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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 19 MAY, 2019

Who Will Be The Next PM?

A Range of Possibilities


NEW DELHI: Even before the last phase of the long drawn polling for the Lok Sabha 2019 elections is going on, hectic activity has overtaken the political parties. As is usual more is happening behind the scenes, than in the public images of leaders like Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu meeting with top opposition leaders as both the NDA and the rest are aware of post poll urgency to strike while the iron is burning.

In an election battle where the outcome seems to be close---although one suspects that the final analysis could register a sharp tilt one way or the other---not a single leader spoken to could predict the results with any accuracy. Trends yes , laced at times though more with conventional wisdom emerging from arithmetic and some ground reports than actual feedback. In Delhi there is an AAP vote, but the Muslim has moved away to vote for the Congress. Thus there is a division of votes. So who will it benefit? The BJP of course. To what extent, again silence. Even reporters on the ground registering the changes in the vote cannot say whether the final tally will be seven for the BJP, or two for the Congress, or one for AAP.

And this is perhaps the simplest election, with the states far more complicated with the Opposition and the ruling dispensations tied in intense battles. So while it is difficult---actually impossible to even pose a betting tally without trepidation, it is a little easier after speaking to the political leaders, to outline possible scenarios post polls.

If the BJP gets 250+ seats: Prime Minister Narendra Modi sails back to power

If the BJP gets 220+ seats: Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets back to power, with some effort and cajoling of allies plus smaller parties.

If the BJP gets 200+ seats: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will require a huge effort, and could have to step aside for another leader like Nitin Gadkari (if he wins his election) as the PM. This is because the regional parties not currently with the NDA will have to come into play, and the demand for replacing the PM is expected then to be voiced as a condition for support. Here the role of the RSS becomes crucial, as current reports still insist that the mentor organisation is keen to remain in power and more than willing to replace Modi with another from within its ranks if the need so arises.

If the BJP gets between 180-200 seats: The above could apply, provide the RSS takes over the BJP, and plays an active role in seeking the help of coalition parties like the Biju Janata Dal and the Telangana and Andhra parties to make up the shortfall.

If the BJP gets less than 220 seats: Conversely, the Opposition will come into real play seeking to form a non-BJP government with a consensus candidate at the helm. The gathbandhan in UP of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati is going to project the latter for the PM, a demand that BSP leaders told The Citizen will have to be heeded as per the rule of numbers. In the SP-BSP understanding Akhilesh Yadav will pitch for Chief Minister in the Assembly polls, and help instal Mayawati as PM now.

The Congress is looking to stymie this with a consensus candidate who gets the support of all regional political parties. In this context the name of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar keeps coming up, but again BSP and SP leaders spoken to reject it maintaining that one, he is too old and two, he is ageing. And three, if the gathbandhan emerges from UP with 50 seats no one can then stop the BSP chief from moving into the PM’s chair.

Interestingly, the one constant here is that the Congress will not lead the government. Ghulam Nabi Azad has said as much publicly, a statement that the corporate media divided between the BJP and the Congress is hesitant to pick up on. If the Opposition wants to form the government it will need the support of the BJD, perhaps even Nitish Kumar who has been chaffing at the BJP reins, and a larger coalition that will find ibe easier to be in a non-BJP, non-Congress front. The prospect of a federal government supported from within or without by the Congress will be an attractive option for all, and this is definitely on the table for all the chew over.

A Congress with 110 or less Lok Sabha seats will at best be a facilitator for an Opposition government. A Congress with over 130 Lok Sabha seats will be able to call the shots to some extent, as the numbers then of the BJP would be well below the 200 mark. Remember, that the battle for Congress seats is in the states ---Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh etc---where it is in a direct fight with the BJP. Reports suggest it is not doing very well in many of these states, and while the regional parties including Mamata Banerjee have held their own against the BJP assault, the Congress might not be able to boast the same when the results come in.

But then the factors at play are so many that even a seemingly small swing could bring in a landslide of seats. This works both ways of course.

The BJP has the edge, in terms of institutions, finances and of course the fact that it will emerge as the single largest party and hence be given the first choice to form the government by the President of India. But this will not be enough if the numbers are wanting, and the Opposition rushes to get its act together. As a senior BSP leader from UP said, “urgency is what is required, who gets to the end first will determine who forms the government.” There is understandable worry within the regional parties about the Congress party and its ability to play the role of a catalyst without conditions, and arrogance. The concern arises from the realisation that an Opposition government will need this help, more so as the Left that played a major role in 2004 is not expected to emerge a player out of these Lok Sabha polls.

Interestingly, no one in the Opposition really buys the canard against Mayawati, that she will cross to the BJP. Except perhaps for Congress leaders who insist on repeating this. The logic as pointed out by a Bihar RJD former MP is simple: “if the BJP makes her the Prime Minister sure, she will cross over. But not for anything less. And as there is no question of this happening, there is no question of Behenji moving out of the Opposition fold.” Besides as he said, she has won on a combined vote of Dalits, Muslims and other backwards and having come back to the mainstream after a hiatus is not going to take measure a la Nitish Kumar style and suffer the consequences.

The story then in short is, except for a majority to one or the other side, the real game of politics will begin post May 23.

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