Monday, January 27, 2014

Modi, Rahul, Nitish, Or Kejriwal?

Narendra Modi at a BJP rally
Narendra Modi at a BJP rally (Photo credit: Al Jazeera English)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Modi is the only politician in India running for Prime Minister right now. Rahul, the number two name being thrown around, is not even an official PM candidate. Nitish is not a declared candidate, and it is to be seen how many seats his party will manage to win in Bihar. Kejriwal managed an impressive victory in Delhi but some of his antics in power have given many people a pause as to whether he is ready for prime time.

Polls show Modi will manage to push the BJP past the 200 mark. The thing about the 2002 riots in Gujrat is the Supreme Court of India has said Modi is not responsible. Rule of law says that means you can not hang the 2002 riots around Modi's neck. You can not blame Modi for 2002 any more than you could have blamed Rajiv Gandhi for 1984.

The BJP could end up winning 40 seats in Uttar Pradesh out of the 80 available there. There is some indication it could win 20 seats in Bihar out of the 40 available there, although I am surprised Nitish will not do better.

If the BJP wins 200 seats, the Congress 100 seats, and the others end up with 245 seats, is that a victory for Modi? Maybe, maybe not.

That might create room for a coming together of the non Congress, non BJP parties. And if they manage to get together around someone like Nitish, you can be sure the Congress will join the anyone but Modi bandwagon. So Modi will have 200 MPs. The tally for the anti-Modi camp will stand at 345. As in, Modi might peak before a single vote has been cast.

On the other hand, the BJP as the largest party might manage to get a few parties to come along. If it manages to get two parties with 20 MPs each, it will be that much closer to the halfway mark.

Modi's elevation to the top job is going to create an uncomfortable scenario for America. Modi dreams of an India that Americans queue up to get into. He has already created a Gujrat that beats all but a few European economies.

With a few months to go, Modi still has plenty of time to make stump speeches. That gives him time to do better than 200.

Modi in Delhi and Nitish in Patna might not be such bad scenarios. Who will keep doing for Bihar what Nitish has been doing? On the other hand, Bihar's next wave of growth might be about gaining special status, and the best way to get that might be by sending Nitish to Delhi.

Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa together have 100 seats. This Eastern block might be that platform that catapults Nitish to Delhi. For as well as Nitish has done in Bihar as Chief Minister, one would think he should be able to grab 30 of the state's 40 seats. But then you also are looking at a resurgent Laloo.

Modi has momentum right now, but a few months are a very long time in Indian politics. Anything could happen between now and then. Modi's laser focus on the economy has been serving him well. It is also helping that he is actually running for the top job. He was not born into a high caste well to do family. At one point in his life he was selling tea at a railway station.

At the end of the day it might boil down to Modi and Nitish. But a Nitish with 12 MPs will not be a factor. A Nitish with 25 MPs will be.

One just hopes whoever it is puts India on a path to double digit growth rates for the next few decades. India deserves nothing less. If Modi is that person, he will get 120 months. He has been asking for 60. If he gets 200 seats, becomes Prime Minister, and gives India double digit growth rates, the next time the people might give him 250 seats.

Godhra is not the issue, double digit growth rates are. That makes you think. Why is Nitish not running for Prime Minister? His economic record as Chief Minister is better than that of Modi. Gujrat was already a leading state when Modi took over. Nitish remade Bihar.

Nitish and Laloo should have been natural allies. Both have been Chief Ministers. Both have been Railway Minister. Nitish is an excellent Chief Minister. Laloo was an excellent Railway Minister. An electoral alliance that gives 25 seats to Nitish, 10 to Laloo and five to others like Paswan would sweep the state. Nitish alone contesting all 40 seats could do well just fine too.

Things are heating up. Those who can attend rallies. Those who can't watch it on YouTube. The next few months are going to be a nail-biter. And we did not even talk about the South.

There Jayalalita is a wild card. She is "secular" about Modi. She is a declared PM candidate. She might be the first to gravitate towards Modi should he offer the DPM slot to her, and all Third Front talk might go down the tube with that one move.
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