BJP PM-hopeful faces uphill task in the run-up to polls

Many critics of Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, have scorned at his latest blog in which he has lamented his “pain, grief, sadness, anguish, agony” and that “he was shaken to the core by the shameful 2002 Gujarat riots.” Still for Modi, known to turn opportunities into winning streaks, the timing of the blog post may not have been bad. The blog, in which he stopped short of apologising for India’s worst riots in decades which many say he indirectly encouraged, may yet win him allies before or after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. 

The occasion on which the Gujarat chief minister attempted to reach out to people – after the trial court verdict which rejected petition against the special investigation team’s clean chit to him – may be solemn but given the pre-poll atmosphere, one is tempted to look at it with elections in view. In a fractured polity that India has come to represent for the last two decades, even the best performance of the Modi-led BJP may not see it home with a majority but may leave it short of the goal post by a mile. In such a situation, the BJP will be forced to seek the allies. At that point, the December 27,2013 blog, who knows, may hold the key. 

Not that there are many parties who consider the BJP untouchable. The likes of the TDP, DMK,AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and the JD(U) have shared bed with the BJP at one time or the other. But they need an excuse to join the bandwagon, provided the BJP emerges as the single largest party and be in a position to form the government, with of course, the help of others. Modi wrote the blog after the court verdict which came weeks after the BJP romped home in three of the five states where Assembly elections were held and for which he was hailed by his supporters as the architect. 

As for the impact of his persona and electioneering so far, the jury is out, at least in the four states of the country’s northern belt. But then, a BJP win in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and as single largest party in Delhi, cannot just be attributed wholly to Modi as there were several factors at play. A well-oiled party machinery, rooted local satraps such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh, in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, both seeking third consecutive term at the helm much like Modi himself, and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan - all had ensured that it would be hard to defeat the BJP. Delhi of course was a different story with the fledgling Aam Admi Party (AAP) stealing the thunder from the BJP and Modi.

But what is more important for Modi now is not dwelling on the past but strategising for the future. He knows despite the BJP show in Assembly polls, the road to the 16th Lok Sabha is no bed of roses. Political equations and people’s preferences will be different in each state and accordingly his approach will have to differ. The BJP was bracing for direct contests with the Congress (with or without allies) in states such as Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, besides MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi but the arrival of the AAP may have upset the calculations of the pretender to the throne. In several seats of these states, instead of direct, it may turn out to be a triangular fight and the Modi-led BJP will be forced to shift gears. In almost all other states, it would be triangular or multi-cornered fights where the BJP has to contend with strong regional parties championed by effective leaders. Apart from this, the BJP hardly counts in some others – such as West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu besides north-eastern states. (It has won only two seats in AP, TN, WB, Haryana and Kerala in the last two Lok Sabha elections!)

In urban areas, which account for roughly 210 of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha, the BJP will face serious competition from not just the Congress but the regional parties besides the AAP. The new kid on the block may turn out to be an urban phenomenon and may not even win a handful of seats but its capacity to vote out the favourites cannot be underestimated. Even if it does it in 30-40 seats, it can change the Lok Sabha landscape! It may even turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the BJP too, helping it win maximum number of seats. So, in urban areas, the BJP has not just the Congress to contend with but the freshly-minted AAP, and/or the regional parties. 

In the November, 2013 elections, the BJP won over 405 Assembly seats from 589 Assembly segments which amounts to nearly 70 per cent of the total seats. But converting these into Lok Sabha seats is tricky – BJP managers themselves have not forgotten that similar results in 2003 got reversed in six months with the BJP tasting defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. But then, 2014 is no 2004 and Modi fortunately can go after a government at the Centre neck-deep in corruption scandals. Will Modi manage to script a different text and win the Delhi gaddi? Tall order, indeed!

My one message to the Chief Minister is that he should follow raj dharma. A ruler should not make any discrimination between his subjects on the basis of caste, creed and religion. I believe he is performing his Rajdharma properly.

A B Vajpayee in Ahmedabad on Apr 4, 2002, a month after the riots 

It is very difficult to say what all the reasons are for the defeat (of BJP) in the elections but one impact of the (Gujarat) violence was we lost the elections. It was an incident which could have further aggravated emotions. They (opposition) tried to reap political benefits out of it. 

A B Vajpayee in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu June 2004 after losing General elections
The truth in today’s Gujarat is that those who run the government are liars, corrupt and merchants of death.

Sonia Gandhi in south Gujarat’s Navsari on Dec 1 2007

Without discussing the merits of Modi, I sincerely believe that it will be disastrous for the country to have Modi as the PM. India does not want such a PM. If by strong PM you mean you preside over the massacre of innocents on the streets of Ahmedabad, that is not the kind of strength I will like to have.

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister on Jan 3, 2014

I thought Christmas spirit had imbued Modi. Thought he was going to utter the word that thousands were expecting — apology. He did not apologise.

P Chidambaram, Finance Minister on Dec 31, 2013 on Modi’s blog

Related Articles:

 ‘Apology will  mean admission of guilt’ 
Tainted image to haunt Modi

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