This is the first article for 2014.
The holidays are coming to an end, a week of
gluttony still sits in the stomach, good cheers
linger, hundreds of jolly photos are yet to be
culled — it is hardly the time to be gloomy, grave
or morosely profound. Yet, come summer this year,
the mother of all democracies will be at work to
elect the 16th Lok Sabha. What might the result be?
Or, more explicitly, the million dollar question:
can the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra
Modi ride the recent state elections wave and form a
coalition government without the tail wagging the
Let us start with an assumption that the Indian
National Congress will finally get on with it and
name the Crown Prince as the face of the party; and
that he will acquiesce, instead of repeating a
number of high-flown excuses. In such a scenario,
across many wards and boroughs, it will be a
straight fight between Modi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s
candidates. How might the Modi-led BJP fare in such
The last time the National Democratic Alliance ran
the country, the BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had
won 180 seats. By most people’s reckoning, that will
not be enough in 2014, because Modi cannot expect to
be supported by Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal
(United), Navin Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal as
well as Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.
To safely run a coalition government with his
obviously presidential style of ruling and
administration, Modi will have to aim for something
like 210 seats — after which it might be fair to
assume that the remaining 60 seats or more will
merrily come his way. Can he win 210 seats?
As of now, it looks like a pretty tough call. Let’s
start with the giant state, Uttar Pradesh, where the
BJP had won just 10 seats out of 80 in 2009. Amit
Shah, Modi’s trusted lieutenant for the state, has
to pull in enough votes to win at least 40 seats.
This can be done only by sharply cutting into the
vote bank of the Samajwadi Party which had won 23
seats in 2009, of the Bahujan Samaj Party which had
secured 20, and even of the Congress which had won
21 seats — a total of 64 seats in 2009. That would
leave another 170 seats to be won by the BJP.
So, on to the other states. In Rajasthan, the BJP
had won only 4 seats in 2009. It is probably safe to
assume that the party will ride the recent state
election wave and win 20 out of 25 seats. In Gujarat
it had won 15 out of 26 seats in 2009. That might
rise to 20. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had won 16
seats in 2009. That could increase to 20, although
one should expect the Congress to put up a fight
there, especially if Jyotiraditya Scindia is given a
free rein. In Chattisgarh, one might assume that
Raman Singh will deliver 10 out of 11 seats. And
that the BJP may get 10 out of the 14 seats in
Jharkhand. That leaves Bihar, where the party had
won 12 seats in 2009. Now it will have to fight
tooth and nail with Nitish Kumar and win no less
than 20 seats. Not easy, even with a weakened Nitish.
If all these were to happen as written, BJP’s tally
would rise to 140 seats. Still far from enough. So,
add another 20 seats from Karnataka; perhaps 20 from
Maharashtra, excluding the Shiv Sena; and all five
from Uttarakhand. That makes it 185 seats. The push
to 210 will need a major incremental effort: winning
four out of seven in Delhi despite the Aam Aadmi
Party; cutting in further into Bihar; adding some
more seats in UP; and the like.
Therefore, it will be a tough call for Modi.
Eventually, he will need allies to deliver: the
AIADMK in Tamil Nadu; the Shiromani Akali Dal in
Punjab; and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
The Congress will most likely be decimated. Not to
double-digits as some claim, but certainly to a low
triple. Yet as of today, it isn’t obvious how the
BJP on its own can win 210 seats. And it is possible
that Mamata, Navin and others may call the shots. Of
the tail defining the dog.
Published: Business World, January 2014