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Modi is coming back, and the week ahead is not going to be nice

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It has seemed like an eternity, but May 23 is finally here. Almost.

One of the most bitter election campaigns in recent memory will now see a closure with the results of the largest democratic election in the world set to be declared in a day. For starters, it is now clear to everybody following Indian politics, on either side of the political spectrum, that Aaayega toh Modi hiYes, there are still people hoping for an alternative result, but incidentally, these are the same set of people who were blind to the Modi wave in 2014. How big a mandate this will be is up for debate. Almost all the exit polls released show the NDA set to form the government easily, with some of them giving an absolute majority to the BJP by itself.

The state of the opposition

  • The Indian National Congress (INC)

Not a single exit poll has the INC touching even 125 seats, a reflection of where the Grand Old Party stands today. The much touted Nyay scheme, which in hindsight was probably brought out too late in the campaign, has not been able to capture the imagination of the electorate in their intended catchments as the party expected it to. A long series of gaffes, from the usual suspects (Mani Shankar Aiyar) to some new entrants (Sam Pitroda, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Omar Abdullah), along with a virtually non-existent cadre when compared to the foot strength of the BJP, has resulted in the INC lagging behind at a distant number two.

The one area where the Modi government was vulnerable, and the opposition should have pressed hard was the economy, with rural farm distress and unemployment having had the potential to have brought the government to its knees. However, whether by accident or by pure incompetence, the INC president Rahul Gandhi decided that the stigma of corruption was what was going to bring Modi down, which was a blunder in strategy from day one. In Modi’s 12 years of administering the state of Gujarat, the charge of corruption was not thrown at him once in all those years, and suddenly calling the most popular politician in the country Chor without any shred of evidence and foresight turned out to be the weakest opposition campaign in years.

One place where the Congress straightaway began on a back foot was a popularity contest between its Party President and the BJP’s lead star. The obvious way to go would have been to play the election as multiple state-wise smaller contests, by emphasizing different leaders within the party as effective micro level alternatives to the BJP’s over dependence on Modi. However, no such leader within the party was either brought forward, or allowed to take center stage, with the party deciding to even making a last-ditch resort towards the much hyped entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has not seemed to make any tangible difference in the race.

  • The Rest of the Anti-Modi forces:

This was a bunch of parties without any ideological similarity, that were simply opposed to the idea of Modi returning as the Prime Minister. This was seen in the way how traditional rivals came together: the SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh, the INC and the JD(S) in Karnataka, the PDP and the NC in Jammu & Kashmir, and the AAP and INC in New Delhi (well, almost. It’s not like Kejriwal didn’t try). Such a rag-tag group of individuals simply could not expect to go farther than hoping for the BJP to get below 250 and just repeating the one thing they had come together for – Remove Modi. Beyond this, none of them, including the INC, had any clear viable message to offer to the voter. Their entire campaign strategy was a negative one – towards defeating one man, and that wouldn’t have been a bad way to go; provided the man they were up against was a weak, unpopular candidate. But the one thing nobody can deny, irrespective of the extent of BJP’s lead, is that Narendra Modi is still, hands down the most popular Indian politician in the country.

Predictions for the Big Day

While it has been clear for quite some time that the BJP is set to be the single largest party, the big question was, whether they would get to the magic number of 272 on their own. The BJP managed to score 282 seats as a result of the Modi wave in 2014. It now seems that, contrary to the perceptions of this being a waveless election, the Modi wave has in fact grown more. The various social welfare schemes rolled out successfully, such as the Mudra loans, Ujjawala Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, Ayushman Bharat on a micro level, have made a huge impact in many parts of Rural India. Women can be considered as Modi’s biggest votebank, something the above schemes have further reinforced. The air strikes in Balakot have enhanced Modi’s talking point that the BJP government is the best suited for National Security. After a relatively decent five years at the helm, without any blemish of corruption proven, and inflation not being an election issue, a Modi vs All contest at this point really only had one winner at the end of the day.

Hence, it would not come as a surprise if the BJP actually increases its seat tally from 2014. The only potential for a major loss of seats would be from the state of UP, where it remains to be seen if the alliance arithmetic of the Mahagathbandhan manages to trounce the BJP. Still, a worst case scenario for the BJP would involve at least 50 seats from UP being lost from 2014. However, these 50 would, in all probabilities, be offset by the gains made from West Bengal, Odisha and the North-Eastern states, with significant inroads being made there in the last couple of years. South India too, offers good news for the NDA. Beginning with Tamil Nadu, where contrary to most polls, the NDA looks set to get at least 10-15 MPs, owing to poor leadership at the DMK along with some questionable alliance decisions. Karnataka seems set to marginally increase the number of BJP MPs elected, with the groundswell of support for Modi only increasing.

The party also seems set to open its account in Kerala for the first time ever, with the two seats of Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta appearing the most likely ones. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where the BJP is not actually expected to win anything, are two states however, where the eventual winners (Chandrashekar Rao and Jaganmohan Reddy) can be expected to provide support in the future, considering their neutral stands in the recent past. The North and West of India, the traditional strengths of the BJP, appear set to repeat the one-sided verdicts of 2014, with the halo around Modi being the strongest here. Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, however, might not go completely for the BJP, considering the spectacular victory by the INC in the assembly elections in the former, and significant alliance might of the opposition in the latter.

These two states aside, the BJP seems set for a virtual sweep elsewhere, from formidable alliance strength in Bihar and Maharashtra to the Modi magic in the other northern states. Hence, a bettering of the 2014 performance by both the BJP and NDA remain very much in the cards.

With regard to the other parties, the AAP would most likely draw a blank this time, down from the 2014 high of four seats. The TMC is banking on securing at least 30 seats in West Bengal, for anything lesser would firmly establish BJP’s foothold in the state. The Communist parties can no longer call themselves a national level electoral force, with only Kerala set to be their lucky place.

What lies next

The desperation of the opposition in coming together to prevent Modi from winning again was borne out of the belief (not wrongly), that a second continuous Modi government would virtually signal an immediate, if not final, end to their political careers. This desperation was visible throughout the campaign, as they were unable to match up to the pace and narrative being set by the Prime Minister. This has now reached the levels of total paranoia, with the entire opposition clinging to that last political resort before the five stages of grief officially begin – The EVMs are faulty. 

This is now the only straw that the opposition seems to be clutching at, and considering what’s at stake, they will not be prepared to go quietly. Hence, it is not going to be an easy path towards formation of the next Government, irrespective of the BJP’s numbers. The week ahead is certainly going to be an interesting one.

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