‘If Cong hits half of half, BJP’s chances begin to dim’

‘If Cong hits half of half, BJP’s chances begin to dim’

Rasheed Kidwai

Author-Journalist Rasheed Kidwai, currently visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, tells DH’s Anand Mishra Congress’ weakness is its coalition politics, the BJP’s its inability to think beyond Modi for PM.

Is BJP set for a second term? 

Conventional wisdom points at the Narendra Modi-led BJP holding pole position and being all set to emerge as the single largest party. This alone may pave the way for a return of the NDA, though getting new allies like Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress, etc., will not be easy. But a lot will depend on how non-NDA parties perform. If Congress even comes close to “half of half” -- that is, half of 272 Lok Sabha seats -- there will be trouble for Modi as most regional parties will prefer to bargain with Congress. 

What role will alliances play in government formation?

Alliances are crucial for both BJP and Congress, but there is erroneous emphasis on new alliances within the opposition. Congress has to perform well in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, etc., to keep BJP out of power. At the same time, its alliance has to do well in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, J&K, etc. In UP, Bengal, Assam and Telangana, Congress has to win a chunk of seats to be relevant as a national party. Actually, the task of Congress crossing 100 seats is the biggest challenge and a point of interest in this election. The rest of the equations will follow on their own. The BJP’s story is similar, but it looks comfortably set to cross 150-160 seats. Its challenge will be to run a coalition government if its tally is below 180-190 seats. 

Has the national mood swung back in favour of BJP post-Balakot airstrike?

In the immediate aftermath of Balakot, it appeared that the airstrike would be the game-changer, but it seems unlikely to be the singular poll issue. Agrarian distress, jobs and anti-incumbency are some key issues. Modi is a factor, but the BJP tends to be far more formidable in attack mode than in defending its turf. Post-2014 state assembly polls are a testimony to this, when it defeated the Congress, non-NDA citadels with ease but struggled to retain BJP-ruled states.  

Why has Congress failed to seal alliances?   

Congress suffers from historical baggage. Most regional parties were formed on an anti-Congress plank, so working out alliances is easier said than done. Congress has to keep an eye on its future, too. There is, of course, the illusion of grandeur, too, and decision-making process in Congress is tardy. We may remember that Congress has not had any national level alliance with either SP or BSP. The key factor is that unlike in 2014, there have been no major pre-poll defections. In 2014, senior leaders like Choudhury Birendra Singh, Rao Inderjit, Rita Bahugana Joshi, Jagadambika Pal had quit the party. In Bhind, Madhya Pradesh, Bhagirath Prasad had changed sides after getting Congress Lok Sabha ticket!

This time around, except for Kishore Chandra Deo (who moved to TDP), the Congress flock has remained intact. To my mind, as long as regional players like Mamata, Stalin, HD Kumaraswamy, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, Tejashwi Yadav, Sharad Pawar, etc., are able to retain their own turfs and win the bulk of seats in their respective states, plus the Congress crossing 100-seat mark, the opposition story will be both promising and lively.     

The prospect of Nitin Gadkari as PM keeps popping up. Is there any possibility of a BJP PM other than Modi?

This is fashionable talk but an unlikely scenario. If the BJP fails in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it will not be able to form a government. Given Modi-Amit Shah duo’s hold on the party, Gadkari’s prospects are minimal. However, if Mamata-Naveen-Stalin team up with 80-plus seats and force a change of leadership, it will witness a protracted battle within the BJP. The Modi-Shah duo has complete control over the party apparatus. So, who will negotiate or execute such a plan? 

What are the strong and weak points of Congress and BJP? Who among the regional players could be a consensus choice for PM?

Congress’ weakness is its interest in coalition politics. I firmly believe Rahul Gandhi fancies himself as a trustee of power than a power-wielder. This aspect has given hope to Mamata, Mayawati, etc., fancying their chances. Post-polls, if there is a hung House, Mamata has more chances of getting support from Stalin, Naveen Patnaik, Akhilesh, KCR, Jagan, Tejashwi and even Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka than Mayawati. The BJP’s strength is its weakness, as the office of prime minister is non-negotiable for it for all practical purposes.