By Rajinder Puri / Delhi
Despite the damaging allegations against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah leveled by the senior imprisoned Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara, the BJP remains unfazed. Party spokespersons are brazenly belittling the charges and consider them to be of no consequence. BJP sympathizers privately opine that the exposure will help Modi by generating a tremendous sympathy wave for him on account of being persecuted by the Congress. Although there are still seven months to go before the general election expected in May 2014, pre-poll speculation has never been higher. As things are at present there is a strong anti-incumbency mood in the nation. BJP the main opposition party is naturally bracing itself for a great victory.
However there is division within the party about the precise strategy to follow. The differences relate mainly to the desirability of announcing Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate immediately, or to wait till the results of the assembly elections slated for November are out before formalizing a decision. Party President Rajnath Singh and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley have strongly favoured an immediate announcement. Reportedly the RSS is supporting the move. But the most senior BJP leader, LK Advani, and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj want to wait till after the November results.
What is so important about the November assembly results? Modi’s candidature as future PM raises some misgivings among potential future allies for a coalition government. That is why it is necessary for the party to obtain an outright or a near clear majority on its own if he is to be the next PM. Going by media reports, the reaction of its party workers, and opinion polls, BJP leaders are convinced there is a nationwide tidal wave in Modi’s favour that renders single party majority likely.
However there is as yet no tangible evidence of this support translating into votes. The BJP lost in Himachal Pradesh assembly elections and was trounced in the Karnataka by-elections. Modi had campaigned at both places. More ominously, in Vadodra in Gujarat itself, during the recent student elections Modi’s poster was put up as a youth icon. But the BJP supported student wing was trounced in the poll after which Modi’s posters were hastily removed. That raised serious questions about the perceived strong youth support for Modi.
In November all the BJP units going to the polls are expected to comfortably win with or without Modi’s support. Except the Delhi assembly election in which the BJP sits in opposition. Delhi therefore will test in November how far Modi’s perceived charisma can deliver results. That is why perhaps Advani and Mrs. Swaraj want to delay Modi’s candidature as next PM till after the November poll. If BJP cannot win Delhi there could be serious rethinking and the party would need a prime ministerial candidate acceptable to potential allies who would be badly needed. Even two remaining coalition partners of the dwindling NDA coalition – Shrimoni Akali Dal and Shiv Sena – are showing signs of restiveness.
If it transpires that the BJP cannot get single party majority or near majority, the party will have to look for a compromise prime ministerial candidate acceptable to potential regional allies. Seniority, stature and experience will obviously count in making the choice. Two obvious candidates would be LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. In the not impossible event that neither the Congress nor the BJP can muster sufficient numbers to install a PM of either party’s choice the nation will be saddled with a fractured parliament. The search for a consensus candidate in that event will become all the more difficult. In this possible scenario there is a theory making the rounds. According to some sources powerful sections of the corporate sector are already anticipating this possibility and making contingency plans to ensure a working arrangement.
The only effective leader with the requisite stature, experience and political skill to obtain governance out of a badly fractured parliament happens to be President Pranab Mukherjee. According to some sources certain big business elements are zeroing in on his name. Whether Mukherjee could play an effective role in his present post to ensure stability is a matter of conjecture. It would imply a change in how our present system of government operates. By coincidence or otherwise in Mumbai which is India’s financial capital some unusual street hoardings have sprung up advocating a presidential system of government for this nation. One of these hoardings was displayed in Kemp’s Corner.
The other possibility would be of course that circumstances compel the President to resign his post and become Prime Minister. There have been occasions in America when a President after demitting office has taken up another political post. In India C. Rajagopalachari after becoming the Governor General of India became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Though unusual, such an eventuality would not be impossible.
All speculation that is making the rounds in the capital is of course very premature. In seven months there is much that can happen to altogether alter the political scene. On September 10 the court will start hearing the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case for which the CBI has provided certain material that could be explosive.
The recovery of the missing coal files can also unleash new and startling information. In seven months anything can happen to dramatically alter the political scene. When there is no leader in firm command of the situation it is events that take the lead to dictate the country’s future. There is certainly no leader in firm command regardless of claims made by Congress or BJP.
And the political situation is so fragile and fluid that any big event can alter it beyond recognition. For example, if the PM’s New York meeting with Nawaz Sharif this month produces a dramatic breakthrough, there could even be a UPA PM in 2014!