370 seats and other myths: Why is the BJP so sure of an election landslide?

The frantic campaign to engineer defections from all and sundry has degraded the BJP from a washing machine to a garbage bin, writes Avay Shukla

A smile that conceals? PM Narendra Modi (right) and home minister Amit Shah (photo: PTI)
A smile that conceals? PM Narendra Modi (right) and home minister Amit Shah (photo: PTI)

Avay Shukla

It should come as no surprise that, under the influence of our latest soulmate Israel, Raisina Hill has now become our version of Mount Sinai, from where regular proclamations are issued by the presiding prophet. The latest — that the BJP shall win more than 370 seats and NDA 400-plus in the coming Parliamentary elections — is, however, pregnant with connotations and implications. Is this eleventh commandment a sign of confidence, a well-prepared alibi, or a smokescreen for something worse?

I see no legitimate justification for any such confidence.

At its present tally of 303, the BJP has plateaued out in the West and its Hindi heartland stronghold: it cannot improve its tally here. Its prospects are no better in the East and South than they were in 2019 — in fact, they have deteriorated in Karnataka, Telangana and in the North-East, with Congress wins in the first two and the fires in Manipur in the latter.

If at all, the BJP is likely to lose a substantial number of seats. According to 'What Does This Data Say', a data-crunching YouTube channel run by Ajay Prakash, the BJP's total tally is likely to come down by 40 seats, at the very least.

Certain recent developments have not favoured the BJP either. Its insidious efforts came a cropper in Jharkhand, where the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha retained its government notwithstanding the machinations of the ED and Raj Bhavan. In Bihar, Tejaswi Yadav appears to have emerged stronger after Nitish Kumar's latest defection. In Chandigarh, the INDIA coalition has emerged victorious in the mayoral elections and the PM's party stands fully exposed.

The striking down of the electoral bonds scheme may not amount to much in real terms because the BJP has already pocketed Rs 6,500 crore thanks to the delay by the Supreme Court in deciding the case, but it is a big moral defeat for the government, exposing once again the unconstitutional means it adopts to win elections.

That the party is smarting from this judgment is evident from the PM's mocking remarks that today, even if Sudama were to give some rice to Krishna, someone would file a PIL and the court would strike it down! Even the brazen retaliation of blocking the bank accounts of the Congress two days later was struck down by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in short order.

Seat-sharing among the INDIA partners is not the failure that the bought- out media would have us believe: it is proceeding apace and has been hammered out in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra, and appears likely in Haryana and Goa. The decision to go their separate ways in Bengal and Punjab makes sense tactically as it will split the anti-incumbency votes.

Don't let NDTV and India Today convince you otherwise with their slanted coverage and 'Mood of the Nation' polls — they reflect more the moods of M/S Adani and Aroon Purie than that of the common public. 

The revived farmers' agitation is bad news for the ruling party too, and will become even worse if violence ensues, as appears likely, given that the government has learned no lessons from the 2021 agitation. Its reliance on brute force as a panacea for all protests cannot deliver forever, and the people are beginning to recognise it for the tyrannical regime that it is.

There is widespread sympathy for the farmers' protests this time (photo: PTI)
There is widespread sympathy for the farmers' protests this time (photo: PTI)

There is widespread sympathy for the farmers this time, except perhaps among the pampered elite of Delhi who do not even know the difference between MSP and MRP, and can't be bothered so long as their Zomato delivery arrives on time.

The government's febrile actions over the last couple of months do not demonstrate that it is acting from a position of confidence; on the contrary, they display a certain desperation and nervousness. The frantic campaign to engineer defections from all and sundry has degraded the BJP from a washing machine to a garbage bin: it is now collecting all kinds of trash from other parties, people it repeatedly branded as corrupt, including the likes of Ajit Pawar and Ashok Chavan.

Very soon, having collected all the rubbish from other parties, it will become a patchwork quilt of opportunists and lose its strong ideological character. According to an analysis by the digital platform Knocking News, of the 303 MPs in the party, only 134 are original BJP types, the rest are all imports from other parties. It is becoming a "Congress yukt" party in rapid order.

The fear of losing is prompting other knee-jerk reactions: the constant targeting of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra 2 (which was not the case in BJY 1), the fresh personal attacks on him and his family, the renewed attempts at polarised violence in Haldwani, the frantic rush to introduce common civil codes in BJP-ruled states, the raising of the spectre of CAA and NRC by the home minister again, the reported deactivation of Aadhar cards as alleged by the West Bengal chief minister, the wholesale conferment of Bharat Ratnas in order to appropriate the memory of dead legends even as the party spurns all that they stood for.

The list goes on, but it indicates one thing, as surely as the mayoral elections in Chandigarh indicated brazen rigging of votes, that these are not the actions of a party confident of not only a victory, but of a two-third majority. The BJP may be facing a reality check, finally, and in the process is committing one blunder after another. With each such fiasco, it is denting its image even further. 

Its election narrative this time sounds decidedly hollow and devoid of any substance; it offers nothing but the three M's — mandir (temple), masjid (mosque) and Muslim — a refrain which is beginning to sound jaded and repetitive.

Real economic improvement has bypassed 90 per cent of the country's population, and this shows in just about every human development matrix. The so-called 'Modi's guarantees' are nothing but discredited jumlas (empty promises) after cosmetic plastic surgery.

So, one comes back to the question one posed at the beginning of this piece: what makes the BJP so confident of a landslide victory in spite of all these adverse indications?

The clues, perhaps, are to be found in the manner in which the ground is being prepared — the constant refrain of 400-plus seats, the slanted pre-poll surveys endorsing these estimates, and the amplification of these predictions by an obliging media. So when the 400-plus figure is declared after polling, people will not question it because they have been pre-conditioned to expect it.

Could it be that the BJP has a joker up its sleeve? The EVMs perhaps? A national roll out of the Chandigarh mayoral model, under the benevolent gaze of the Election Commission? I really don't know. But I am reminded of that intriguing quote from Arthur Conan Doyle: "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Think about it. And worry.

Views expressed are personal

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog and Other Colleagues. He blogs at avayshukla.blogspot.com

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