BJP attempt to form govt in Delhi akin to hara-kiri
Political circles are abuzz with news that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might take a shot at forming the government in Delhi.
President's rule was imposed in February after Arvind Kejriwal ended his government's run in 49 days. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader quit on Valentine's Day after failing to table the flagship janlokpal bill, which was defeated in the introduction stage itself.
Buoyed by the success in the Lok Sabha polls, BJP leaders may be feeling that forming the government in Delhi is the right thing to do.
Amid talk of six Congress MLAs possibly supporting a BJP government, former party president Rajnath Singh has denied allegations of horse-trading.
The AAP got 28 out of the 70 assembly seats in Delhi after polls in December last year. With outside support of the Congress (eight MLAs) and an independent, it formed the government. The BJP along with Akali Dal got 32 seats and fell short of a majority.
Some dramatic events and some not quite so have happened since and they have a bearing.
The AAP has suspended one MLA, Vinod Kumar Binny, because of anti-party activities. Three BJP MLAs - Dr Harsh Vardhan, Ramesh Bidhuri and Pravesh Verma - have been selected as MPs. In the reduced house strength of 67, the NDA has 29 members, AAP 27, Congress eight and Independents three.
To reach the magical figure, the BJP needs 34 MLAs. Binny and independent Rambir Shokeen are likely to support the BJP.
Janata Dal-United MLA Shoaib Iqbal is unlikely to support the BJP. Effectively, the BJP needs only three more MLAs to support it on the floor of the assembly.
For this the BJP will need to get MLAs from either the AAP or the Congress.
The AAP has been accusing BJP of attempting to break its party. Its MLAs have been issuing statements claiming the BJP has been approaching them. Talk of 'jod-tod' politics and horse-trading is back in Delhi.
How BJP can form govt
The anti-defection laws have become sharper after amendments in 2003. There is no longer a concept of split. The BJP needs 2/3rd (earlier only 1/3rd) of AAP (18 MLAs) or Congress (6 MLAs) to merge with itself to get around the law. These numbers are daunting. While the AAP's popularity has dipped, getting 18 MLAs to jump ship is a very difficult task. What's more, five Congress MLAs are from minority communities and it is unlikely (though not impossible) that they will support the BJP.
The only way the BJP can get three more seats is if it is able to get them from either the Congress or the AAP without attracting their suspension.
This means it needs to find three more Binnys. Not difficult. It needs to find three disgruntled AAP MLAs and ask them to openly criticise Kejriwal. The AAP may be forced to suspend them and the BJP's job will be done.
Alternatively, it needs to get three Congress MLAs to criticise Sonia Gandhi/Rahul Gandhi. This will draw immediate suspension and BJP will get its numbers.
Another possible formation is if the BJP is able to get 6 MLAs to resign from their membership. This will reduce assembly strength to 61 and BJP will reach the desired majority.
Why BJP MLAs want to form govt
A majority of BJP MLAs are reportedly shy of going in for a re-election. What is working in their favour is that most of the MLAs of other parties don't want re-election either, as they fear losing out to the BJP.
The BJP swept all 7 Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. President's rule ends in August and can be extended for another period of six months.
But why are BJP MLAs running away from re-elections? A reason could be that the BJP and its MLAs do not want to spend money again on the elections. Last time, the expenditure limit per constituency was Rs 14 lakh and candidates on an average spent 51% of the limit in Delhi (source: Association for Democratic Reforms).
This implies that the party and its candidates together officially spent Rs 5 crore. This will go up in re-elections because the expenditure limit has been doubled.
A caveat: what is in public eye is the official figure.
Moreover, resistance to re-elections could also stem from the close contests seen last time. Almost 1/3rd of the BJP's MLAs won by less than 5,000 votes. With re-elections, time, money and effort will be spent again to contest, with 50:50 chance.
Why 'jod-tod' will not pay off
The BJP won the Lok Sabha elections and got majority on its own. Narendra Modi's dream of a "Congress mukt Bharat" almost came true. With only 44 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress is demoralised and losses in coming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Harayana could be crippling.
At this point, any 'jod-tod' will provide an opportunity for the AAP to bounce back. The AAP did well in the Delhi polls because Kejriwal was able to convince voters that the BJP and the Congress were two sides of the same coin.
The BJP should press for re-elections, try to repeat their Lok Sabha performance and form the government legitimately instead of trying the back door.
Fear of bad monsoon and drought could be the reason that the BJP state unit wants to push through forming a government. Facing voters after a poor monsoon, which will inevitably drive up inflation, is a scary prospect.
Views expressed by the author are personal.