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11 March, 2014

Modi in ‘now or never’ battle

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s voters, numbering more than 814 million, have been called upon to choose 543 members of Parliament as a first step towards the formation a new government in place of the Manmohan Singh administration, which completes its current term in May.

The schedule prepared by the Election Commission provides for polling in nine phases spread over five weeks, from April 7. That leaves the political parties with little time to complete the selection of candidates.

The Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the rival National Democratic Alliance, have more at stake in this election than any other party. Both are expected to contest between 400 and 450 seats. So far they have not finalised candidates for even half of the seats.

The election presents the first real test for Rahul Gandhi who is in the process of taking over the stewardship of the Congress party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and is almost sure to be the prime minister if it is in a position to form a new government. He faces an uphill task as the party, which has been continuously in power for 10 years, enters the fray with its burden of double incumbency compounded by a spate of corruption scandals.

He picked up the reins too late to be able to project himself as a credible agent of change capable of redeeming the party. He could stop the government from going ahead with some unpopular ideas but he could not push through legislative measures which he claimed were important tools needed to fight corruption.

In the event, few credit Rahul Gandhi with the ability to avert the electoral reverse that awaits the party. However, a poor poll performance is unlikely to pose any serious threat to his leadership of the party since he has inherited it as the heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The BJP, which lost two successive elections under the leadership of former deputy prime minister Lal Kishen Advani, is making an all-out bid for power this time under three-time Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

An indefatigable campaigner, Modi has created tremendous enthusiasm not only among the party’s Hindutva clientele but also among large sections of urban youth who have responded enthusiastically to his call to put divisive issues behind and unite for development.

The Janata Dal (United), Bihar’s ruling party and a long-time ally of the BJP, broke away from the NDA the moment the party named Modi its prime ministerial candidature, citing his alleged role in facilitating the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. That left the NDA without any constituent with secular credentials.

However, the BJP later improved its image somewhat by forging an alliance with another Bihar party, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.

Paswan had resigned from the NDA government in 2002 to vote against it in Parliament on the issue of the Gujarat riots. His return to the NDA indicates readiness to work under Modi if he becomes the Prime Minister, forgetting the 2002 carnage. 

The Telugu Desam party of Andhra Pradesh, which, too, is a former NDA constituent, is also in talks with the BJP and ready to make up with Modi.

However, two other parties which were NDA partners when it was in power, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, appear determined to pursue an independent course.

West Bengal, with 42 seats in the Lok Sabha, and Tamil Nadu, with 39 seats, are comparatively big players and the two chief ministers are seeking to maximise their parties’ parliamentary strength with a view to enhancing their role in national affairs.

Mamata Banerjee recently said that she was ready to accept Jayalalithaa or Bahujan Samaj Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati as the prime minister. 

These developments must worry Narendra Modi, for whom this is a ‘now or never’ battle. The BJP named him as its prime ministerial candidate under pressure from the Hindutva powerhouse, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, overruling the objections of Advani and other national level leaders. If he fails to land the top job, critics within the party are sure to attribute his rejection by the electorate to the odium of the Gujarat riots and the RSS may not be able to persuade the party to nominate him again. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 11, 2014.

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