Should BJP project Modi as PM candidate? - NO

Harish Damodaran | Updated on March 12, 2018

Since Narendra Modi’s becoming Chief Minister, the BJP has grown from strength to strength in Gujarat. But the party has weakened nationally, with its numbers in the Lok Sabha falling from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004 and 116 in the 2009 polls.

The 116 in 2009 included 41 out of the 66 seats in its now-bastion of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In the coming elections, this can well go up to 50.

Further, the BJP could turn the tables on the Congress in Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttarakhand, where the latter last time won 20 out 25, 7 out of 7, and 5 out 5 seats, respectively. If it also retains the 3 out of 4 bagged in Himachal in 2009, the BJP may end up with 85 out of 107 seats in states, where it is directly pitted with the Congress.

But this gain from 48 to 85 seats might be partly offset by losses (from 19 to say, 9) in Karnataka. In Maharashtra, where it has an alliance with Shiv Sena, the BJP won 9 on its own in 2009. This time, the party can at best get 15, just as in Punjab and Haryana, its combined tally could rise from one to a maximum of 5.

That makes for a net gain of 37 so far.

Lonely beyond bastions

The problems, however, start just there.

Without alliance partners, the BJP can hardly win seats for itself in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa and even Assam, which together send 178 members. The same holds for the 54 seats in Bihar and Jharkhand, where the BJP managed 20 last time, largely courtesy its alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JDU.

And, finally, Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP won 10 out 80 in both 2004 and 2009. For this, block voting by Muslims – their backing any party best placed to defeat the BJP – has played a major part. In 2004, it was the Gujarat riots and in 2009, Varun Gandhi’s inflammatory speech that provoked this tactical response – which will happen again with Modi’s projection as Prime Minister.

Modi’s candidature, far from attracting new partners necessary for the BJP to go beyond 150 seats, would force even a stable ally like Nitish Kumar to jump ship. The Muslim vote may not matter in Gujarat. But its ability to influence outcomes in UP, Bihar, West Bengal or Andhra Pradesh is something Nitish – not to speak of erstwhile friends from Mamata Banerjee to Chandrababu Naidu – knows pretty well.

While Modi has many admirers today, the fact is he’s no Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The BJP would be better off fielding a Sushma Swaraj, who, besides being a woman, isn’t as much a polarising figure. As someone with no love for the BJP though, I wouldn’t mind it projecting Modi. If the party is determined to cook its own goose, why deny it a chance!

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Published on February 15, 2013
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