Narendra Modi, with B.S. Yeddyurappa and other BJP members, waves to supporters at a rally in Karnataka’s Davangere on 18 February. PTI
ow that Narendra Modi seems close to entering South Block as the occupant of its most prized office, those who have made a career out of belittling and badmouthing him seem to be undergoing an epiphany. They have begun to blanket Modi with advice, if not in person, then through newspaper columns and television appearances. The most common refrain is that he should morph into another Vajpayee.
During the time in office of the NDA, a very powerful Brajesh Mishra saw to it that those close to the Congress continued to enjoy privileged access to the corridors of power, and indeed were preferred to those who were on the other side (i.e. the BJP's side) during the tough times when non-BJP regimes were occupying North and South Blocks. Indeed, so potent was the brew of political correctness during 1998-2004 that a particular journalist (now turned academic), who made a few unflattering references to Pervez Musharraf, abruptly found himself exiled from the Doordarshan studio because the PMO was apprehensive that seeing him on screen would offend the tender sensibilities of the man whom Vajpayee gave respectability to by inviting him to Agra soon after Musharraf's military coup against the elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Should Modi become the Prime Minister and not succeed in ensuring that team Modi be very different from what team Vajpayee was, disillusion will set in very quickly among those who have flocked to his banner. The reported presence of some unusual (albeit well known) names within the list of BJP candidates indicates that this is a lesson that Modi has imbibed well.
However, apart from asking Modi to adopt a Brajesh Mishra policy of condoning and indeed rewarding those who back the Congress Party, the other suggestion being made to the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate is that he should pick up more allies, if necessary from bus stands and from railway platforms. On the contrary, the strength of Narendra Modi has been that he is unwilling to compromise, and that he does not look at temporary advantage but remains wedded to a long-term vision and strategy. However, some of the recent alliances made by the BJP go entirely counter to such a Weltanschauung. For example, by inducting the PMK and the MDMK into the NDA, the BJP is annoying several key voting blocs for whom the two are anathema.
The PMK and the MDMK will insist on contesting seats where they have influence, hoping to win them because of the extra boost given by an alliance with a leader who has become as well known throughout Tamil Nadu as Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. As for the other seats, which the BJP will be left with, there will be precious little help from the MDMK or the PMK because these parties are toxic to voters there. In the same way, the LJP may turn away more voters in Bihar than it brings to the NDA.
In Andhra Pradesh as well, tagging along with the TDP will be disastrous in Telengana, as well as dilute what may be called the "Modi Magic" in Seemandhra. Quite apart, of course, from the fact that both the TRS as well as the YSR Congress will be very reluctant to join in an alliance that includes Chandrababu Naidu.
Indeed, what can give the BJP 50-odd seats in UP and 25-odd seats in Bihar will be voters from rival parties who in the final stretch will switch their votes to the BJP to prevent their regional rival from winning a seat.
In constituencies in UP and Bihar where the fight is between the BJP and with one of the regional parties (the other being way behind as the campaign enters its final week), such a transfer of "secular" votes to Narendra Modi may take place.
Thus, in constituencies where the SP is trailing behind the BSP, its supporters may silently switch to the BJP to prevent the BSP from winning. In Bihar, seats where the RJD is way behind the JDU may see many of Lalu's voters move to the NDA in order to reduce the JDU tally, and vice versa.
It is precisely because the supporters of several regional parties dislike their "secular" rivals more than they do Modi that the BJP is likely to get about 75 seats from the two most-densely populated states of the country.
The negative impact of "allies" on the image of the BJP and the backing given in the voting booth by "rivals" intent less on defeating not Modi than their regional foes ought to ensure victory for the BJP. The hard part will, of course, come after the polls, as team Modi fights to ensure that it avoids becoming a repeat of 1998-2004.