The temptation of a December poll could prove irresistible for Modi, writes Karan Thapar | columns | Hindustan Times
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The temptation of a December poll could prove irresistible for Modi, writes Karan Thapar

Modi is a risk-taker and his energetic blitzkrieg-like campaigning in both Gujarat and Karnataka has shown that these gambles, which at the time many thought of as needless risks, can yield very credible results. Now, with his prime ministership at stake, will he be willing to risk an early election? So firm is his belief in himself it’s hard to say no.

columns Updated: May 27, 2018 11:12 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is renowned for his bold decisions. That is unlikely to change, writes Karan Thapar. (PTI File Photo)

After recent developments in Karnataka, are we in a better position to assess when the national elections might be? Does the Karnataka experience offer a few clear hints? Or has it made the question more difficult to answer?

Two outcomes of the Karnataka elections seem undeniable despite the fact the BJP failed to form the government, and the Congress-JD(S) combine did. First, Narendra Modi has shown that as a campaigner he’s not just indefatigable but incomparable. He’s also proven that his appeal stretches from the north and Northeast to the west, the centre of India and, now, down into the south. Only the east is yet to succumb.

The second is that with the exception of little Mizoram, the Congress came perilously close to fulfilling Modi’s jibe of PPP. Even though it will remain in power in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi is no match for Modi. Few would disagree.

Now, against this background, is there a convincing case for Modi to bring forward the national elections to December ? I would say yes for three reasons.

First, if Congress is likely to win Rajasthan and, possibly, Madhya Pradesh, and national elections are not held till May 2019, the BJP would go into them debilitated by its losses in Rajasthan and MP. Surely this is something the PM would want to avoid? Holding the national elections alongside the December state elections is an effective way of doing so.

Second, and connected to the earlier argument, is the belief that Congress at the moment, despite the fact it remains in power in Karnataka, is a demoralised party. But after winning Rajasthan and MP it is bound to revive and, certainly, its workers will feel cheered up. Isn’t it, therefore, wiser to hold the national elections whilst the Congress is still feeling downbeat rather than when it feels strong and optimistic?

Third, Modi is a risk-taker and his energetic blitzkrieg-like campaigning in both Gujarat and Karnataka has shown that these gambles, which at the time many thought of as needless risks, can yield very credible results. Now, with his prime ministership at stake, will he be willing to risk an early election? So firm is his belief in himself that it’s hard to say no.

What then are the factors that might restrain Modi and suggest that an early election is an impetuous and bad decision? I can only think of two. First, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee called early elections in 2004, the result was a surprise defeat for the BJP. For the next 10 years, the party was stuck in Opposition. Does that decision still cast a shadow over the BJP? Could it make Modi once bitten twice shy? We just don’t know.

The second constraint emerges out of the belief that Karnataka has taught the Opposition the need to unite to defeat the BJP. But if Congress behaves differently in December, Rajasthan and MP could fracture this budding sentiment. In that event Modi would gain by holding elections in May.

Ultimately Modi is renowned for his bold decisions. That is unlikely to change. So might he concur with Brutus who said: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”?

I suspect the temptation of a December election could prove irresistible.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: May 26, 2018 17:11 IST