It’s achhe din for numerology. All kinds of number sequences are being bandied about by political draughtsmen to capture the shape of something yet to be born. What the next Government of India will look like is still a matter of crystal-ball gazing as we approach the twentieth over. The predictions span the gamut: from a thumping endorsement for the Narendra Modi government to a more slender, chastening win for the BJP to a hung Parliament to a coalition of regional forces supported by the Congress, or vice versa. Depends on who you ask. Even within parties, estimates thrown up by internal polls vary. The confusion is natural, for everyone is trying to freeze within the frame of quantified data a reality that’s still evolving and dynamic.
A new consensus seems to have emerged, being spoken of in whispers by pollsters and broadcast loudly by freelance opinionators on social media. This talks of a scenario where the BJP on its own dips below 200, to something around 170-180. Exit polls are not allowed to be published during elections, but that doesn’t mean they are not conducted. And a few of them hew close to such a figure, which, if borne out, would be an ignominious moral defeat for the present dispensation, though it would still be serviceable for the BJP. For, it could conceivably remain the single largest party that will get to play white and move first on the chessboard.
All the moveable chunks will adjust to that reality and the squares on the Rubik’s cube will fall into place. Such a scenario has not just hitherto non-committal ones like TRS, BJD and YSRC agreeing to a live-in relationship with the BJP on their pre-nup terms, it foresees Mamata Banerjee and even Mayawati as potential partners. It seems Akhilesh Yadav is aware of the latter possibility, and wouldn’t mind a break-up of the mahagathbandhan post-poll, after it has drawn blood, because it opens up Uttar Pradesh for him in the next Assembly elections.
Such a scenario could just as well remain a matter of fond hypothesis by Modi’s critics too, reflecting a general perception that the BJP has slipped from its post-Balakot heights (when it was deemed invincible by the same voices) and the ‘nationalism’ fervour only lingered for the first two phases. The BJP’s desperation is, of course, real and it knows it’s fighting more a rearguard battle, a holding operation, not charging front-on.
The party itself has at least three broad sets of data results. One, marginal losses. Two, around 240—pegged comfortably above the projections of the ‘220 club’, those who apparently play the game with the objective that the RSS will seek to replace Modi with someone like Nitin Gadkari. The third gives them, contrary to social media consensus, in excess of 300 seats. Some pollsters back this, and are betting good money on their own bullish projections. In an election where Modi is the factor, not candidates, and where the universalising narrative of ‘nationalism’ was heard being espoused deep in rural Gulbarga by this writer, they are going by a few trends on the ground.
Everyone knows the received wisdom about 2019: that the BJP will take hits in the cow belt and Gujarat-Maharashtra, where they had maxed out in 2014 and can only go down, and need to make inroads into virgin territory in the south and east to make up. This was seen as a given. But their feedback is, they’ve been able to contain their losses in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, will hold on to at least 45 seats in UP, and score decent runs in places where they are in a straight fight with the Congress: full states or zones like North Karnataka. And Haryana, where non-Jat consolidation against the
Hoodas is working against the Congress. A good outing in Odisha and Bengal (bullish figures cite 10+ in each) and 50/50 in Bihar means they’re safe.
The Congress has its own figures. Rahul Gandhi’s recent self-assuredness is said to emanate from exit polls and turnout analyses that apparently indicated the BJP is suffering a loss of 80 seats—which made them redouble their efforts to ensure those losses go up to 120. There’s even an outlier scenario where, in an Opposition win where the Congress doesn’t predominate, they propose someone like Mallikarjun Kharge as a PM candidate, while Rahul Gandhi bides his time. Even within the possibility of an Opposition hurrah, all depends on how the parties stack up individually.
That brings us to a fact beyond number-crunching. What was supposed to be a presidential-style contest is in reality quite something else: an aggregation of state elections, so to speak. The biggest players on May 23 could be regional satraps, like Telangana’s Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, eminently ambidextrous and with channels potentially open on all sides.
The only regional party that may probably not be able to create a major presence for itself, despite its alliance with the Congress, is the RJD. That’s because Tejaswi Yadav is up against another regional satrap and Lalu Yadav is in jail. Just like Chandrababu Naidu, the original mover and shaker of pan-Opposition unity, who’s up against Jagan Mohan Reddy. Also, when everybody could potentially be hunting for viable prime ministers in a fortnight from now, contemplate the fate of the one man who was always spoken of as an alternative consensus PM candidate. Whoever wins on May 23, the biggest loser could be Nitish Kumar.
Resident Editor, Karnataka