Out of my Mind: Red Fort ready

When the Prime Minister spoke last year from the Red Fort, he seemed invincible. It was as if 2019 was in the bag. But the first rule of politics is: Never take an election for granted.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: August 26, 2018 4:00:49 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 72nd Independence Day, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Express Photo/Neeraj Priyadarshi)

When the Prime Minister spoke last year from the Red Fort, he seemed invincible. It was as if 2019 was in the bag. Demonetisation had come and gone. Uttar Pradesh had been won with a massive landslide. The BJP had won in the Northeast. Karnataka beckoned and even Tamil Nadu seemed open to BJP penetration.

How much difference a year makes? After the last August 15, things began to go awry. The Ram Rahim fiasco in Haryana saw the Khattar government fail to maintain law and order. In UP, Gorakhpur Hospital saw a series of children deaths. The GST had severe teething troubles. The gau rakshaks ran rampant.

Then came the shock of Gujarat. On his home turf, Modi had to fight an uphill battle. Then Rahul Gandhi launched the new Hindutva-lite brand of the Congress, visiting temples and discovering Shiva. The BJP scraped through but just.

From then onwards, the Opposition got the bit between its teeth. Jignesh Mevani started taking the Dalit votes away. Patidars inspired other powerful groups such as the Marathas to agitate for reservations. Modi’s inclusive strategy was under attack. The Una attacks on Dalits didn’t help. Mamata Banerjee floated the idea of a Federal Front, combining all opposition parties to fight the BJP. Karnataka was the catalyst. Though the BJP was the largest single party, it fell short of a majority and the Congress-JD(S) government was formed. BJP victory looked like a defeat and the Opposition coalition converged in Bengaluru for celebrating the win. There were bypoll losses in UP and Maharashtra. The Opposition began calculating its numbers.

When Modi stood again at the Red Fort this year, he seemed much the same confident person. Amit Shah is engaged 24×7 on getting the numbers up, promising even a bigger win in UP. The No Trust motion had been convincingly defeated and Modi demonstrated his power as a parliamentary speaker. To give him credit, Rahul Gandhi (hug and wink apart) gave his best speech in the Lok Sabha ever. But the BJP/NDA showed that they take winning seriously while the Congress boasts but does not work. This was repeated at the election for Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Here again the way Modi/Shah juggernaut rolled was a sign that the professionalism the Congress once had is gone.

So where are we for 2019? First rule of politics is: Never take an election for granted. Who predicted that the BJP/NDA would lose 25 per cent of the seats in 2004, or win in 2014 gaining 145 per cent more seats? The Congress surprised everyone by going from 114 to 145 in 2004 but even more by going down 80 per cent in 2014.

Take the worst case for the BJP and the best for the Congress. Suppose the BJP loses 25 per cent (70 seats), and the Congress does as well as the BJP did last time and win 145 per cent more, getting 108 seats. The BJP 212. The Congress 108.

If the Federal Front holds firm, the TMC, SP/BSP, DMK, TDP could fetch another 100 seats. Then the BJP is level with the Federal Front. The question then will be who can entice more partners to join their side. Alas, no Atal Bihari Vajpayee around.

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