The latest Mood of The Nation poll from India Today is out. It’s not really a surprise to hear that Modi is likely to win the election again if polls were held today. But, I felt that the poll reflects some interesting facts about BJP and Indian politics that deserve a detailed analysis.
(1) Chief Ministers are the BJP’s strongest line of defense: Here’s Raman Singh, holding on to Fortress Chhattisgarh :
He is ranked as the 3rd most popular CM in the country. Who is #2? Well that would be Shivraj Mama, a true gem. His approval rating stands at 81%! Chief Ministers are the core of the BJP. Because if 2019 were to throw up an unexpected result, it is in the state capitals where the BJP will find the oxygen to survive and fight another battle. After 2004, the BJP’s so called “Central leadership” was totally spineless for almost 8 years until Modi came along and breathed confidence into the ranks. And one of the reasons the Congress is finding it so hard to stand up again is that it has almost no regional heavyweights left. The few that the Congress does have, like Amrinder Singh, are being punished for being smarter than Rahul Gandhi. The Congress obviously has a policy that no one is allowed to be smarter than the Shehzada. Considering the fact that almost anyone would be smarter than Pappu, you can see why the party is digging its own grave…
But that’s not an excuse for BJP to leave aside the task of leader building. It has just plugged a hole in Gujarat state unit. There are 4 other, easily identifiable regional satraps that BJP should nurture by giving them a free hand: Vashundhara Raje, Devendra Fadnavis, Sarbananda Sonowal and B S Yeddyurappa.
One final note on this: what about Goa? With Manohar Parrikar moving to Delhi, the BJP has lost a regional satrap. Laxmikant Parsekar is not a Manohar Parrikar. It is time for BJP to send a clear message to Parrikar, tell him that he cannot be “weekend CM” of Goa. Both the people of the state and the state BJP deserve a leader of their own. No state is negligible, however small.
(2) BJP has to recalibrate its strategy against Nitish Kumar: So Raman Singh and Shivraj came in at #3 and #2, but who’s #1? Who is the most popular CM?
This is NOT good news. Nitish Kumar’s ability to hang on to the seat of power by hook or by crook is nothing short of amazing. His JDU had a vote share of 16% in Bihar. Has the JDU contested without the Mahagathbandhan on all 243 seats, maybe their voteshare would be about 20%. Isn’t it amazing that a man with a vote share of 16-20% has a brand value that stands at 87%? The elections exposed a lot of weaknesses in his party: he had no chance without Lalu’s help and the RJD won more seats than the JDU did. But Nitish Kumar’s face makes up for what the JDU lacks in cadre.
The BJP in Bihar has the cadre. The RJD in Bihar has the cadre. And Nitish Kumar has been enjoying the CM chair since 2005, standing turn by turn on shoulders of BJP and RJD. That is impressive, no matter how you look at it.
The seeds of this bizarre political arrangement lie in a disastrous decision of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000 to make Nitish Kumar the CM face in Bihar for NDA. Never give an alliance partner too much leeway. The BJP was out of power in Maharashtra for 15 years because it allowed Shiv Sena to take the lead. Flipping this ridiculous alliance will be an abiding legacy of Amit Shah.
The onus is now on Amit Shah to build in Bihar. Sushil Modi is the only choice here, really. There is no use dilly-dallying now. Give Sushil Modi command of Bihar BJP and perhaps declare Nandkishor Yadav as a face for Deputy CM. And it doesn’t hurt to play a little Chanakya and open some lines of communication with Lalu Yadav. Didn’t Nitish do the unthinkable and win power? So can BJP.
Why is Lalu Yadav sticking with Nitish? Because the only thing Lalu cares about now is settling his children. Go out and convince Lalu that there is no chance Nitish will share anything with his kids. That unless Lalu asserts his authority, Nitish is bound to backstab him like he backstabbed us. Get him to demand a clear and more conspicuous role for RJD in the ruling government. They have more votes. They have more seats. They deserve better.
(3) Modi’s seat in Delhi looks unshakeable :
So here are the projected vote shares for NDA in the mood of the nation polls since 2014:
April 2015: 38%
Aug 2015: 37%
Feb 2016: 37%
Aug 2016: 40%
Now, these vote shares in themselves might not have meant much, except that there is a remarkable stability to these numbers. Four successive polls, all showing the NDA hovering around the 40% mark. It is the consistency. With half the term over, we should have begun to see the signs of anti-incumbency, if there was any. But Modi’s numbers have held solidly near the 40% mark.
The 2019 election is definitely Modi’s game to lose. There is not a challenger in sight. In fact, it seems to be looking worse and worse for Rahul Gandhi… Regional challengers like Nitish Kumar or Kejriwal have no chance of reaching 20, let alone 272. And if there is one stable trend for last 15 years in Indian politics, it is that people like decisive five year governments and clear leaders. Modi has all the cards in his hands now. Don’t blow it.