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      The New Year Number Game           

Omkar Goswami


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 dog?

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 a battle?

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


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