There is cause for celebration for all stakeholders in the twin-verdict in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The Congress is happy that it won the Hill State without being decimated in Gujarat. The BJP’s central leadership’s glad that Narendra Modi won but not with the brute majority certain exit polls had projected for him.
The outcome’s unlikely therefore to disturb the status quo, not at least in the immediate future, in terms of politics and power equations at the Centre.
Had it lost Himachal on the lines of the adjoining Punjab, the scenario would have been grim for the UPA. The uneasy coalition is struggling to shed the image of a dysfunctional entity.
The Himachal victory is for the Congress a face-saver it so direly needed as the ruling combine’s lead party. Or else its demanding allies and supporters would have acted pricier or even gotten into mutiny mode, over the government’s reforms agenda they’re prone to perceive as anti-people and electorally suicidal.
For instance, the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders was a major issue in Himachal. There was tangible relief in Congress circles that they could wrest power despite the BJP exploiting the issue to the hilt.
“What triumphed in the end was local anti-incumbency. Hope the trend replicates in states bound for elections next year,” said a top Congress manager.
Modi’s Gujarat hat-trick is no mean achievement in the face of the Leuva Patel rebellion backed by elements in the RSS. Demands from saffron cadres for a bigger role for him at the Centre will only grow in the run-up to the 2014 elections.
“It’s too early to speculate. Modi should be happy in Gujarat where he enjoys absolute power,” said a former BJP MP identified with an anti-Modi group. Obviously, the BJP brass in Delhi is unlikely to give in too soon or too easily. Competing ambitions couched in coalition compulsions could draw strength from the lack of unanimity in the NDA over projecting Modi for the PM’s office.
That, it’s believed, will dissuade him from throwing his hat in the ring.
The argument’s weighty; the saffron party’s Hindutva mainstay in Gujarat a major stumbling block in the way of a broad anti-Congress front. Only an expediently liberal BJP can augment the NDA by breaking the UPA.
Elections are also due next year in BJP-ruled Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The party’s on a weak wicket in the southern state with Lingayat chieftain B S Yeddyurappa having floated his own party. But in MP, Shivraj Singh Chauhan might match Modi’s hat-trick record.
The Gujarat CM will then have competition. It wouldn’t be surprising if the amenable Chauhan is propped up for the Delhi slot by BJP-RSS apparatchiks distrustful of the mighty Modi.