by Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. Oftentimes, it is more the art of the impossible turned possible.
Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal BJP President, noting this Saturday in a press conference that his bete noire so long, the state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is the only capable Bengali to be the Prime Minister of the nation, is one such instance. The statement given in full view of the Bengal media has brought in a bit of a political earthquake in Kolkata, and one also in Delhi lower in the Richter Scale.
Interestingly, as the informed political grapevine would have it, Mamata Banerjee had sent sweets and flowers and a message of utmost significance to Rajnath Singh, the Indian Home Minister from BJP, through her trusted aide Bobby Hakim, when Singh was travelling to Bhuvaneswar recently via Kolkata.
Indeed we are in uncertain times.
The best of 2014 is no more there and the Modi-Shah narrative in governance has all but gone sour which is reflected in the results of the recent 5 State Assemblies and recent by-elections, apart from missed opportunity in Karnataka and a laboured win in Gujarat. The allies, even as small as Lok Janshakti Party and Apna Dal, are flexing muscles and one NDA ally RLSP has recently left the alliance headed by the Modi-Shah dispensation, after 11 others over the last 4 years, TDP being the most significant of all.
It is not without reasons that the devout RSS pracharak, and a trusted Nagpur Brahmin, central transport minister of BJP, Nitin Gadkari, has started soft peddling his ‘image of benevolence and tolerance’ and is being interpreted as he is doing so on RSS bidding, to be able to walk in if BJP and NDA seats tallies are much lower than those of 2014, though being the single largest party/alliance, come May 2019.
The allies will demand their pound of flesh in such a scenario, and there could be a change of guard, with RSS putting forth Nitin Gadkari as the new benevolent Hindutva poster-boy.
Not if NDA is still weaker, say around 200 seats or less as an alliance, and desperately needs outside support to form the next Central Government in India.
In such an exigency, Rajnath Singh, the former UP CM and BJP president, would want his name to be considered, which then can only be done with the tacit or explicit support of the so-called Third Front or Federal Front. And why not, being so-long the muted number two in the Modi cabinet today?
This section of the BJP with tacit support of Rajnath Singh, is keeping all its options open to get a multi-party consensus candidate from BJP as PM in the post polls situation in May 2019, if NDA falls short of say 200 seats in the Lok Sabha. Or if it gets too hot to handle, they may even get a Third Front federal leader, like Mamata Banerjee, in the front as the PM for the time being to stop Rahul Gandhi or Mayawati or Modi from coming to power.
India had a PM for 8 months in 1990-91, Chandrashekhar who never used a surname, and had less than 30 MPs by his side, but ruled with the external support of many parties, mainly of Congress, till Rajiv Gandhi led Congress pulled the rug from below his feet. It was an impossibility turned possible in a specific situation, which may again be a reality, come May 2019. There can be a minority government of Mamata led Third Front at the Centre, with tacit or explicit support off the BJP hoping that the government falls under its own pressures.
And, Mamata is keeping all her tactics in place for a similar situation to come to power. First, she is contesting alone in all the 42 Lok Sabha seats of West Bengal, with the hope that she will do all that it takes to win as many of these possible, or all. Last time she made it in 34 of these in 2014, and allowed Congress to win in 4 others. And now she wants all 42 for herself, sam daam dand bhed, whatever it takes to win.
With close to 40 MPs by her side from Bengal, she hopes to win in a couple of more seats from the Northeast riding a likely consolidation of the Bengali electorate therein following the NRC citizens’ registration controversy, perceived as anti-Bengali measure of BJP.
And this 40+ strength will make her clearly the third largest party in the Lok Sabha after BJP and Congress, and either can come to power only with her support.
Or, alternatively she can come to power with the support of either of them, to keep the other away, in a classic case of enemy’s enemy is my friend. She neither wants Modi to return to power, one who has let loose the CBI and ED against her and her men, nor does she want to see Rahul Gandhi enthroned who is politically much junior and does not see eye to eye with her.
Expect her to tell all the right things ahead. Attack Modi-Shah duo, but spare BJP from bitterness. Call for opposition unity, but be silent on Rahul. Work towards all regional forces to unite, but cold shoulder Mayawati, her only other possible rival within the non-BJP non-Congress camp.
Alongside, her agenda will be to speak about the farmers’ issues a lot, and show case her Krishi Mitra schemes. There will be a loud campaign around Kanyashree schemes of Mamata government which has won international recognition for pushing the boundaries in girl-child’s education in Bengal. Swasthyo Mitra schemes will be told to illustrate her public health commitment. And youth welfare, apprenticeship and unemployment loans and stipends will be touted to exhibit her commitment to the educated unemployed youths.
With the BSP-SP-RLD marriage all but solemnised in UP and a resurgent RJD tying up with Congress and RLSP-HAM parties in Bihar, and Shiv Sena possibly going alone in Maharashtra, the prospects of BJP crossing 200 seats look bleak. The small win in Gujarat and defeats in MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh only add to that insecurity for the party.
It is a phase of glorious uncertainty in which three top BJP leaders are in the race: Modi, Gadkari and Rajnath Singh. And at least three more from the opposition: Rahul, Mamata and Maywati.
And any two (one from each camp: ruling and opposition) coming closer, even post-polls, will upset the apple-cart of the four other.
Will they be Rajnath Singh and Mamata Banerjee?
Only time will tell.
The author is a noted media academic and commentator, and is currently the Media Dean of Pearl Academy, Delhi and Pune.