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If BJP's Tally Slides Below 272, What Could Be NDA and INDIA's First Moves?

A government formed by a mixed bag of small parties would be open to dissension and policy paralysis.

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Senior opposition leaders ought to strategise about how to handle a possible situation in which the ruling party needs extra MPs in order to retain power in the new Lok Sabha.

Although it may seem to be an unlikely result, it’s worth examining all possibilities—even a substantial loss of seats. While some would read that as a loss of mandate, the President would most probably ask the single largest party if it can form the government. 

If this is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as is almost certain, experience of several state assembly results indicates that horse-trading might follow. Given the wherewithal of the ruling party, it is very likely that several newly-elected MPs would be willing to cross over.

It is possible to appoint a government based on claims of majority support, allowing it to win over MPs once it is installed.   

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 If they join the BJP outright, they would be under the total control of the party and its whips regarding how to vote in the house. On the other hand, they would have more autonomy if they were to give support to the ruling party as a separate group, or groups, without actually joining it.

Such groups would be best placed to exercise autonomy if they were led by senior and experienced politicians. Therefore, it would be wise for experienced leaders to already strategise about how to respond if such a situation arises. Speed would be crucial—to publicly make a move before horse-trading overtakes them. 

Their first task would be to quickly and astutely gauge whether a stably workable non-BJP majority seems likely. They would have to quickly resolve the question of leadership based on agreed policies. For, in case no non-BJP party wins a very large number of seats in the new house, that could prove challenging.

A government formed by a mixed bag of small parties would be open to dissension and policy paralysis—which might make people who may have voted for them return quite quickly to the BJP as the party of stability. 

Strengthening Institutions

If the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is a little short of a majority and seems likely to buy over support, other groups ought to offer conditional support, preferably without joining a coalition government. Ideally, this offer should come from parties or groups that are large enough to exercise influence over the government.

They ought to focus on strengthening constitutional and national institutions, and should insist on consultations about important appointments. The election of a non-partisan Speaker should be the first priority. 

In case there is any bid from within the NDA for a change at the top—Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been suggested in the past—then those offering support could get involved in negotiations over leadership. It was interesting to see Nitish tell a BJP campaign rally that Narendra Modi should return as chief minister. It could have been a slip of the tongue. 

Those who offer support ought not to throw their own hats in the ring. For, seeking the BJP’s support would give the latter the whip hand. It could withdraw support at whatever it considers the right time.   

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Internal Flux

Although Narendra Modi's leadership has hitherto been larger-than-life, and pretty much absolute, a significant drop (from 303) in the number of party seats in the new house could dent his stature, and cause political flux.

After all, several MPs may have secretly chaffed under the concentration of power and influence at the top. None of them, from the highest to the least, has been able to share any significant space in the sun. Even Home Minister Amit Shah was barely visible for several months around the second quarter of 2020. 

In light of this overweening leadership style, it was intriguing to see a report in which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that raising Hindu-Muslim issues would not help the Congress. This was reported soon after the prime minister’s controversial statement during his campaign in Rajasthan. 

Rajnath Singh is not only the senior-most member of the cabinet, he was the party president ten-plus years ago when Modi was named as the party’s nominee to be prime minister. Could he possibly have been taking an oblique dig at the leader?

The minds of aspirants for the top job from within the BJP could already be working on how they might take advantage of a reduced tally. There might therefore be some jockeying in case the government is reduced to a minority. 

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is very popular with the party’s rank and file, surely hopes for a central role sooner or later. Over the years, there has also been talk of Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari taking over. I believe RSS leaders even told some opposition figures a few years ago that they wanted Gadkari on top.

 Another possibility is that, in case Modi sees his own chances receding, he might push forward Home Minister Amit Shah, who is a past master at cobbling majorities.

Any or all of these possibilities could lead to flux, even turmoil, in the days following the announcement of results, in case the mandate is unclear. In order to be able to navigate such potentially choppy seas, it would be wise for experienced opposition leaders to chart possible courses before the counting of votes.  

(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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