PM Modi’s belated damage control won’t earn him support for simultaneous polls
PM Modi’s belated attempts to placate Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu on special status for Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, won’t get him support for the simultaneous elections he so desperately wants
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who chaired the fourth annual meeting of the NITI Aayog's Governing Council on June 17, yet again brought up the issue of simultaneous polls and a single voters list for all elections. The PM, addressing the assembled chief ministers, urged for building a consensus on the issue. While the debate is presented as being for future simultaneous polls starting from 2024, it’s no secret that the BJP is keen on holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and several state assemblies in 2019 itself.
PM Modi at the NITI Aayog meet also made a belated attempt to placate Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu, chief ministers of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh respectively, who have been demanding special category status for their states. Modi claimed the Centre was committed in "letter and spirit" to adhere to statutory provisions in place at the time of the bifurcation of states.
The PM’s efforts come months after Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance on the issue of denial of PM Modi’s promised special status to Andhra Pradesh. Nitish Kumar, emboldened after the BJP and NDA’s poor showing in recent Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls across 11 states, has also lately revived the issue of special status for Bihar.
If the PM was serious about addressing AP’s special status, he would surely have looked into it before, and not after, his ally quit the NDA. So one can safely conclude that the placatory noises by the PM have little to do with AP’s needs, than trying to drum up support for simultaneous polls, a distant and desperate dream of PM Modi.
The Prime Minister looks increasingly desperate. His repeated and concerted pleas for simultaneous polls at the latest Niti Aayog meet on June 17 indicate not only this desperation, but also his folly at thinking that allies and Opposition parties he has treated with such contempt, can be cajoled into enabling him, through legislation, to conduct a presidential-style election for a fixed term for himself!
The BJP and NDA do not have anywhere near the numbers required to amend the Constitution to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and assemblies. It has been argued that some jugglery can happen to enable BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Haryana —which go to polls within six months before and after the Lok Sabha elections—to elect their assemblies along with the Lok Sabha polls in a ‘virtual’ simultaneous election. However, there are two problems with the plan for a ‘virtual’ simultaneous election as opposed to a legislated simultaneous election. One, these are all states where BJP is faced with winds of double anti-incumbency. It needs states like Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, where it fancies its prospects are better, to be part of the simultaneous polls plan. BJP has been focusing on these states in the hope of making up for inevitable losses of Lok Sabha seats in the northern and western states.
While BJP chief ministers will play ball with the virtual simultaneous poll plan, it is unlikely that Nitish Kumar would be willing to cut short his chief minister-ship by nearly 18 months to enable a simultaneous vote that stands to favour BJP! Certainly not after the arrogance with which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have treated him, as has been their wont with BJP’s allies. It is also unlikely that Naidu, who is now virtually part of the Opposition ‘Federal Front’ being pushed by Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao, will come to the aide of PM Modi. Mamata Banerjee and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik have outright rejected the BJP’s proposal for simultaneous elections, along with other Opposition parties.
This is because the Opposition parties have presciently sniffed out the main aim behind the PM’s push for simultaneous polls. A ‘virtual’ simultaneous election will not entail fixed terms for Lok Sabha and assemblies that legislated simultaneous elections will. It is this achieving of fixed term by stealth, rather than the PM’s pious claims of ensuring uninterrupted governance, that the Opposition fears. No one is fooled by PM Modi’s oft stated aim of wanting to save public money through simultaneous polls, given the thousands of crores splurged by the Modi Government on advertising itself.
If the PM was serious about addressing AP’s special status, he would surely have looked into it before, and not after, his ally quit the NDA. So one can safely conclude that the placatory noises by the PM have little to do with AP’s needs, than trying to drum up support for simultaneous polls, a distant and desperate dream of PM Modi
Recent reports shows that the BJP’s election war chest is larger than several bigger Opposition parties combined. And these are only the ‘known’ donations to parties. The Opposition further apprehends that the BJP wants to convert the general elections into a presidential-style election focused around the image of the Prime Minister, and pour its immense resources into one big campaign in an attempt to blunt the anti-incumbency effect. Given that several voters tend to favour national over regional parties in general elections, the Opposition reasons that BJP hopes to gain in state assemblies where it is on the backfoot, from voters’ Lok Sabha choices.
Modi had made the same call for simultaneous polls at the third meeting of Governing Council of NITI Aayog in 2017. A year later, having lost a big ally like TDP, having lost its pre-poll alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, with NDA allies from Upendra Kushwaha to OP Rajbhar getting restive, and faced with growing Opposition unity that has already cost the BJP in bypolls, the Prime Minister is increasingly desperate. His repeated and concerted pleas for simultaneous polls at the latest Niti Aayog meet on June 17 indicate not only this desperation, but also his folly at thinking that disgruntled allies and Opposition parties he has treated with sheer contempt, can be cajoled into enabling him, through legislation, to conduct a presidential-style election for a fixed term for himself!
Narenda Modi in the fifth year of his term is struggling under dual lessons that you can’t fool people all the time, and your chickens one day do come home to roost!
With IANS inputs
- Amit Shah
- West Bengal
- Nitish Kumar
- Madhya Pradesh
- Mamata Banerjee
- Andhra Pradesh
- Shiv Sena
- N Chandrababu Naidu
- Naveen Patnaik
- National Democratic Alliance
- Upendra Kushwaha
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- K Chandrasekhar Rao
- 2019 Lok Sabha elections
- Telugu Desam Party
- special status
- 2019 Lok Sabha polls
- federal front
- NITI Aayog meeting
- simultaneous polls
- NITI Aayog Governing Council
- simultaneous election
- fixed term
- presidential-style election
- OP Rajbhar