After Modi government assumed office in Delhi, the BJP lost two crucial polls – the national capital and Bihar – and won Assam last year. All eyes are now on the outcome of the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand.
While these polls are not crucial for Modi, they are critical for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. Especially, an AAP win in Punjab (if it happens), would undermine Congress’ bid to provide a secular, national alternative to Modi in 2019.
Significance of UP for the BJP
For BJP, the populous UP is important in terms of Lok Sabha seats in 2019, the upcoming Presidential elections and adding a few more seats to its Rajya Sabha kitty.
A sweeping victory in the heartland state would help the NDA get a majority in the electoral college to anoint a BJP nominee as the next President when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee demits office in July. As of now that prospect appears dim as UP may be headed for a hung House in the absence of a strong wave.
Barring Goa, none of these states are held by the BJP while in Punjab it is a junior coalition partner of the Akalis. Uttarakhand and Manipur are with the Congress and UP is with the Samajwadis.
Modi Wouldn’t Mind Losing UP
A defeat may be embarrassing but Modi may not lose sleep. His spin doctors will be able to insulate him from censure as they did after the Bihar and Delhi fiasco.
In fact, for Modi, losing UP has some advantages as well. A preliminary, internal party survey is understood to have projected a hung House, with the BJP securing 100 plus seats. Some analysts are of the view that given the prevailing political ecosystem in the state, a BSP government in Lucknow with or without saffron support suits Modi best, for a BJP chief minister of such a key state could emerge a formidable challenger to him in 2019.
In the run-up to the 2014 polls, some in the anti-Modi camp had tried to push Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan as the prime ministerial candidate, while some thought that IITian and then Goa CM Manohar Parikkar was also PM material. It is a different matter that Parikkar has since lost his “gravitas” by his controversial statements and jaded performance as defence minister.
A BJP government in UP could double the anti-incumbency (at the Centre and the state) and can rob BJP of at least half of its current LS tally (71 out of 80) in 2019. In any case, it will well-nigh be impossible to replicate this feat even with a BJP government in Lucknow.
Non-BJP President Won’t be a Problem
The NDA can beat the Congress in Rajya Sabha’s number crunch in 2018, with 100 plus seats from UP. As for the next President, there is no harm in having a consensus candidate.
Mukherjee, quintessential Congressman that he is, did not cause any major embarrassment to the saffron dispensation even at the height of controversial ideological programming such as love jihad, ghar wapsi, attacks on beef eaters etc. There should not be any problem having a non-BJP entity in the Rashtrapati Bhavan as long as the incumbent is not a dyed-in-the-wool Leftist.
AAP Win in Punjab Will Deal a Blow to Congress
Reports from Punjab indicate that the fight is between the Congress and the AAP, with the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine relegated to the third position. A comprehensive defeat in Punjab at the hands of the AAP will compound Congress’ existential crisis. If AAP wins Punjab, it will emerge as a national challenger to the Grand Old Party by 2019. The AAP is also trying its luck in Goa and is planning to contest the Gujarat election, slated later this year.
As per the Election Commission’s criteria, a national party needs to get at least six percent of the votes from a minimum of four states, or two percent of the total seats in the Lok Sabha from at least three states or it should be recognised as a state party in four states.
A victory in Punjab is expected to embolden AAP to go national. A crafty Kejriwal has been eyeing bi-polar states where there are no “secular” alternatives and where the Congress is vulnerable like in Delhi.
In UP, the fight will be tough for AAP with entrenched regional players like the SP and the BSP zealously guarding their turfs. Same is the case with Bihar where JDU and RJD are formidable and challenging the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu is not easy. In West Bengal, it is Trinamool Congress versus the rest.
The AAP has, therefore, wisely chosen states like Gujarat, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana to squeeze in and usurp the Congress space. If he wins Punjab, Kejriwal will be tempted to go national much to the BJP’s delight as the AAP may then split anti-BJP, secular and Left-of-Centre space in 2019. By default, advantage Modi.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @benedict18. 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.)