The Capital’s political grapevine is abuzz with possible scenarios after the election results on May 23. Some like TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu are already active. The Congress camp believes that if the party crosses 125 and the BJP gets less than 200 seats, the BJP cannot stake claim to form government. The Congress, as the largest party in the anti-BJP coalition, will take the lead in spearheading a mahagathbandhan government with Rahul Gandhi as potential prime minister. If the Congress gets less than 100 seats, then regional party leaders will stake their claim to head an anti-BJP coalition. However, if the BJP wins more than 230 seats, it will be on the threshold of government formation. With the numbers from the three major NDA allies, the JD(U), Shiv Sena and Akali Dal (the AIADMK may not count for much) and potential backers such as Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi and some Independents, it could reach the half-way mark of 272 fairly comfortably.
But what happens if the BJP gets somewhere between 200 and 220 seats? Some believe that the BJP could still hope to get support from other political parties if it agreed to replace Narendra Modi and settle for a more pragmatic and conciliatory leader, such as Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh or Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP brains trust dismisses such talk as nonsensical kite-flying. Whatever the strength of the BJP, it will be entirely due to Modi and no replacement for him is possible. In any case, Modi and Amit Shah have ensured that the majority of the BJP candidates owe loyalty to them. The BJP is convinced that the NDA will cross the half-way mark on its own. In this election, Modi has completely overshadowed his party. Supporters seldom mention the BJP, they simply say they are voting for Modi.
Credit only for PM
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is an avid tweeter who is quick to trumpet her ministry’s achievements and name the Indian Foreign Services officers involved. But when India scored a major diplomatic coup in getting Masood Azhar designated as an international terrorist, Swaraj did not tweet congratulating the ministry. She simply re-tweeted the Prime Minister’s tweet. She was aware that on this Narendra Modi must be given all the credit. Interestingly, three Indian officials, who happen to be Muslims, played a key role in persuading the international community, including China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to blacklist Azhar — Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent representative at the UN, Asif Ibrahim, former Intelligence Bureau director and now special envoy for counter-terrorism, and Ahmed Javed, once Mumbai police commissioner, who is currently ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Digvijaya Singh, who once projected himself as the epitome of rationality and secularism and baited all obscurantism, has done a complete make-over in his campaign against Pragya Thakur in Bhopal parliamentary seat. When former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president and CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar wanted to go to Madhya Pradesh to campaign for him, Singh politely declined the offer. In Bhopal, Kanhaiya’s support would work as a negative factor. Instead, Singh invited Computer Baba along with hundreds of sadhus for a yagya, at which his wife, television anchor Amrita Rai, sat, covered her face demurely in a ghunghat. Similarly, in Barrackpore, Bengal, the Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi has used fire to fight fire. He instructed his supporters to respond to the BJP’s chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with ‘Har Har Mahadev’, the battle cry of the Indian Army.
Even before he took over as the head of the Gorakhpur Mutt, Yogi Adityanath had floated a youth militia, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, in 2002. The ostensible purpose was propagating Hindutva and nationalism, but there were many charges against its members of harassment, communal violence and intimidation. However, after he took over as Chief Minister, Adityanath distanced himself from the Vahini. Sunil Singh, a key functionary of the organisation, was infuriated when he and some others did not get Assembly tickets. He revolted and formed a rebel Vahini outfit, declaring himself president. Singh announced that he would contest against the BJP’s Gorakhpur candidate, actor Ravi Kishan, on a Hindustan Nirman Dal ticket, the party floated by Narendra Modi’s old bête noire Pravin Togadia. Being a Thakur, Singh might have cut into BJP votes, but his nomination was declared invalid by the Election Commission.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 12, 2019, under the title ‘Numbers Game’.