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No tearing hurry


Narendra Modi is in no hurry to expand the NDA and there is a good reason why. Anil Pandey has the larger picture
ANIL PANDEY | Issue Dated: December 29, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : No tearing hurry | Narendra Modi |

After crunching assembly elections losses in Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh last year, senior leaders of the BJP at a high-level stock taking meeting reached two conclusions. One, that inflation and corruption were no longer valid political issues otherwise the BJP would have won the states. The BJP had changed two tainted chief ministers in Karnataka and Uttarakhand with BS Yeddyurrapa quitting the party in Karnataka.

The meeting came to the conclusion that instead of putting too strong a line under the twin scourge of inflation and corruption, the party should go on a case by case basis- every state will be treated differently.  For instance, if Hindutva would be the party’s guiding force in UP, its primary theme in Chhattisgarh and MP will be development.  The so-called ‘84 Kosi Yatra’ in UP is a result of that saffron engineering. The other more important facet is the decision of the BJP leadership and the RSS to go it alone in these elections. Going against the grain of coalition politics logic, the party has reached the conclusion that losses in 2004 and 2009 were prompted by indifferent performances by certain key allies. While the BJP Lok Sabha numbers have hovered around the same mark, the heavy losses suffered by allies has meant that it has not been in a position to form a government. This time, the overriding view in the party is to take a calculated risk and look for allies after the elections, once they have numbers in their hands.

The timing here is important. Unquestionably, when this review meeting was held, the political situation was very different from what it is now. The BJP was down in the dumps after losing three states. Allies, particularly those with significant percentage of Muslim voters, were not too keen to be seen with Narendra Modi.

But with four states in its kitty after the recent assembly elections, the political pendulum is shifting in BJP and Modi’s favour. According to party strategists, the way in which Muslim voters have come out in support of the party in MP and Rajasthan on the lines of earlier elections held in Bihar and Gujarat, has come as a huge shot in the arm. They believe that Modi’s untouchable status is now coming to an end with more regional parties and satraps seeing him in better light. That is a sign that the NDA which had shrunk from its days as a 22-party coalition under Atal Behari Vajpayee, could be getting its second wind.

Says analyst Subrokamal Dutta: "After the recent victory, the fortunes of the BJP are on a rise while the Congress is on the descendant. It is natural for regional parties to feel attracted towards BJP."

In Andhra Pradesh, the biggest state in south India, both Telugu Desam chief Chandra Babu Naidu and YSR Congress boss Jagan Reddy have publicly affirmed their faith in Modi. Reddy when asked by reporters about an alliance with the BJP said he ‘‘Saw no reason in not wanting to work with Modi. We are looking forward to it,’’ he said. While Maharahstra Navnirman Samiti president Raj Thakeray and INLD leader Omprakash Chauthala are old BJP allies, even non-allies like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Bannerjee who till the other day were seriously against any truck with a Modi-led BJP, have softened their stand somewhat significantly.

But once bitten, twice shy. The BJP is not too keen to hurry into pre-electoral alliances of any kind and wants to go it alone as much as it can. It would rather favour an alliance on its terms than be dictated by allies, which it sees as akin to the case of a tail wagging the dog! Which is the main reason why, with signs of a Modi flavour blowing in the wind, the party is not exactly pushing the NDA wheel cart too strongly. It believes it can wait and watch.

According to BJP leaders, it could turn out to a case of too many wanting to jump the Modi bandwagon. For instance, the party is reacting cautiously to K Karunanidhi's announcement of not tying up with the Congress because his main rival Jayalalitha would get upset. The same is the story in other states; picking on one and annoying other parties is a game the BJP wants to avoid. Likewise in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu wants a tie up with the BJP but party strategists believe alliances with Jagan and the TRS could be more fruitful. In Maharashtra, it is the same story. Do you tie up with the Shiv Sena or the MNS, both friendly to the BJP but opposed to each other.
Says a senior BJP leader: ‘‘The party is veering round to the view that post-electoral tie ups make sense. In some states where we are not strong, we will go in for friendly contests.’’ And then later, perhaps, put their cards on the table once the numbers are out.

So as part of the overall electoral process, the BJP is going in for delicate and micro-level poll management. Candidates will be decided on a constituency by constituency basis without any overarching policy on alliances. So finally it is going to boil down to behind-the-scene agreements as opposed to public posturing which can ruffle feathers.

Some evidence of this tactical vote sharing came in the Howrah bye-elections in West Bengal this May. Sources say after a talk between Modi and Mamata, it was decided to pull back the BJP candidate as it was turning out to be a vote divider and the Trinamool Congress candidate won; contesting alone, it is pretty certain that the Left Front would have been the gainer.

To make Mission 2014 a success, the BJP brains trust of Sushma Swaraj, Venkiah Naidu, party president Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley are working at their own levels to establish links with regional parties. But over and above, Modi himself is taking the lead in making friendly overtures to anti-Congress parties. If BJP sources are to be believed, he is in constant touch with Mamata, Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha and others. They say he is making a good job of it, all quietly behind the scenes.

Says Murlidhar Rao, senior BJP leader: ‘‘The NDA is going to become stronger. To fight the Lok Sabha elections, two major obstacles have been surmounted; one, Modi unanimously became the party mascot for the 2014 elections. The other fears surrounded the acceptance of Modi among the NDA allies. We have been proved successful on both counts as the NDA numbers are bound to swell again. We could even get some new friends there.’’

Modi’s plans are pretty straight forward. He wants to get as close to the majority number as is possible. For that he wants the party to go all out in constituencies where they are either strong or in the second position. In Modi’s reckoning, there are 323 such Lok Sabha constituencies.
As part of his mobilisation plan, the Gujarat chief minister has played the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel card by installing a 180- metre statue in his state. By invoking the name of India’s very own Bismarck - the man responsible for the re-construction of the Somnath temple and persuading principalities to join the Indian union - Modi believes he will catch the imagination of a significant section of Indian voters brought up on a steady propaganda diet about India’s first prime minister.

As part of this mobilization, two mass contact programmes, ‘Run for Unity’ and ‘Statue for Unity’ are regarded as ambitious. Here too, tactics have come into play. The December 15 launch of ‘Run for Unity’ would take place in five states where the BJP presence is little but potential to improve great. They include UP, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra. Between them, they add up to 185 Lok Sabha seats where the BJP currently holds just 31. Modi has set the target at a 100 additional odd seats here, despite BJP’s own internal surveys giving it closer to 50 seats.

As for its strongholds like MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Goa, the party believes it can hold onto the 100 odd Lok Sabha seats, most of which currently belong to them. So despite naysayers, the bearded man from Ahmedabad is planning and moving ahead.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017