NEW DELHI | 8th Dec 2012
Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, Nitin Gadkari, gestures at a function in New Delhi on November 5,2012. AFP
JP president Nitin Gadkari, under attack for his association with the Purti companies, believes that a double victory by his party in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will ensure his second term. The Nagpur politician already has the backing of RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. Moreover, many party leaders do not want to see him replaced by the senior L.K. Advani or his protégé Arun Jaitley.
Election results are due on 20 December. They will also have an impact on national politics. Should the BJP fight back anti-incumbency and retain HP, while Narendra Modi ensures a good performance in Gujarat, the Congress would be severely weakened, and left with its only remaining core constituency, minority voters. For minorities, BJP is still toxic. But they will mobilise for Congress only if it shows the ability to stop the BJP in elections. If this does not look likely, Muslims in particular will turn to regional parties, and Mulayam Singh Yadav in particular. It is not Gadkari alone who is waiting for Congress to lose; so is Mulayam. The ever-ebullient Lalu Yadav will also benefit in Bihar.
Sources in Congress say that an informal agreement is being reached with Mulayam Singh Yadav that Congress would back him to be Prime Minister at the head of a Third Front if Congress is unable to win enough seats to lead another UPA government. This is what prevents Mulayam from bringing down UPA as long as Congress wants it to continue. As for Mayawati, she will vote against UPA only if confident that it would certainly fall. Should the Samajwadi Party withdraw support and the BSP backing be sufficient to rescue the UPA from defeat, Mayawati will come on board the UPA, using her new clout within the ruling alliance to better take on a faltering Akhilesh Yadav in his home state.
In the absence of a policy designed to win over the minorities, a Modi triumph in Gujarat would further polarize voters, benefiting both the BJP as well as the SP. Although few within the higher ranks of the BJP are privately enthusiastic about the Gujarat CM, no matter what they say in public, the reality remains that Modi has become the most popular politician in India. His businesslike attitude is in contrast to the hapless Manmohan Singh, and his record of achievement in Gujarat is better than that of either his predecessors or of any possible challenger. Fortunately for the BJP, Rahul Gandhi has thus far declined to accept any position of responsibility within the government, in a context where the record of his father Rajiv Gandhi (whose first job in the Government of India was as Prime Minister) in governance had been judged a failure by voters in 1989. Should Rahul Gandhi step forward to lead the charge formally in the next polls, including as PM, the Congress cadre will be energised. However, this appears remote, leaving the field open to a BJP, which will be under the shadow of Modi, should he cross 115 seats in the next Assembly. And should a Modi-fired BJP tally cross 175 in the next Lok Sabha elections, the Gujarat CM could make a credible bid for the PM's job.
A danger signal for the UPA is the fact that it "won" the FDI vote in the Lok Sabha by appreciably less votes than the 272 needed for a majority. Like the Narasimha Rao government in the first two years of its term, the last two years of Manmohan Singh's term are witnessing a minority party (or alliance) holding the reins of government, depending for its survival on the tested wiles of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath. Few expect any revolutionary changes to take place within the Congress after its "chintan shibir" on 18-19 January 2013, followed by the AICC on 20 and 21 January. The party seems to have run out of not just a majority in Parliament, but enthusiasm, leadership and ideas as well.
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