Whether one supports or opposes Mr. Narendra Modi his original goal to attempt a single party majority for his party in the 2014 poll invited admiration. More than being bold, it was an audacious assertion. It resonated very well with a public fatigued with the unseemly pulls and pressures exerted by opportunistic coalition partners resulting in perpetual instability. Not surprisingly General VK Singh who just joined the BJP cited the need for stability as a major reason for his decision. Was Mr. Modi’s declared goal practical?
There are states covering just over 300 Lok Sabha seats where the BJP can hope to achieve a substantial tally. Even if the BJP won 70 percent of the seats in this area it would get just about 210 seats. It would need to win another fifty seats from states where it is expected to pick up victory only in twos and threes at best. However the Akali Dal in Punjab with Mr. Prakash Singh Badal standing rock solid with the BJP, even more so than some factions within the BJP, winning fifty seats from the remaining 240 seats, though a very daunting task, was not impossible. What was required was creation of a political wave that would sweep aside all opposition.
Mr. Modi started his campaign precisely with the aim of creating a wave. His start was impressive. He succeeded in attracting mammoth crowds in mega rallies across the nation. With his accomplished delivery of speech he effectively targeted the mass of underclass voters with populist rhetoric and clever one-liners. However Mr. Modi’s campaign has begun to flounder. One reason is that his rhetoric continues to target mainly the underclass and has ignored the elite and middle class by not addressing serious policy concerns. He continues to dwell on micro management of governance issues but has not touched upon issues that need to be addressed if a real change of political culture is to be introduced. The trickle down influence on the voting pattern exerted by the elite and middle classes should not be underestimated. It should not be judged by numbers but by the media power and money power that can influence public opinion.
The second reason why Mr. Modi’s campaign has started to appear more diffident is even more important. It seems that the BJP is now strategizing to augment the strength of the NDA alliance rather than focus on winning a single party majority. As mentioned, the promise of stability promised by virtually a single party government is what attracted many voters. That hope seems to be dwindling within the BJP itself. The alacrity with which Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan has been welcomed back into the NDA sends a message. The fact that Mr. Paswan sought re-entry into an alliance he had rubbished earlier speaks of his opportunism and calculation that the BJP would fare well in the polls. That seems to have greatly pleased the BJP leaders. After Mr. Paswan’s decision the Samajhwadi Party’s most trenchant critic of the BJP, Mr. Azam Khan, has responded to Mr. Rajnath Singh’s overtures to Muslim voters with the assertion that if regret was expressed over the Gujarat riots of 2002 the SP could consider joining the NDA for the sake of “developing the nation”! Mr. Karunanidi in Tamil Nadu quickly followed with his own praise for Mr. Modi’s leadership qualities. Doubtless these developments will greatly please BJP leaders as proof that the party is on a winning spree. But BJP leaders need to reflect.
If these moves leading to new alliances do fructify, what would be the result? These would strengthen the NDA. What about the BJP and Mr. Modi’s promise of delivering virtually a single party government to the nation which had excited a huge segment of the electorate? Mr. Paswan will be given seats for becoming an ally in a state where the BJP hoped to create a wave. Hypothetically if the SP were to ally with the BJP what would happen to Mr. Amit Shah’s efforts to create a pro-BJP wave in UP? Most likely Mr. Mulayam Singh’s dwindling Muslim support would not vote for the BJP but a large chunk of the party’s traditional vote would be repulsed by this opportunistic alliance. How, then, does Mr. Modi himself view these overtures from erstwhile opponents of the party? Is he also excited and feeling vindicated? Or does he realize that this trend would bury his hope of the BJP singly, with support of the Akali Dal, forming a stable government? One suspects that Mr. Modi is in a dilemma. After Mr. Paswan telephoned him to greet him after joining the NDA, Mr. Modi could not find time to personally meet his new ally.
There are yet two months to go before the polls. Should the BJP change strategy midstream or persist with increasing its own tally at the cost of all allies? Perhaps Mr. Modi should start addressing serious policy issues to expand his ambit of support. Perhaps the BJP should respond warmly to overtures from potential allies but refrain from making commitments or arrangements until after the poll. Unless of course the BJP leaders after studying ground realities have concluded that they cannot get 250 plus seats in the 2014 polls. That seems to be the impression one gains from BJP reactions thus far. But does Mr. Modi share this view?