By S. Sethuraman
There are valid reasons at this time to guess options before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a snap poll to Lok Sabha ahead of May 2019, when the five-year term of the currentHouse ends.Firstly, there is emerging anti-incumbency factor, though limited to isolated areasyet, underlining thechanging dynamics of the political scene. Any sagacious leader like Mr Modi would not let it grow beyond harmless limits.
Secondly, more importantly, the majoritarian BJP under its supreme leader Mr.Modi, had only a narrow win in the December 2017 Assembly election in Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister, where he had a run of successes to be elected Chief Minister for three consecutive terms.
But this time, the Prime Minister’s appeals to voters, Gujaratis in particular, in an unprecedently hectic campaigning in both rural and urban areas, did not earn him laurels. Poor scoring in relation to a target of 150 (winning with only 99 seats from 115 held earlier) has apparently opened his eyes to the ground reality, whatever the bragging of BJP leaders that goes on.
Thirdly,in the context of the not so encouraging an outcome in Gujarat, and a series of state elections ahead, it is understandable for the Prime Minister to think far ahead and strategise to make absolutely sure of his being crowned for a second term. The PM, who is adept at refashioning strategies to win, in concert with BJP President Amit Shah, may be said to be seriously at work to this end
Fourthly,it is essential to ensure that the impending state elections in four BJP-ruled states, apart from the only Congress state of Karnataka, do not cause any upsets in votingaverages – which better indicate directions for the possible Lok Sabhapoll outcome later in May 2019. Would it be a risk worth takingfor the Modi-Shah duo, when the arch enemy, the Congress, under a recharged President Mr Rahul Gandhi, has begun to make waves, as was seen in Gujarat elections?
Among the four states under BJP, the Congress is building its hopes to be back in power in Rajasthan and also Madhya Pradesh while in smaller Chhattisgarh the two parties are near equals in strength for a tough contest. Apart from Karnataka, Mr Rahul Gandhi is at work reorganising the party in other poll-bound states in 2018 and early 2019.
Thus, after Gujarat, a mighty battle between the two national majors is due to take place in the near future in Karnataka where the ruling Congress Government looks with robust optimism to come back with its inclusive growth and welfare-oriented development agenda. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah says his Government would continue “our work to realise a, free, secular and inclusive India” envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Rahul Gandhi will launch the Congress campaign in Karnataka soon
BJP’s goal in Karnataka is to build the State (where it was in power before 2012) into a Hindutva fortress with its medium term goal of extending itself more effectively in the rest of the Southern Peninsula and thus shed the image there of it being regarded more as a Party of the North. Understandably, UP Chief Minister Mr Adityanath, an extremist of the Right, is leading the campaign in Karnataka projecting Hindutva has also its ‘vikas’ component.
Realising the strength the Congress enjoys at present in a state, though caste-ridden and having inter-regionalpulls and pressures, BJP has resorted to making wild allegations of corruption against the Siddaramaiah Government. Refuting these allegations, the Congressmen cite the corruption charge which disgraced former BJP Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, going out of office. He was later brought into the fold of the party and now heads the State BJP.
Finally, there has been frequent reference by the Prime Minister lately on the importance of simultaneous poll for Lok Sabha and States (as in the first two decades after independence when the Congress had a monolithic hold in the country). He has no doubt argued the merits cogently but awaits agreement among all parties, which seems unlikely for the present.
President Ram Nath Kovind, in his opening address to the budget session of Parliament on January 29 has also backed the idea of holding simultaneous poll on which, the address prepared by the Modi Government, calls for “a sustained debate” and says all political parties “need to arrive at a consensus on this issue”.
But whether this proposal can make headway or not – and this should become clear in the coming weeks and indications would be available in the debate on President’s address in both Houses ofParliament – the Prime Ministercan make a decision on when to call the Lok Sabha election.
The timing of this announcement would depend both on evolving political situation in a year of crowded polls and bypolls and which way the wind is blowing. Also, he will see whether the budget has met needs of the people, as desired, generally taking into account how well or otherwise the Union Budget for 2018/19 is received in the country.
On the budget itself, due on February 1, the Prime Minister had recently denounced “sops” and said what the common man wants are not “freebies”and he expects “honesty” and want to get “what he deserves”. . Government takes decisions “to fulfil their needs and aspirations” , the Prime Minister then added.
The Budget is expected to strike many confident notes about the finances, economic growth and jobs though India is yet really to find itself in “sweet stop” with growth at 6.75 percent in 2017-18, according to the pre-Budget Economic Survey which projects 7 to 7.5per cent in 2018-19. But there are many “ifs” about expected performance and risks linked not only to rising oil price and inflation but also with adverse effects on our finances and external account balancing. The Survey favours spending for growth without overly concerned about fiscal deficit.