SOMEONE taunted Narendra Modi if he would hang himself should the Congress get more seats than he had prophesied. It was a rude thing to say to a prime minister, almost at par with words Modi himself has used to attack former prime ministers and current opponents.
Some say Modi is getting desperate with each passing poll and, therefore, apparently losing the plot. His comments in an interview about cross-border air strikes are cited as examples of an exhausted mind.
Modi apparently told his air force to ignore their worry that a sudden cloud cover on the flight day was a deterrent to the strikes. He was asked to change the dates. He said the clouds could help the Indian planes dodge enemy radar. Cartoonists had a field day. One showed Modi sitting in the cockpit of an air force plane on the tarmac, announcing: Let’s go by road. They would think we are a bus.
But the desperation is dominating the opposition camp as well. If they don’t win this election, most if not all of them could be decimated. Therefore, they must defeat Modi in these elections with all the resources at their command.
However, the opposition is a fractious lot. The Congress is undermining the left in Kerala and targeting potential allies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh as well as West Bengal. In Delhi, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have lacerated each other with gashes so deep that neither feels safe against Modi. In Kerala, Rahul Gandhi has personally taken charge against the left.
Some say Modi is getting desperate with each passing poll and, therefore, apparently losing the plot.
If religious fascism does get entrenched for this or that reason after the elections, would the communists and others of their ilk get another chance? Or would they go underground to work on a better plan than the one that led them to the current pass? Or will they disperse and change their call sign as happened in Pakistan with their comrades under Ayub and Zia.
Rahul Gandhi could have grabbed control of the game from the very start, not by pitching himself as potential prime minister but by stepping back as Mayawati did when she helped Akhilesh Yadav (and herself) defeat Modi’s men in crucial by-polls in Uttar Pradesh. It was Mayawati who energised the opposition and the nation in one stroke and also went about shoring up Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Without her support in Amethi, Rahul would be struggling. That’s camaraderie. Gandhi could have won many blessings by shepherding the alliance from the rear, instead of permitting his perpetually ambitious cohorts to eye power. His Congress manifesto had everything to become a glue for the opposition, an alliance of regional groups consulting with him as they did with leaders who did not seek office before him.
The good news for the fractious opposition is that the statistics of 2014 elections works to their advantage. The good news for Modi is that the election commission has kept its promise of not making the voting machines as transparent as the opposition wants them to be. In other words, the surge in support for Modi in 2014 cannot be bettered in 2019.
In Uttar Pradesh, for example, is it agreed that votes, which went to the opposition in 2014 and 2017 assembly elections and later in three by-polls in which the BJP was evicted, would remain with the opposition? If so, the BJP faces a near rout in the most populous state. In West Bengal, where the BJP hopes to cover its losses in the Hindi heartland, much depends on the behaviour of the floating votes of the communist-led Left Front.
The Times of India says that the BJP is getting help from the communist cadres, which could be a troubling development for Mamata Banerjee, and also for communist sympathisers.
BJP president Amit Shah did say during an election rally in the state that the communists were more agreeable than Banerjee. Would the kiss of death damage the opposition’s chances of unseating Modi? The BJP got 17 per cent votes in West Bengal in 2014, which was reduced to 10pc in the assembly elections of 2016. Modi would need an increase of 25pc to 35pc to catch up with Banerjee’s 46pc.
Would the left oblige the right as news reports suggest? Is the hatred of a secular opponent more deep-seated than the fear of fascism? One hopes the reports are based on spurious inputs, and that the left would not abandon its commitment to fight Modi regardless of its differences with their regional bête noir. The alleged left support to BJP seems like fake news.
The BJP is hoping to gain from Odisha too where the Naveen Patnaik-led ruling party swept the 2014 polls, grabbing 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha and 117 of the 147 assembly seats, propelled by a big jump in its vote share. Will Odisha defy the national trend by yielding to the BJP whose vote share hovered around half of Patnaik’s party? Amit Shah says he would win 23 plus seats in West Bengal and 12 to 15 in Odisha. The bold claim has sent the opposition into a tizzy about voting machines.
Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had given saturated support to Modi in 2014. Will he better that? It remains difficult to imagine an increase. Are the southern states ready to embrace Modi? The desperation to win has its reasons for both.
Neither Modi nor Amit Shah would want to see police officer Sanjiv Bhatt released from jail. He knows too much about too many dodgy things in Gujarat. They wouldn’t want a fresh inquiry launched into the mysterious death of Justice Loya nor the Rafael deal stalking BJP. Both sides are fighting a grim battle. One is riding the tiger. The other is facing the beast.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019