During the heady days of post-Independence nation-building, Indian politics was defined as a battle of beliefs between ideologies and parties. Now, it’s no longer about following rules; politics means rule at any cost, having lost both purpose and perspective. The 17th Lok Sabha elections are barely 125 days away. However, statecraft is no more a committed competitive confrontation over providing an alternative model of governance, energized by social philosophy and economic ideology. Indian politics has ceased to be an art of possibility and desirability.
This jaded instrument of democratic governance tempered by ideological missions and methods has degenerated into a devious device for snatching and retaining power. No leader talks from the heart anymore on creating a better, vibrant India. Their rhetorical pivot is either Congress-mukt Bharat or Modi-Mukt India. Power is being wielded to demolish institutions, opponents and civil conduct. Both national parties and regional outfits are out haggling in the poll market to win at any cost and pay for whatever it takes. The means justify the endgame as uninhibitedly unscrupulous unanimity ups the ante.
With a captive audience and a docile organization, individuals are dictating the narrative, grammar, arithmetic and chemistry of national politics. When Mayawati meets Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow, the political tremors are felt in New Delhi. Maratha power player Sharad Pawar hosts a high tea for Rahul Gandhi and the BJP goes into a huddle over dinner. The additional vote quotient no longer dictates victory and defeat. Who meets whom and where is enough to cause turbulence in the political stock market.
The theoretical electoral formulation, ‘One plus one delivers the power of eleven’, is still a digestible algorithm. The political probability of ‘One plus zero plus zero equals 100’ is also acceptable algebra. But ludicrous numerical equations are crashing the calculus to derive a preferred outcome. Clearly, a large number of powerful personages who own their own parties and caste bases are coming together to not just wallop the BJP but to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not get a second term.
To formulate a national strategy, they are collectively and individually exploring chances of forging state-level pacts against the saffron monolith. They firmly believe that Modi does not enjoy the Power of 100, with zero significant allies and zero regional satraps. The Opposition is confident that a regionally effective combination of 111 leaders will successfully trounce magnified Modi magic.
Undoubtedly, a mahagathbandhan (great alliance) of caste and regional parties will have larger numbers than the largest political party in the world. With the latest figures on the official caste-wise distribution of votes missing, random numbers are being used by neo-psephologists to predict possible electoral scenarios.
They are conveniently ignorant or ignore the significantly altered social and economic backgrounds of the new leadership that is taking over decision-making in every political party. Caste alone does not bring votes—political manners and methods of leaders now determine the empathy of engagement. Akhilesh Yadav may be from the landed backward class, but his schooling, upbringing and demeanour make him more acceptable to other classes and castes than his father Mulayam, whose rustic ways and wrestler’s bluster belong to another era.
Mamata Banerjee is not from the elitist coconut class (brown outside but white inside) of West Bengal like many of her predecessors from the Communist Party and the Congress. Her rise from a small waterlogged house on an unfashionable South Kolkata street to becoming the darling of all communities and religions is a textbook case of the new poll barcode in action. In Bihar, the discredited and detained Lalu Prasad and undergraduate son Tejashwi enjoy the substantial patronage of a diverse social spectrum that includes their own caste, Muslims and socially and economically weaker sections, thanks to an antipodal aversion to the land-owning upper castes and other rich communities in the BJP.
Dravidian inheritor Stalin became the chief ministerial favourite after his panoramically popular father Karunanidhi died, because the national parties are unable to locate a local leader with social re-engineering moxie. In Maharashtra, the 78-year-old Sharad Pawar is still the most sought after groom for any political marriage, with neither the BJP nor Congress having delivered a credible chieftain to match his machinations and methods. The BJP has no local leader to maul the might of Uddhav Thackeray or Pawar, who are the kingmakers in their state.
However, the future of the BJP and its loquacious leader would be decided by the kinetics of mutuality, driven by the pull-and-push dynamics of just half a dozen individuals—Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata, Pawar, Thackeray and Naveen Patnaik. Of the 282 seats the BJP won in 2014, around 110 are from UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.
It won another 65 from Gujarat and Maharashtra. Even BJP insiders feel that it would be desperately difficult for the party to retain even half of these seats. It has pinned its hopes on the north-east. Amit Shah claims that the BJP will win 50 seats in the east as against its less than a dozen at the moment. There are only 25 parliamentary seats in the seven north-eastern states. Hence, Shah assumedly expects a rich ballot bounty from West Bengal and Odisha, with 73 Lok Sabha MPs. Even in 2014, the BJP, fuelled by Modi’s power-packed popularity, could garner just three seats.
In Maharashtra, Pawar had captured only four seats, while the BJP won in 23 of the 24 constituencies it had contested in alliance with the Shiv Sena. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP alone got 71 seats because the opposition was divided. In the new ‘me, my and myself’ universe, May 2019 will see a contest between MY (Modi and Yogi) and MY (Maya and Yadav). Of the 131 seats in south India, the BJP must improve its tally in Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka while opening its innings in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Barring Karnataka, it is yet to launch a credible leader or slogan to generate pan-state acceptability. It may have more members than local parties, but it lacks an estimable leader who can take the fight to Chandrababu Naidu, Chandrashekar Rao and Pinarayi Vijayan.
In the rest of India, it’s a donnybrook between Modi and Rahul—not between the Congress and the BJP. Between Jammu and Gujarat, the BJP has over 90 per cent MPs. It has 62 of the 65 seats from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress and its fellow travellers are confident that they would decisively dent the BJP in these states without being a gathbandhan component. The challenge to them will come from the formidable sanghathan (organisation) which Amit Shah has built over the past five years. With the ruling party empowered by cadre and cash, the Mahabharata between the mahagathbandhan and the sanghathan led by its lone general Modi would further fray the fabric of finesse in the finale. E-2019 is more about throwing out a person than bringing in another one in the numbers game. Add or ad-lib, do the math.