpayee in the 2004 General Elections. Not sure whether such a dramatic twist is possible. Theoretically speaking, yes, the masses can make and unmake history.


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