Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid seems precariously poised. Even his partymen and allies are not certain that the BJP will get an absolute majority on its own. Party general secretary Ram Madhav has hinted that if the BJP does not get a clear majority, then it would be able to from the next government “comfortably” with the help of its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Sanjeev Raut of Shiv Sena has also indicated that the BJP may fall short of a clear majority.
It would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago that the BJP would even countenance such a possibility. Its leaders were busy claiming that the party would exceed its last tally of 282. Ordinary folk can only guess at what assessment the BJP itself has made after nearly 80 per cent of the polling is over. There are, however, some straws in the wind which suggest that its direction could be changing.
The body language of BJP leaders lacks its earlier swagger. They seem irritable and prickly. While no political party ever admits losing an election till the last vote has been counted, frustration seems writ large on their faces.
The very fact that at the fag end of the polling the BJP has had to use the Union home ministry to rake up the issue of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship, or make abusive comments about former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by flogging the dead horse of Bofors and attack the dignity of a globally-admired two-term Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, suggests that things are not going well for the BJP. Prime Minister Modi’s election rhetoric has deteriorated. With each passing day he seems to be slipping further into gracelessness.
In West Bengal, he tried to destabilise, disorient and demoralise chief minister Mamata Banerjee by threatening to dislodge her through defections. He tried to sow confusion in Uttar Pradesh by suggesting a conspiracy against Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati by her ally, the Samajwadi Party, and the Congress.
Mamata Banerjee and her party cadres have become more defiant and aggressive towards the BJP. And the Prime Minister has forced Mayawati to declare unequivocally that her supporters will vote for the Congress in the two prestigious constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Amethi and his mother Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli.
That even Prime Minister Modi suspects that he is not getting a majority is also indicated by his fulsome praise for Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik after his handling of the devastation caused by Cyclone Fani. Earlier, he had described the Mr Patnaik as “corrupt” and “inefficient”. He even had his picture taken with chief minister Patnaik poring over a map of the cyclone-affected area, creating the image of two cooperative heads working as one. Prime Minister Modi is not given to sharing credit with anyone, and this outreach is meant to stoke hopes of Mr Patnaik’s post-poll support.
Prime Minister Modi is not the only one making post-poll outreach even though two phases of polling are still due. The activities of Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) should set alarms bells ringing in the BJP. He was expected to back the BJP after the election in case it fell short of a majority even with its NDA allies. But he has once again decided to plough his “non-Congress, non-BJP” furrow of setting up a Federal Front. In this regard, he has already met Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and called Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. He also wants to meet Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) chief M.K. Stalin on May 13, which may not take place because of the latter’s reluctance. KCR is also scheduled to visit West Bengal for further talks with Mamata Banerjee.
Whether KCR’s efforts bear fruit or not is immaterial. What is significant is that he does not expect the BJP to emerge as a clear victor in this election and sees an opportunity for the Opposition to make a bid for power in New Delhi.
Similarly, YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy, who until recently was being potentially counted as part of BJP’s “NDA-plus” alliance, has also left his post-poll options open. He says that he has “forgiven” the Congress for its past actions against him and that he will support any government at the Centre which gives Andhra Pradesh the status of a “special category” state. That rules out the BJP as it had chased away a trusted ally, the Telugu Desam Party, precisely on these grounds.
Clearly the jostling for power for a post-BJP scenario amongst the Opposition parties has begun in right earnest. There are also rumours that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been in touch with Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, who stands a good chance of heading a non-BJP coalition government. Mr Pawar has acceptability across the political spectrum and the BJP has done nothing to endear itself to him. The BJP government in Maharashtra has in fact gone out of its way to ensure that his daughter Surpiya Sule finds it difficult to win from the family’s pocket borough of Baramati this time around. Mr Pawar’s party has been sufficiently tormented and blackmailed by the Narendra Modi government to push him to consolidate the anti-BJP Opposition or even lead it.
Yet another straw in the wind which suggests that the election may not be going in favour of the BJP has come from the Election Commission. The repeated and open dissent of one of the election commissioners, Ashok Lavasa, on complaints of violations of the Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah is flying like a windsock.
Lastly, the weathervane of Indian politics, the cacophonous national media, has also begun changing colours. Shedding its image of being the in-house publicity platform of the Modi government, it has suddenly begun discovering virtues in the Opposition. Nothing else explains the spate of interviews of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the media. This would have been unthinkable only a few months ago....