By Harihar Swarup
Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi go in for an early Lok Sabha poll? There have been growing speculation in political circles that he may dissolve the Lok Sabha in November or December and prefer to hold the general elections along with Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
After a setback in Gujarat where the BJP has just scraped through, defeats in a series of by-elections, the Punjab National Bank scandal and the escape of billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi has resulted in further slide down of the image of the BJP-led government. It is believed in some circles of the BJP that there is hardly any chance of party’s stock going up. Rather it may further go down. So, it is better to go in for a snap poll now.
There is, however, another side which believes that going for an early poll would be a mistake. The present situation can be salvaged and there is still enough time to take pro-people decisions and restore the Prime Minister and the BJP’s sagging image.
The ground reality appears somewhat difficult. The Prime Minister is being ridiculed publicly. His critics quote him and recall tall promises he made during election time but none of them were fulfilled. “I don’t want to become Prime Minister. I want to be a chowkidar”, he had told his election meetings on campaign trail during 2014 election. Social media is unforgiving and four years later –after the Nirav Modi banking scam blew up – a video of PM’s chowkidar speech was repeatedly recycled.
As Nirav Modi banking scam unfolds, reality has hit hard. To lay the blame at Prime Minister’s door for a multi-crore scam in one branch of a public sector bank would be unfair. The scam reveals, though, that however tough the chowkidar at the top, there is deep rot in an unaccountable public sector banking system. For instance, all 20 PSU banks including PNB do not have a workman or an officer director. The mandatory watchdog post has been vacant, in many cases, for almost six years.
So the question arises, who is the better chowkidar: a single individual or a range of independent functioning accountable watchdogs institutions that raise red flags in time?
After Gujarat, the setback in Rajasthan by-elections; total routing of the BJP in three by-elections show the trend of coming Assembly election in November-December. It is hard to ignore a clear anti-incumbency verdict send by Rajasthan’s voters. In Madhya Pradesh by-election, the Congress has retained two Assembly seats, while Chief Minister Shivraj Singh strived hard to wrest them. In Odisha, the BJD’s Rita Sahu, widow of deceased Congress MLA Subal Sahu, defeated BJP’s Ashok Panigrihi by over 41,000 votes.
Pollsters say Rajasthan is worse-placed than both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh going to poll by the year end. Apart from heavy anti-incumbency, Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh respectively – have become quite unpopular. How the voters will react to the situation has to be watched? Let us wait for December when the three states go to polls.
The major state that goes to polls in May, Karnataka, may be the trend-setter. If the Congress manages to retain the southern state, which is within the realm of possibility, it could go into 2019 (when Lok Sabha elections are due) feeling confident. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi have been putting all their strength to woo the voters.
There is, however, good news for the BJP from Northeast. As the exit polls had predicted, the saffron party won in Tripura and Nagaland. While an exit poll projected 35-45 seats for the BJP and its allies in Tripura against the ruling Left Front’s 12-23 in 60-member Assembly, the reality was quite close. It is seen to be a big moral victory of the BJP as the party ouststhe well-entrenched Marxists in the Northeastern state.
In Nagaland the exit poll predicted a close fight between the ruling Naga People’s Front, which is likely to get 20-25 seats and the BJP and its allies are likely to get 27-32 seats.