Final stretch of the race to power - GulfToday

Final stretch of the race to power

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

India-election

India moves towards the last leg of general elections 2019.

The last round of polling in India’s bitterly fought parliamentary elections is still four days away and the electronic voting machines will reveal the secrets they are holding only on May 23. But the rival contenders for power have begun home-stretch manoeuvres.

A party or combination of parties needs 272 seats to command a majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won 282 seats with a poll share of just 31 per cent, thanks to the big sweep it made in the Hindi states in the north and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west.

Over the past five years, its strength fell to 269 following the loss of more than a dozen seats in by-elections. However, this posed no threat to the government as its National Democratic Alliance partners had the numbers to cover the shortfall.

Aware that 2019 is a different ball game since it is facing the voters as the party which ruled for five years, the BJP took care to expand the NDA ahead of the poll to boost its prospects.

It now has a record 40 allies.  Many of them are small parties put together by political fortune-seekers on the eve of the elections.

Modi started his bid for another term with a disadvantage. His much hyped programmes like ‘Make in India’ and Swatch Bharat (Clean India) had not yielded the expected results. Demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax had disrupted the informal sector of the economy, leading to closure of businesses.  Opposition campaigners raised questions about job losses.

In a bid to overcome the poor governance record, Modi started talking of national security.

Although under his watch there were daring attacks on two major military bases and a suicide bomb attack killed more than 40 security personnel, he nonchalantly claimed his tough line had put an end to terrorism.

The BJP, however, had one big advantage in the opposition’s inability to forge a joint front. In regions where there was a measure of opposition unity Modi tried to drive wedges between allies.

While professing to be optimistic about the outcome of the elections, the BJP and the opposition have initiated moves to deal with the possibility of a fractured verdict throwing up a hung Lok Sabha.

The performance of national and regional parties in recent elections reveals an interesting pattern. The BJP and the Congress together command the support of only half of the national electorate. The other half is behind a plethora of small parties which are all essentially regional though some of them are recognised by the Election Commission as national parties.

The BJP is reportedly in touch with Biju Janata Dal and Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the ruling parties of Odisha and Telangana respectively, to make up any shortfall in NDA numbers.  

Two years ago, when the BJP fell a few seats short of an absolute majority in the Karnataka Assembly but was well placed to muster the necessary support to form the government, the Congress had turned the tables on it by entering into a post-poll alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) to keep the BJP out of office. It offered the chief minister’s post to the smaller JD(S).

A score of opposition parties, including the Congress, are said to be exploring the possibility of a similar manoeuvre to keep the BJP out at the Centre too.

It is not easy to repeat Karnataka at the national level. The Congress had to placate only one party to block the BJP’s path there. To bar its return to power in New Delhi it has to win over at least a score of parties.  Several of these parties are led by leaders with prime ministerial ambitions.  

Besides, some opposition parties still harp on the idea of a “non-Congress non-BJP government,” which makes no qualitative distinction between the two large parties.

A proposal for an opposition conclave before the counting of votes begins was dropped as most leaders are inclined to go slow till the composition of the new Lok Sabha, which will indicate the bargaining capacity of each party, is known.

At this stage, the odds are stacked in the BJP’s favour.  As the richest party and the one currently wielding power it is in a better position than the Congress to enlist the support of small parties.  

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