As Nitish, Modi jostle, 2014 poll outcome looks more hazy

Rehearsals for the play that will be enacted on the national stage in just over a year from now have begun. The script is not known; it will have to be improvised as the year unfolds. But it does promise to be a morality play in which the main protagonists will strut around claiming to be development, honesty, integrity, efficiency or good governance personified. Secularism and communalism could also expect to be part of the supporting cast.

Two years ago, it was Narendra Modi who claimed to be the sole actor qualified to take on the lead role of the Development Man, or rather, `Vikas Purush II’ (the original was Atal Behari Vajpayee). But more recently, his boast of extraordinary achievement in Gujarat stands punctured by statistics of poor performance in education, health, poverty and hunger alleviation, even in foreign direct investment. Even within his own Bharatiya Janata Party, Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh had the temerity to suggest at the recent National Council session that he had outperformed the ‘chota sardar’ (as Modi is often called) in several areas including agriculture growth. Of course, he did not name the big man.

In the Congress party — without even an audition — it is clear the lead role will be that of Rahul Gandhi, although the question is wide open what part he would prefer to play post the election, even in the event of a win. Would he follow in his father’s footsteps and head the government, or prefer to take a lesson from his mother Sonia Gandhi and pick his own Manmohan Singh?

The latest to lay claim to a stellar role in the upcoming blockbuster is Bihar’s Nitish Kumar. Hasn’t he been able to turn despondency into hope in one of the most backward states in the country? Last Sunday, in Delhi, he made his points powerfully. The unstated, but clear message was he deserved more points than Modi, and not just on his secular credentials. In 2014, people will applaud “those who give justice with parity,” not mere development and growth, he said. Echoing the 2009 winner plank of the Congress, inclusive growth, that is, development with social justice was his mantra. One better than the standalone ‘development’ claim by his bête noir Modi. There was also the veiled threat he could break free from the BJP, a move certain to adversely affect the BJP, and therefore Modi’s  chances of capturing power.

The jostling has begun in right earnest. The DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi has threatened to quit ruling dispensation at the Centre. Remember, he was a partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance earlier and could weigh his options. His rival J Jayalalitha of the AIDMK is also soft on the BJP but has announced that she will fight the next election on her own, preferring to keep all options open. For no one is sure how the denouement will unfold.

Third formation

The Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is dreaming of a third front, just as CPM’s Prakash Karat and the BSP chief Mayawati did in 2009. She has announced her intention to hunt for partners and supporters (who could prop her up for a lead role at the Centre for 2014). The calculation: a third formation could have an outside chance since the Congress is in bad shape — buffeted by corruption scandals and accusations of non-performance – and the BJP is in no form either to take advantage as party veteran L K Advani has admitted.

Realistically speaking, for the BJP – it has recently lost power in Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal (but has won Goa) and municipal poll results from Karnataka have brought no cheer – anything more than 130 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 is next to impossible without a serious revival of its fortunes in 80-seat-strong Uttar Pradesh, from where it won only 10 seats in 2009. In 1996 when it emerged for the first time as the single largest party, it had upwards of 55 Lok Sabha seats from UP alone. Neither Hindutva nor Moditva can work in huge sections of the country where the BJP has negligible presence. Modi cannot help bring the party even a single Lok Sabha seat from Kerala (20 seats), Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (40), Andhra Pradesh (42), West Bengal (42) and Northeast comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur (8). These together account for 152 seats. Of course it could desperately try for some new alliance partners to help garner a few seats. In Karnataka (28) the recent municipal polls show it is in a mess. Of course, there is time for the party bigwigs to coax and cajole B S Yeddyurappa and others who have parted company to return. It has a year to mend its affairs somewhat but the damage by dissension and mining scandals cannot be entirely undone.

There are another 120 odd seats where the BJP cannot hope to do much better than the Congress: Odisha (21), Haryana (10), Maharashtra (48), Himachal (4), Uttarakhand (5), Assam (14), Jharkhand (14) and Delhi (7). Its strength lies in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh (together 66 seats) and Rajasthan (25) where it may be able to get as many, if not more seats than the Congress. And in Punjab and Bihar the party is heavily dependent on allies Janata Dal (United) and the Akali Dal. Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has already indicated his repertoire may hold some nasty surprises for the BJP.

Given the general state of disenchantment with the role played by United Progressive Alliance II over the last four years, there are not many ready to bet the ruling coalition could even come close to 150 seats, let alone equal its 2009 performance of 200 plus.

At the end of the morality play, it will be time for curtains to go up again on a mystery thriller as secret negotiations start to cobble up a government.

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