Narendra Modi won’t hold early General Election: He needs all the time he can get to persuade voters

There's a lot of talk in the air that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could dissolve the Lok Sabha and bring forward the 2019 General Election. Some say they could take place in December 2018 along with the Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections. This would be in keeping with Modi's desire to club the General Elections with state Assembly elections.

Another idea doing the rounds is that they could happen within the next 100 days, with a new government in power exactly 12 months before it's supposed to happen.

Technology entrepreneur Rajesh Jain, who helped the 2014 Modi campaign, has strengthened these rumours by showing that the BJP’s seats have only been declining since 2014.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The longer Modi waits for the General Election, the more traction he might lose. After all, anti-incumbency has its cyclical logic. The troubles around unemployment and rural distress could only increase. What if rising oil prices cause high inflation? And god forbid if there's a bad monsoon.

The strongest argument in favour of early elections remains the element of surprise — and we know that Modi loves to spring surprises. An early election will not give the Opposition time to band together and form a coherent strategy for an anti-incumbency campaign.

Persuasive as these ideas might be, the truth is that the Modi government is facing a crisis with the rural economy, particularly landed farmers. The economy has been listless for a while with private investment not picking up. As the government recapitalises banks, as the government launches its national health insurance scheme and consolidates on its past schemes, it will need all the time it can get to persuade voters.

While Jain's argument is that things can only go downhill for the Modi government, the government will have another way of looking at it. Things have already hit a rough patch as seen in rural Gujarat and Rajasthan. The government’s efforts will be to make them go uphill.

Calling early election is a huge risk. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister for the third time in October 1999. The next elections were due in October 2004. Excited by election victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in December 2003, the BJP decided to bring forward the elections. Instead of September-October 2004, they were held in April-May that year. The BJP lost.

It will be surprising if Modi repeats Vajpayee's mistake. Every day in power is another day for a politician to appeal to voters. Early elections are a loss of opportunity.

The only circumstance when a ruling politician likes to call an early election is when he is confident he’s on a peak — a high so great that he can't rise any further.

In July 2002, as chief minister, Modi dissolved the Gujarat assembly. Elections were finally held in December 2002. The BJP’s logic in wanting early elections was the polarisation caused by the Godhra violence. Perhaps a similar peak could have been the surgical strikes against Pakistan in 2016. Unless the Modi government achieves such a peak, early elections are unlikely.

That leaves the question of simultaneous polls. Instead of bringing forward the 2019 General Election to align it with any state elections, it is more likely the BJP might bring forward a few state elections to hold them along with the General Election in April-May 2019.

Since the BJP is in power in 19 states, it can easily dissolve as many Assemblies as it wants at will and have elections in those states anytime. States like Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, which are scheduled to hold elections soon after the 2019 General Election are especially likely to see early elections along with the Lok Sabha elections.

Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 13:13 PM

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