Let us assume, for the purpose of this piece, that the Congress will lose next year's election.
In the opinion of many if not most, this will be a deserved loss. Few Indian governments have looked this pathetic. No other prime minister has presided over serial disasters. On corruption, the inability to pass legislation, and on dealing with allies, it is difficult to think of another leader who has shown the general haplessness of Manmohan Singh.
Even on the economy - which Singh always claimed as the one aspect he had kept shining in the first eight years of his time as prime minister - the government has been mediocre in the last two years. Even those sympathetic to the government and its limitations will feel that this lot needs some time off the field.
So, then, let us assume that they lose and are out of the picture in 2014.
How many seats does the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi need to win to form the government? Many in the party are doing this speculative arithmetic and I’m also going to try my hand at it.
The problem, as we know, is that the BJP repels too many parties and finds it more difficult to attract allies than the Congress. This is unusual because the Congress is the establishment party in India, the force which should naturally find opposition in the regional parties. However, it is the BJP that has become the party most state forces are opposed to, and this is of course because the BJP has chosen to be exclusive by pushing for Hindutva.
Under Modi, this desire to not be inclusive is amplified and so the problem of allies has become bigger. None of the BJP’s old friends remain with it but for two fellow communal parties: the Sikhs of the Akali Dal and the Marathi chauvinists of the Shiv Sena.
This will change when the Congress loses and it becomes clear that nobody else, other than the BJP, can form the government. When the media begins to speculate that there is no option except for elections, many of the parties currently opposed to Modi will say they will consider working with him.
What is this position and how many seats does Modi need to win to make this to happen? Let us consider this and first look at the parties that will partner the BJP under Modi.
We can divide such parties into two groups, positive and neutral.
In the list of parties positively attracted to the BJP are its current allies, the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, and we can also include the AIADMK of Jayalalithaa. This Tamilian party is not an ally but has no objections to joining the government under Modi. It is likely that the ADMK, which is currently in power, will sweep the Lok Sabha in that state and deliver 25 seats. To this we can add eight seats for the Akalis (out of Punjab’s 13) and 15 (out of Maharashtra’s 48) for the Shiv Sena. That is a total of 48 seats.
Now let’s look at those who are currently neutral but will come into government under the right situation. These include opportunistic parties like Kashmir’s National Conference, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Uttar Pradesh’s Lok Dal, the Asom Gana Parishad of Assam, the Northeast parties, and assorted independents (nine of whom won in 2009). All of these parties are small, and we could realistically give them together a total of 30 seats.
That brings the number of BJP allies to 78. Now let’s look at neutrals, meaning those who can live with supporting the government from the outside. In these we can include the Biju Janata Dal of Orissa (14 out of 21 seats), the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee in Bengal (22 out of 42), the Telugu Desam of Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh (six seats, assuming Andhra Pradesh is bifurcated) and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati in UP (22 out of 80).
This is a total of 64 seats. Assuming these parties are all neutral, we should subtract 64 from the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats to arrive at a halfway mark that becomes the BJP’s actual target. That gives us 479, meaning the BJP and its allies must win 240 seats.
If the allies deliver 78 of these, that leaves the BJP 162 to win. This is a number that the party has achieved several times under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and it is a number that the BJP will feel is easy to get under Modi.