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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

OPINION | It’s too early to predict Narendra Modi’s ouster in 2019

While nobody thinks Narendra Modi will get over 270 seats, it is not certain that the BJP will fall to 170 either.

editorials Updated: Jan 08, 2019 07:38 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.(PTI file photo)

There is one thing about the chattering classes and the commentariat that you can be sure about. Any political view they adopt is so lovingly embraced by all their members that there is rarely space for a dissenting voice. Sometimes the commentariat is at least half right. Before the 2014 general election, it forecast the rise of Narendra Modi. And in the months that followed Mr Modi’s triumphant sweep, it wrote bitter obituaries of the Congress.

So the Congress went from defeat to setback to humiliation. Sneering anchors decided that Rahul Gandhi was a numbskull who would never be taken seriously. After the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections, this consensus strengthened. Nobody expected the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win so big, and when it did, the chattering classes concluded that demonetisation was a masterstroke. Mr Modi was here for another 15 years.

This view was never very well thought out. If you took UP out of the mix, then the BJP’s electoral record did not seem quite so impressive. There were too many states where majorities were either procured or negotiated. A great wave did not always wash away the opposition in every assembly election.

Now the commentariat has done an about turn. The Congress’s victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and Rahul’s sharp attacks on the government are being used to argue that the Modi raj is coming to an end.

The chattering classes rule out a BJP victory so they fall back on a hung parliament scenario. Even if the BJP is the largest single party, they say, it will not be able to gather enough support to form a government. So the mighty Mr. Modi will walk over to the other side of the House, will lead the opposition and will function as a prime minister in exile.

Scenario Two is that the BJP (and especially the Sangh) will be relieved to be rid of Mr Modi. But it will still want power. So a new coalition will be developed around a new leader, possibly Rajnath Singh or Nitin Gadkari.

All this scenario-building is premature if not fanciful. There is, first of all, the matter of seats. Current estimates put the BJP down by 100 seats. But that can only happen if an SP-BSP alliance lasts in UP. It could but there are months to go, many opportunities for squabbles and plenty of rifts for Amit Shah to exploit. Akhilesh Yadav is frequently betrayed by his family. And Mayawati is frequently let down by her own character.

But assume that the BJP loses UP. Then Mr Modi will have about 170 seats and will be leader of the largest party in parliament. Won’t the President call him to form the government? And once he has the President’s letter, will he have any difficulty in finding at least some friends? He may fall short of an overall majority but he could lead the largest coalition in parliament and could well take office as head of a minority government.

Contrast this with the opposition. First of all, they won’t all unite. Secondly, they will need a leader and though the Congress will be the second largest group in parliament, Rahul Gandhi has said that it will not insist on the prime ministership. But the squabbling regional chieftains may prefer Rahul to one of their number. (If you were Akhilesh who would you prefer: Rahul or Mayawati?) Will Rahul be able to hold this flock together? Can he withstand raids on his supporters from Amit Shah?

Within the BJP, the Gadkari/Rajnath option will be difficult to pull off because the cadres are so personally devoted to Mr Modi that they would rather remain in opposition than support an alternative leader.

So, a few things are worth remembering .The numbers are not clear yet, given how narrow the Congress victories were. All the anti-Modi alliances are not in place. So Modi might end up doing better than the commentariat expects.

Secondly, if government formation requires allies to be bought over or ‘persuaded’, this is the BJP’s speciality. It will find it easier to construct this kind of coalition than the Congress.

And finally, never underestimate the love that the faithful have for Mr Modi. He may no longer be the Modi of 2014 but his image within the country is not yet negative.

So yes, Mr Modi is in trouble. But the battle is not over. There are still scores of things he could do (direct transfers to the poor through Jan Dhan accounts is one option). And while nobody thinks he will get over 270 seats, it is not certain that the BJP will fall to 170 either.

It is possible that things might get worse for Mr Modi in the months ahead. But till that happens, the commentariat needs to move out of its echo chamber and dampen its expectations.

It is too early for them to put the champagne on ice.

First Published: Jan 08, 2019 07:11 IST