Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ab Dilli (utni) door nahi

I recently wrote an article on this very blog about the possible outcomes of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Back then (on 29th August) I had predicted a Congress led coalition to be the most likely outcome, with a slim chance of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) mustering the magic figure of 272.

However, there have been three significant events between then and now, which could transform the electoral landscape: the communal riots in Uttar Pradesh, the arrest of Lalu Prasad Yadav and the impasse over the creation of Telangana. Another significant factor is anti incumbency in Maharashtra. The four factors, when viewed in combination, could significantly alter the NDA's electoral prospects.

Modi: In with a chance

To provide context: 249 out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats are from 5 states: Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Those five states naturally hold the key for any coalition aspiring to form the government in New Delhi. With the recent developments in UP and Bihar and anti incumbency in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, we are facing a potentially game changing scenario as we shall see.

Uttar Pradesh (UP)
Presently, 44 out of the 80 lok sabha seats from UP are held by Samajwadi Party (SP) and Indian National Congress. We know that the Congress is facing significant anti incumbency factor after ten years of misgovernance, which means that their vote share in this pivotal state is almost certainly going to fall dramatically from the current figure of 22. Much the same could be said of SP post Muzaffarnagar. Their woes could be aggravated by the deteriorating law and order situation in UP since they came to power. In short, there is every possibility of a change in guard in 44 out of 80 lok sabha constituencies in 2014.

Mulayam: On Shaky Ground

Unless the SP's Muslim voters turn towards Congress, the most likely beneficiaries of the vote swing in UP will be BJP and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Should Mayawati throw in her lot with BJP, which is perfectly possible, we are looking at a potential scenario where the BJP led NDA secures upward of 40 lok sabha seats in UP (against 11 currently).

Presently, Bihar politics is dominated by 3 parties: Nitish Kumar's  JD(U), Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and BJP. Those three parties account for 36 out of the 40 lok sabha members elected from Bihar in 2009. As such, Bihar elections is effectively a three way race.

20 out of the 40 are held by Janata Dal United. Inevitably perhaps, the party is facing anti incumbency after nearly a decade in power- a handicap the BJP does not necessarily face, since it is no longer in alliance with JD(U). Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD, which was likely to be the beneficiary of anti incumbency is now in the doldrums in the absence of its leader, who is presently in prison. Its doubtful whether the RJD will be able to hold on to the 4 Lok Sabha seats it presently has.

Lalu Prasad Yadav: Down and out?

With Lalu Prasad almost certainly out of the picture, its a two way race between BJP and JD(U) in Bihar. Should anti incumbency come to play, there's every possibility that the former will improve its seat tally in Bihar from the present 12. Should the BJP manage to touch 20 (by no means impossible), combined an improved showing in UP, the NDA's seat tally from those two states will rise to over 60, as against the present 23- an increase of over 35 seats from the current situation.

One factor that could hinder the NDA is a revival of the RJD. Unlikely it may appear now, I would be the last to discount the possibility of Lalu Yadav being given a new lease of (political) life by a high court judgement or an effective leader banking on public support by portraying Lalu Yadav as a victim of political machinations- stranger things can happen in politics.

Andhra Pradesh (AP)
Electorally, AP is a key state since it sends no less than 42 MPs to Lok Sabha. The Congress holds 31 out of those 42 seats- one of the several factors behind its spectacular showing in the 2009 elections. However, after nearly a decade of misgovernance, there's strong anti incumbency in that state.

The stalemate over the creation of Telangana is almost certainly going to aggravate the Congress' woes. Its incompetent handling of the situation, coupled with its inability to take difficult decisions has resulted in a deadlock that looks unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Both sides are going to view Congress as the villain of the piece: the pro-Telangana faction for its inability to deliver on its promise and the pro-united Andhra side for dividing the state. Unless something dramatic happens between now and next April, the Congress is on a very shaky wicket in Andhra Pradesh.

Naidu: The comback man?

There's no doubt that there will be a substantial vote swing come 2014, of which the beneficiaries will be Telugu Desam Party (TDP), YSR Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Out of the three, only the TDP is currently allied with the BJP, with 6 MPs.

Two factors could significantly alter the electoral landscape: the magnitude of the vote swing and the BJP's ability to muster allies in that state. Should more than one of the three rival parties join forces with the BJP (or at least provide outside support), the NDA's seat tally could improve by 10, possibly much more.

With 48 Lok Sabha seats, Maharashtra is (electorally) the second biggest state in India. It has always been a Congress stronghold- every single state government (except in 1995-2000) has been formed by the Congress singly or in coalition with Sharad Pawar's NCP. The Congress-NCP combine currently holds 26 out of the 48 lok sabha seats from the state.

But anti-incumbency is very high in the state. The urban residents are frustrated about the crumbling infrastructure and mounting corruption. Most urban Maharashtrians (Maharashtra is the most urbanised state in India, with a high degree of literacy) see the pro-development Modi as a messiah after years of stagnation. Rural Maharashtrians are, if anything, much more disillusioned after the state experienced devastating droughts between 2009 and 2012.

The anti-incumbency factor becomes even more significant since the main opposition party in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, is an NDA ally. Should the BJP and Shiv Sena manage to establish an effective seat sharing agreement, they could decimate the Congress- NCP combine in the state. One factor that could save the Congress is the presence of Raj Thackeray's MNS, which could split the opposition votes and leave Congress-NCP candidates the single biggest receipient of votes (as was the case in 2009). Subject to that one factor, its perfectly possible that the NDA can increase its seat tally from Maharashtra by 10 seats, if not more.

Sharad Pawar: Battling Anti-incumbency?

There is one further possibility: Sharad Pawar's NCP allying itself with the NDA. Impossible as it may sound, I would be the last to rule out the possibility. Pawar is nothing, if not an astute politician. Should the NDA muster enough numbers to stand a realistic chance of forming the government, its perfectly possible that Pawar will throw in his lot with the NDA. Its a known fact that he enjoys cordial relations with allies and opponents alike. For him switching sides is surely not inconceivable.

However, all the above mentioned scenarios are subject to the BJP's own showing at the hustings. Regional players are going to keep their cards close to the chest until the election results are finally out. Its inconceivable that they will ally with a polarising figure like Modi unless there are definite gains to be had. 

And so the scenario I spoke about- the BJP securing at least 180-200 lok sabha seats on its own- will be a necessary pre-condition if the NDA is to form the government in 2014. In short, Narendra Modi will have to pull off what Vajpayee did in 1999. For sure, 2014 will prove the acid test for brand NaMo.

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