Kovind’s election as president indicates an inevitable Modi wave in next Lok Sabha Polls
By Asit Manohar
In politics, success has many cross-voters, failure has none. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is the best suited example for this. When the ‘party with difference’ was invited by President KR Narayanan in 1996 to form the central government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it failed to get ample support from the rival camp though it was the single largest party. That time nobody had thought that the party would be able to form its government on its own. Similarly, when Vajpayee managed to form a coalition government in 1998 under the rainbow coalition of 24 parties he had to compromise on his presidential choice. In fact, Vajpayee had to telephone APJ Abul Kalam to convince him for the presidential post before announcing the missile man as the BJP choice for Raisina Hill. But, Ram Nath Kovind’s election as India’s next president shows how the BJP has succeeded in putting together a huge coalition that even entices members in the rival camp, making Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election a foregone conclusion and failure of the Opposition a fait accompli.
Numbers from Kovind’s election tell their own story. The NDA candidate was backed by 65 percent of India’s elected representatives. Apart from the NDA components, parties like JD(U), TRS, YSR Congress, BJD and AIADMK also voted for Kovind.
In addition, there were the hidden supporters. According to BJP estimates, Kovind got 115 votes more than the party had expected. In Parliament, the NDA candidate got 30 votes more than Kovind’s poll managers had expected. In many states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, legislators from Opposition parties voted for Kovind, making the loyalty of Congress and NCP members suspect.
The immediate conclusion from Kovind’s sweeping victory is that from a political pariah, the BJP has now become the partner everybody wants to do business with.
From the PDP in the north to AIADMK in the south, regional allies in the east to Congress dissidents in Gujarat and Maharashtra, everyone is now ready to embrace the BJP. This eagerness to ally with the BJP is a stark contrast to the 90s when the saffron party was considered a political untouchable.
The other takeaway, of course, is that it signals at the outcome of the 2019 elections. The coalition of parties that the BJP has put together indicates that Modi could return to power with a bigger mandate in 2019, primarily because of its new partners in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and the Northeast. From the nearly 31 percent votes it got in 2014, the BJP’s mandate may surge further ahead because of its territorial gains in states that were once considered beyond its reach.
In the south, for instance, the BJP has a problem of plenty. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is being wooed by all the three non-Congress opposition parties — TRS, YRS Congress and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telagu Desam. It would be interesting to see how the BJP deals with the three suitors who compete with each other in the two states. But it is clear that when 2019 nears, Amit Shah would have the luxury of choosing allies best placed to contribute to the BJP tally.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP looks all set to benefit from the confusion in the AIADMK camp. With Jayalalithaa gone, Sasikala in jail and Panneerselvam still out, the Dravidian party is currently in an existential dilemma. It has survived so far because of the hidden hand of the BJP guiding it. By 2019, the BJP would most likely come out from behind the veil and either have a pre-poll alliance with the AIADMK or snare some of its powerful leaders to become a viable alternate in the state politics.
While all these developments augur a comfortable win for the BJP in 2019, the Opposition, as the numbers from the presidential polls indicate, is in a mess. While many non-NDA parties — JD(U), BJD and NCP — are struggling to figure out their future, arch-BJP rivals like Mulayam Singh Yadav — another possible cross-voter — are revolting and the Congress itself is crumbling.
In Gujarat, where elections are due next, cross-voting by Congress legislators (Kovind got eight more votes than expected) suggests internal dissent could derail the party’s plan of making a comeback. Congress legislators loyal to Shankersinh Vaghela seem to have voted for Kovind in a bid to force the high command to name their leader as the chief ministerial candidate. It would be interesting to see how the Congress Party reacts to Vaghela’s brinkmanship. Whether he becomes the next Amarinder Singh of Gujarat or turns out to be the party’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, will influence the Congress poll prospects in coming Gujarat assembly polls.
Similarly, in Goa, where the Congress claims to have the mandate of voters, more and more of its legislators are gravitating towards the BJP. With Manohar Parrikar making inroads into the Congress camp, Rahul Gandhi can say goodbye to his dream of toppling the BJP government in Goa.
The biggest headache for the Opposition, of course, is Bihar, where Nitish Kumar can’t decide whether to hunt with the NDA or run with the UPA. His confusion guarantees the BJP the luxury of taking on a divided Opposition, a prospect that would put the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats within its grasp. Kovind’s election has given us a glimpse of 2019. And it is clearly advantage BJP. On second thought, it points to a mammoth mandate for Modi.