Modi won’t go down sans a fight

Published May 14, 2024
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi

MOST neutral observers are sanguine that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is winning a third term. Let’s put it this way, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Mr Modi is losing the election, which crossed its fourth of seven phases on Monday, despite compelling pointers he could. The assumption of his defeat is based on broad headcounts computed by seasoned analysts.

On the other side is the unceasing clamour from ‘Modi channels’, amid communal dog-whistling by anchors, that he is winning 400-plus seats. That’s a two-thirds majority with which we are told he would change the constitution. Adding weight to the claim of a Modi victory is psephologist Prashant Kishore’s assessment that the BJP could become the single largest party in West Bengal and Odisha. He says the BJP could make inroads for the first time in Tamil Nadu or at least its vote share in the state would hit double digits. That’s good news for Modi, but Kishore does have a mixed reputation at predicting poll outcomes.

We can discuss both sides of the claim and draw our respective conclusions. The question is, would Mr Modi accept defeat if it does come calling. Or would he take the Donald Trump route on losing, whipping up a terrifying frenzy instead? There are many variables to say just what the verdict could be at the hustings, not least because publishing the findings of exit polls is officially banned until the last vote is cast. Exit polls would come on June1, although there can be no certainty about their veracity either. That’s what experience shows. Thus, we must wait for the outcome till June 4.

But let’s hear from Yogendra Yadav, veteran former psephologist who recently became a member of Rahul Gandhi’s cross-country unity march for democracy. He said in a TV analysis on Monday after visiting key battleground states and noting the relatively low voter turnout that Mr Modi was likely to lose. “Election karvat le raha hai,” he said. (The election is changing course.)

The phrase is commonly heard on YouTube channels watching the elections from the ground, a far cry from regular TV channels that have already declared a victory for Mr Modi. Bunching the states in the fray including those that scored the maximum for the BJP in 2019, Yadav estimated those where Modi could lose a few, not least because there was no way to increase the tally from 100 per cent wins as in Gujarat or Rajasthan and Haryana or Delhi. The bulk of Mr Modi’s losses are expected from Maharashtra and Bihar, he says. Maharashtra is where Modi ditched the Shiv Sena and split the former ally to form a state government with the BJP. Now Shiv Sena leader Udhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar, both members of the INDIA opposition alliance, are campaigning with doubled energy on the plank of defeating the ‘ghaddaars’, or traitors.

Would Modi accept defeat if it does come calling? Or would he take the Donald Trump route, instead?

With Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, the BJP secured 41 of 48 seats in Maharashtra in 2019. Without Thackeray, Yadav sees a loss of 20 seats at least. Bihar is where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar quit an alliance with Lalu Yadav’s party to go back for a third or fourth time to the BJP. Kumar is lampooned widely as ‘dal badloo’, a party hopper. The BJP and Kumar had 39 of 40 seats in Bihar last time. Yadav says they could lose 15.

Mr Modi’s tally could shed 10 in today’s Congress-ruled Karnataka where BJP had 26 of 28 seats in 2019. In West Bengal and the northeastern states, estimates Yadav, the BJP could be losing 10, which is at variance with Kishore’s reading. In Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand where the BJP held 69 jointly, it could lose 15. The BJP could gain five seats from the cluster of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana, and 10 from Andhra where it has an alliance with a local party. All told, Modi and allies at current reading could land 268, four short of majority.

Let’s consider both scenarios, Modi winning or losing. Lending weight to Yadav’s estimates is Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of best-selling biography of Modi at the start of his Delhi sojourn. In an article last week, he said what could hurt Modi. “Reduced turnout, near absence of the famed cadre of the Sangh Parivar, lacklustre campaign of Modi, and the need to resort to … divisive and communally polarising spiel — all suggest the Modi script of 2024 has gone awry.” Despite Yadav’s headcount, if Modi does go on to win cleanly then he has won a third term. What if he loses?

According to Parakala Prabhakar, author of a best-selling Modi critique and husband of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the BJP could try to steal the elections. It has too many skeletons in the cupboard waiting to tumble out. Besides, 2025 is the centenary year of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They wouldn’t want not to be in power to celebrate. Yet, analysts also claim it is the RSS that may be dragging its feet on handing a great victory to Mr Modi. The dice, says Prabhakar, is loaded and potentially spiked. “The regime has eliminated the role of the supreme court in the selection and appointment of the election commissioners. Whether the government-appointed election commissioners will do the regime’s bidding is a matter of speculation or suspicion.”

Mr Modi moved to freeze the bank accounts of the Congress party, crippling its putative challenger. He put two chief ministers in prison. But for the supreme court giving interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Modi regime had rendered the opposition’s onslaught that much weaker.

“There is every likelihood that the present dispensation would, therefore, try to do everything to steal this election. Unlike the earlier general elections, the present election is unlikely to conclude with the conclusion of polling on June 1 and declaration of results on June 4.”

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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