How regional parties make the Rahul versus Modi debate pointless

Sitaram Yechury, the CPI(M) member of parliament, was asked in a recent interview in the Outlook magazine, whether the next Lok Sabha elections were going to be a direct contest between RaGa (Rahul Gandhi) and NaMo (Narendra Modi).

To this rhetorical question Yechury gave a brilliant answer: “There is a lovely saying in Telugu: Aalu ledu choolu ledu, koduku peru Somalingam, which means ‘I don’t have a home, I don’t have a wife but my son’s name is Somalingam’!”

The debate whether the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014 (or even earlier for that matter) are going to be a fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi is basically a pointless one right now and at least till the election results are out. And there is more than one reason for the same.

In states that elect a large number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, neither the Congress Party nor the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to be the largest party and win substantial number of seats. In Uttar Pradesh, which elects 80 Lok Sabha MPs, the fight is between Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. The BJP is expected to come third. In West Bengal, which elects 42 Lok Sabha MPs, the fight is between the CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress.

Similarly Andhra Pradesh, which elects 42 Lok Sabha MPs, the fight is between YSR Congress and the Telgu Desam Party. In Tamil Nadu, which elects 39 Lok Sabha MPs, the fight is between the DMK and the AIADMK. In Orissa, which elects 21 Lok Sabha MPs, Naveen 'Pappu' Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal is expected to do well.

The debate between Rahul Gandhi and Modi is a pointless one for now. Image: Agencies

The debate between Rahul Gandhi and Modi is a pointless one for now. Image: Agencies

In Karnatka, which sends in 28 Lok Sabha MPs, BS Yeddyurappa's Karnatka Janata Paksha (KJP) is expected to play spoilsport for the BJP. In Bihar, which sends in 40 Lok Sabha MPs, if the Samata Party and BJP, do not enter into an alliance and fight elections on their own, it is likely to benefit Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal. And on top of all this factor in the impact Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party may have on the elections.

In fact, last year there were reports of even a fourth front with strong chief ministers like Nitish Kumar, J Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, being its constituents. Arun Nehru, a former bossman at Jenson and Nicholson, a former MP and minister seemed to be leading the charge on this front.

As a report in The Indian Express had pointed out “One man who says he is working to get them together is former MP and perennial seat-predictor Arun Nehru. He's set the "fourth front" ball rolling among CMs Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik and TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu. Sources confirmed that the Bihar CM had been in constant touch with Banerjee and Naidu, directly and through Nehru, to "keep exploring possibilities."”

Given this it is likely that parties other than the Congress and the BJP might get sufficient number of seats allowing them to form some sort of a Third/Fourth Front. This front can then form the government with the outside support of either the Congress or the BJP. As Naveen Patnaik, the chief of the Biju Janata Dal and the Chief Minister of Orissa recently said “I think the Third Front is a very healthy option. But it is still early days." In this scenario neither Rahul Gandhi nor Narendra Modi, will come into the direct picture.

How the situation develops will depend on how the post poll alliances evolve. As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of Narendra Modi – The Man. The Times, told me in an interview, “The next election will in all likelihood see post-poll alliances determining who will head the next government.”

Given that, the entire hungama about the race to the top between RaGa and NaMo doesn't really hold. It is the regional satraps who hold the key to real power. And in a situation of a Third Front being formed, UPA allies like Sharad Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party will be the first ones to jump the ship.

Hence, the next Lok Sabha elections will not be a presidential sort of race that it is being made out to be. In fact neither the Congress nor the BJP will take the risk of naming a PM candidate before the elections. It will depend on how post poll alliances evolve and who is acceptable to the 'potential' allies ie if they have enough number of seats to negotiate.

Narendra Modi in his own way recognises this. As Mukhopadhyay said, "I had asked Modi about the number of dwindling allies. He argued that if the BJP’s winnability increased, allies would automatically come. He said they had more allies when they were on the winning curve but they started deserting when the ship began sinking. If it becomes afloat again, other would jump in. It is with grave risk that one should indulge in crystal ball gazing. But if the situation does not alter dramatically within BJP, and in other parties – including Congress – I see little chance of any party naming their prime ministerial candidates...Modi’s chances will depend on the number of seats the BJP wins."

Hence, even Modi understands at some level that it will be a liability for the BJP to declare him as their PM candidate in advance. So the BJP is likely to be as vague as is possible for them to be on Modi. But at the same time enough signals will be given to the core cadre of the BJP to project Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

When it comes to Rahul Gandhi he has clearly said that he is not in the race to become Prime Minister. The cynical interpretation of this is that all politicians say these kind of things. And that to a large extent this is true as well. The only people to whom this so called unwillingness of Rahul to be in the race, causes problems for, are the chamchas that the Congress party thrives on.

As Ian Jack writes in Mofussil Junction – Indian Encounters 1977-2012 “The Congress party became a machine largely bereft of ideology, with one purpose: to elect a prime minister called Gandhi...For without a Gandhi, even a Gandhi from Turin, the Congress fears it will be found out.”

While the chamchas in the Congress party may want Rahul to lead the charge, he clearly doesn't see himself in the race. And here he may have picked up a thing or two from his mother, who after having refusing the PM's post, was the defacto PM anyway. So if a Congress led coalition does come to power, and even if Rahul Gandhi chooses not to lead it, he would be leading it anyway. So it doesn't matter if he is in the race or not. The Congress might choose even someone like a Pratibha Patil to be PM (like it chose Manmohan Singh), but the real power will remain with Rahul and his mother.

To conclude while, the social media might feel that this there is a direct fight on between NaMo and RaGa (or feku versus pappu) for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it hardly seems to be like that after some reflection. The sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia once said Hunooz, Dehli Door Ast (Delhi is still far away) and that is as true for RaGa as it is for NaMo, at this point of time.

Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek


Published Date: Apr 17, 2013 04:19 pm | Updated Date: Apr 17, 2013 04:20 pm