Mr Modi Goes To Elections

Modi’s hopes to bring his party to power and become PM would be unrequited unless he dramatically alters its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, the most for an Indian state. The BJP currently holds only nine of those seats. In the three elections of 1996, ’98 and ’99 that returned the BJP as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha, it had won 48, 52 and 25 seats, respectively. (The figures for 1996 and ’98 exclude the seats the BJP won in the part that later became Uttarakhand.) In 2004, when the Vajpayee government was voted out, the BJP won only 10 seats.
Theoretically then, the BJP can have another shot at power in New Delhi if it wins around 25 seats — or 16 more than it currently has — in Uttar Pradesh. But winning 25 seats next year could be a steeper climb than it was in 1999. In the 1999 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had secured 30 percent votes to grab those 25 seats. In fact, from 1991 to 1999, which were the BJP’s glory years in the state, it got upwards of 30 percent in each of the four Lok Sabha elections, the highest 37.5 percent in 1998. That slipped to 22 percent in 2004 and to 17.5 percent in 2009.
What might put the BJP at a further disadvantage is that the two regional parties, the SP and the BSP, have consolidated enormously in the state in the intervening 14 years. In 1991- 99, the BJP either had the largest or the second largest vote shares in both the Assembly and parliamentary elections. Now those top two slots switch between the sp and the BSP, with the exception of the 2009 Lok Sabha election when the Congress won 21 seats, one more than the BSP. Though the BSP still had the second highest vote share, much ahead of the Congress.
Why has the BJP slipped so badly in Uttar Pradesh? It is no secret that the party’s hold has weakened over the uppercaste voters, who are about 18 percent of the state’s electorate and whose support the BJP had increasingly wrested from the Congress since the 1989 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Until 1999, a large chunk of the upper castes — Brahmins, Banias (trading castes) and Thakurs (warrior castes) — formed the BJP’s warren. But over the past 10 years, both the SP and the BSP have claimed sizeable portions of the upper-caste vote by widening their ambit and fielding candidates of those castes.
The BJP cornered 74 percent of the upper-caste votes, or three in four, in the 1996 Assembly election. This declined to 47, or under half, in 2002. In contrast, the BSP, which had won only 4 percent of the Brahmin votes in 1996, got 14 percent in 2002. The BSP’s share of other upper-caste votes too nearly doubled in that period. In last year’s Assembly election, the SP got 19 percent of Brahmin votes. The politics of both the SP and the BSP, once narrow caste-based formations, has increasingly turned inclusive by targeting upper-caste votes.
In the past two Assembly and two parliamentary elections, the SP and the BSP got a big chunk of upper-caste votes by fielding a record number of Brahmins, Banias and Thakurs. Indeed, in 2009, the BSP fielded more Brahmins for the Lok Sabha — one in five — than Dalits, the former untouchables who are the BSP’s raison d’être. Historically, Brahmins and Thakurs have been at political loggerheads in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP’s current president, Rajnath Singh, is a Thakur and a known Brahmin-baiter. Modi might find it not too easy to woo the state’s Brahmins with Singh by his side.
Even if the BJP somehow wins 25 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, Modi would still need to snag 160-odd more seats nationally to stay in the hunt. Just where might he get them? Let us look at the other states with parliamentary heft.
THE BJP fights elections in Maharashtra in alliance with the Shiv Sena, a regional player. The most the BJP ever won there was 18 of the 48 parliamentary seats in 1996. It did well in 1999, too, winning 14 seats, and in 2004, winning 13. But in the 2009, it came down to nine. The failure to win big in 2009 hurt also because the BJP had hoped to benefit from the perceived national security failure of the Congress-led Central and state governments after Pakistani gunmen killed over 150 people in luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station, among others, in Mumbai six months before the elections.
The BJP was stung that it failed to capture even one of Mumbai’s six Lok Sabha seats. In 2009, the BJP had missed the presence of leader Pramod Mahajan, a fundraiser nonpareil who was shot dead by his brother in 2006. Last year, the Shiv Sena lost its fiery founder, Bal Thackeray, to the grim reaper. Few believe that his son and successor, Uddhav, has the same mojo. Besides, a splinter party that Uddhav’s cousin, Raj, floated in 2006 has increasingly been splitting anti-Congress votes since. The forecast for 2014 may not be very sunny for the BJP.
THE BJP has a virtually nonexistent record in West Bengal. In 2009, it contested 40 of the 42 seats. It lost all but one, with party strongman Jaswant Singh winning in Darjeeling. (Incidentally, Singh is bitterly opposed to Modi.) The best that the BJP has ever done in West Bengal was to win two seats in 1999. Vajpayee was quick to make both the victors ministers in his government. Both lost in 2004 as also in 2009.
The victories in 1999 had been made possible by the BJP riding piggyback on its then ally, the Trinamool Congress, which was the main opposition in the state and had captured power in 2011 after stunningly routing the 34-year reign of a communist coalition in the Assembly election. It must have hurt the BJP when both its former West Bengal mps lost to Trinamool candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
The unpredictable Trinamool president, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, could well choose to tie up again with the BJP, especially as she has broken from the Congress, her ally of seven years. But would she agree to be led by Modi? That might be tough. A quarter of West Bengal’s voters are Muslim as are two of Trinamool’s 19 MPs. Banerjee just might flinch at backing Modi as PM.
Of the BJP’s chances in Andhra Pradesh, the less said the better. It fielded 37 candidates in the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. Every one of them lost. The BJP has seen better days. In an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a regional player, the BJP won seven Lok Sabha seats in 1999. But it has drawn a blank in the past two elections. Its record in Assembly elections, too, is pathetic. In 2009, it fielded 271 candidates for the Assembly’s 294 seats. All but two lost. The TDP played a key role in propping Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999. But the two split in 2004.
Even if that alliance were to somehow revive, the tdp is a pale shadow of its former self. In 2004, it was famously voted out of power in the Assembly election held simultaneous to the Lok Sabha polls, in which, too, the tdp was trounced. In 1999, the tdp had won a whopping 29 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. In 2004 and 2009, it managed only six each time. With a breakaway faction led by the son of a late Congress cm in the fray this time, the tdp may need to fight for the anti-incumbency votes from the Congress, which had taken 31 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
In 2009, the BJP won 12 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, thanks to its tie-up with the JD(U). This was double of what it had won in 2004. Even in 1998, when the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha for the second time and Vajpayee formed his first stable coalition government, the BJP had won only eight seats in what is today’s Bihar. (It had won 12 other seats, too, in 1998 but they were in the part that is now Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar in November 2000.)
While the BJP spin doctors argue that the JD(U) would be the bigger loser in Bihar if it quit on the BJP ahead of next year’s election, the fact is the BJP gained enormously from the tieup as the JD(U) brought it both backward and Muslim votes. In 1996, when the BJP became the single largest party in the Lok Sabha for the first time, it won only six in Bihar. It had drawn a blank in 1991, the year the BJP first touched a threefigure mark nationally riding on the back of its controversial campaign to build a Hindu temple in place of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya town in Uttar Pradesh. Earlier, too, in 1989, when the Ayodhya movement was the rage, the BJP had won only four seats out of Bihar’s 40 (excluding the part that would later be Jharkhand).
With 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state, Tamil Nadu once offered hope to the BJP. The party sensationally opened its account in the state in 1998, bringing it much joy. It went on to win five seats in the 1999 parliamentary election. That is the last time it won any seat in Tamil Nadu. Today, two regional parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), leave little room for the BJP. Both these parties are opportunistic and would likely compete with each other to join a Modi-led government. But they fight a mean battle always, and rarely has one wiped out the other. Hence, even as an ally for Modi, neither might offer Modi too many seats.
Modi can can hardly expect the BJP top guns in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to roll out the red carpet for him. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is a direct competitor to Modi. Chauhan has been a member of the RSS since he was 13. In fact, the current crisis in the BJP over Modi’s elevation began after Advani chose to praise Chauhan last week placing him directly over Modi, congratulating Chauhan for performing better in Madhya Pradesh than Modi had in Gujarat.
Ironically, Chauhan delivered more mps — 16 from a total of 29 in Madhya Pradesh — to the BJP in 2009 than Modi did — 15 of Gujarat’s 26 seats. (Modi increased that number last week by wresting two seats from the Congress in by-elections.) The soft-spoken Chauhan is no lightweight and has been a favourite of the party’s national bosses, including senior leaders like Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar. The rss, too, solidly backs him. It might not be easy for Modi to overrule Chauhan in the selection of BJP candidates for this November’s Assembly election. And if Chauhan wins the BJP its third straight term in the state, he might get more of his loyalists to contest the Lok Sabha polls there.
Modi would do well to remember that Chauhan is no pushover. To humour Chauhan, the party threw out Uma Bharti, a firebrand leader, when she objected to Chauhan being made cm in 2006. Bharti had led the BJP to win a stunning three-fourth majority in the 2003 Assembly election and become chief minister until an arrest warrant forced her to step down.When the party took her back in 2011, Chauhan ensured she promised to stay away from politicking in Madhya Pradesh.
BJP leader and former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje may be even more resentful of Modi encroaching on her turf. She believes she is within striking distance of victory in this November’s Assembly election to unseat the five-year-old Congress government in the state. It was she who had brought the BJP to power in 2003 and she again who lost it in 2008. And, like Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, if she, too, fetches a BJP victory in the state election, then Modi would find her fighting him tooth and nail if he makes unilateral choices in Rajasthan during next summer’s Lok Sabha election. And the BJP may well strike gold in the desert state as it currently holds only four of the state’s 25 Lok Sabha seats. Rajasthan would be the BJP’s to lose.