There has been some talk in the capital about an early Lok Sabha election. Those who argue on those lines believe that a simultaneous parliamentary election along with those to the State assemblies of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will help the ruling party. It is suggested that Modi will not only return to power, albeit with a reduced majority, but will also help the party retain power in these States, thus neutralising the effect of the anti-incumbency against the outgoing chief ministers. Though, how things will eventually pan out cannot be known, but we are inclined to believe that Modi will not cut short his term to risk an early election. Regardless of the fact that he is by far the tallest national leader around, an election does entail an element of chance.
Remember how Atal Bihari Vajpayee was persuaded to go in for an early poll, some eight months before it was due. And he failed to retain power, with the winners themselves surprised at their immense good luck. Vajpayee might have been done in by the smart-alecky campaign centered around the misleading ‘Shining India’ tagline, but in spite of his having given a good government the voter mood is always difficult to gauge. Electoral waves, invariably, are noticed only after the votes are counted. To return to the present, it is indisputable that Modi’s popularity is still very high. Several opinion polls have revealed that he is by far the most preferred choice of the people for prime ministership. His closest rivals for the PM’s post rate well below him. Besides, the opposition is fragmented. There is no clarity as to who will be its prime ministerial candidate.
The constituents of the former UPA are unready to accept Rahul Gandhi, the newly-installed Congress president, as their leader. It is notable that a recent meeting of the opposition leaders had to be chaired by Sonia Gandhi, with her son sitting on her side, since it was not acceptable to the Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party that Rahul should chair that meeting. Indeed, the way Mamata Banerjee has sought to reach out to various leaders of the UPA, and even those of the NDA, it would seem that she fancies her chances as a prospective prime ministerial candidate. Even Sharad Pawar entertains such ambitions, though his own grip on the voters in Maharashtra may have become further tenuous. Again, there is a question mark about the role of the Marxists.
The CPI(M) is divided between the Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri factions, with the latter openly plumping for an alliance with the Congress. But, the dilemma of the CPI(M) is rather acute. In West Bengal, the local unit reckons that for survival against a dominant Trinamool and a fast expanding BJP, without an alliance with the Congress it might face a complete washout. In a recent Assembly poll, the CPI(M) came a poor third and the Congress fourth behind it, while the BJP emerged as a strong second in a seat last held by the Congress Party. However, the Congress-led United Front is the main challenger of the Marxist-led Left Front. Reconciling these contradictions might be hard even for the JNU-educated rationalists who lead the CPI(M).
On the other hand, despite the discordant noises from some of its allies, the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo continues to be a formidable election machine. It is fully geared for the coming electoral battles, even though some would believe that the recent setback in the Rajasthan by-polls indicated a strong anti-incumbency current against the BJP State governments. Admittedly, the image of the Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is particularly controversial, which is not the case either with Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh or with Raman Singh in the neibhouring Chhattisgarh.
Besides, thanks to the deepening of the democratic process and a rising awareness, thanks to the 24×7 media, voters know full well how to distinguish a state government from a national government. Otherwise too, a number of people-friendly programmes, particularly the Modicare for 50 crore people, will take time to be implemented. To be launched on the coming October 2, the provision of Rs five lakh health cover for ten lakh families can be a game-changer. Just as the provision of three crore LPG cylinders to the poor families was earlier. In the coming months, additional five crore LPG cylinders are to be provided to the poor families. All this is bound to generate a huge fund of goodwill for the prime minister. Given his unquestioned oratorical and political skills, he remains a front-runner by quite some distance to retain power. As for the question about an early poll, on present evidence it is unlikely he would cut his current term even by a week.