What storms will 4 June bring?

There is reason to hope the worst is over, there is reason to fear it’s yet to come, writes Kumar Ketkar

Security personnel stand guard outside Parliament House in New Delhi
Security personnel stand guard outside Parliament House in New Delhi

Kumar Ketkar

You’ve heard they’re coming back, you’ve heard they are not. You’ve heard they will return with a thumping majority and you’ve heard Modi has sensed the end is near. You’ve also heard about his latest stunt — the 45 hour (televised) meditation session at Kanyakumari’s Vivekananda Rock Memorial, a short ferry ride from the mainland at the confluence of the three seas.

There is reason to hope the worst is over, there is reason to fear it’s yet to come.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited to take oath as prime minister in 1996, the BJP had 161 seats, 111 short of the majority needed to win a trust vote. Only three parties supported the Vajpayee government — the Shiv Sena, Haryana Vikas Manch and Akali Dal.

The government fell in 13 days, but Vajpayee went down in style — "Sarkarein aayengi, sarkarein jayengi, lekin loktantra balshali rahega (governments will come and go but democracy will live on),” he said, wowing parliamentarians across the divide. The second time Vajpayee resigned was in April 1999, when he lost the confidence motion by just one vote.

It’s plausible that Modi will have a sketchy majority this time round. But Modi is no Vajpayee. He will not resign — opening a Pandora’s box of constitutional conundrums. With the verdict still sealed in our dubious EVMs, let’s consider four possible scenarios.

Scenario 1

The BJP gets a resounding mandate of 300 to 350 seats, with the NDA allies chipping in with around 50 more. Modi preens like never before. There are celebrations across the country. Parades with even bigger cut-outs of Modi in sundry costumes, from military gear to tribal wear. Band, baaja, baraat. Towering images of Ram, showers of petals and gulal, fireworks, the works.

Prime Minister Modi addresses the nation, with heads of States from around the world in attendance at the glittering ceremony. Global media descends on New Delhi to cover the coronation of Modi. The event is choreographed on the lines of the British royal extravaganza.

Mesmerised Indian media does its most obsequious bow. Modi declares the country has finally won real freedom, from its ‘colonial mindset’. The Glorious Indian Century has begun. In five years, he declaims, India will be a superpower, in the league of the most developed nations in the world. He thanks 140 crore Indians for giving him the responsibility to serve the country again and summons all chief ministers for a special meeting.

Opposition leaders are invited to the swearing-in ceremony. Some come, some don’t. The news anchors are all convinced they got it right; they knew it all along, anyway.

The ones who doubted the third coming are in the cross-hairs of the establishment; they should expect the worst. Mercifully for them, this scenario is highly improbable.

Scenario 2

The Modi-led BJP fails to get a majority on its own. Yogendra Yadav had it right: the BJP has 230-240 seats, but with NDA allies chipping in with 35-40 seats, Modi has the numbers to form the new government. President Murmu invites Narendra Modi as the leader of the single largest party to take oath.

Modi asks for 40 days to move the confidence motion and prove his majority. He promptly gets it. ‘Operation Kamal’ gets underway, to ensure Modi has the numbers to sail through the trust vote.

It helps that Modi has the unwavering support of a section of the bureaucracy. Officers in various departments have actively (and efficiently) worked for his regime. They all knew, especially after the pran pratishtha at the Ram Mandir, that Modi was invincible.

But his tactics create a public storm, which spills onto the streets. Modi sees the opportunity to take strongman measures. He toys with the idea of declaring a state of Emergency, arresting ‘troublemakers’ and suspending/ dismissing belligerent state governments.

Fact, not probable scenario: Parliament is under CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) cover. The Central Vista is surrounded by paramilitary forces controlled by the Union home ministry, i.e. Amit Shah. The same Amit Shah who once said, “We have come here to rule, not to resign.”

Scenario 3

The INDIA bloc is not a party, it’s an alliance. But formed as it was much before the election, it stakes its claim to form the government, because it finds itself within sniffing distance of the majority mark. The President, beholden as she is to the outgoing prime minister, looks the other way — she cannot, will not entertain the INDIA bloc request, even if it has a valid claim.

This leads to massive protests in non-BJP-ruled states. Activist lawyers like Prashant Bhushan and Dushyant Dave approach the Supreme Court. The matter raises Constitutional, legal and political issues. What the judiciary does draws global attention.

Meanwhile, if ‘Modi’s guarantee’ doesnot fetch the BJP a majority on its own, the knives will be out for him in his own party. They might call for a change of leadership in the House. Some will recommend Nitin Gadkari. Or Rajnath Singh. Or even Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Gadkari will have the support of the RSS and nearly all MPs from Maharashtra. Even the Congress may abstain or create a mechanism to support Gadkari so he becomes the first Maharashtrian prime minister.

The first thing Gadkari will do is pay tribute to Modi, for his statesmanship in taking India into the global arena. Gadkari’s relationship with the media is special. He has not played the communal card. But Modi and Gadkari don’t see eye to eye. It was Modi’s aggressive campaign that cost Gadkari a second term as BJP president in 2013. So, Modi and his loyalists will do their damnedest to thwart any attempt to instal Gadkari as prime minister.

Rajnath Singh’s natural support lies in the Hindi belt — and his animus towards Modi is well known. He will pounce at just the right moment. But first, Gadkari and Rajnath must get elected to the Lok Sabha.

Modi can create a stalemate within the party, even a formal split. What if the INDIA bloc gets more than 300 seats, with the Congress winning 120-130? Most pundits consider this unlikely. But if it does come to pass, there’ll be a chorus in the country for Rahul Gandhi to be the next prime minister. There are enough signals from the family that Rahul Gandhi will decline.

Party karyakartas could then call for Priyanka Gandhi. If she too demurs, Congress president and chairperson of the INDIA bloc Mallikarjun Kharge will be the obvious next choice. He is Dalit, and has been elected nine times, counting both the Karnataka Assembly and Parliament. Other INDIA bloc parties will find it hard to oppose him.

Even Sharad Pawar might be offered the post — if not PM, then deputy PM. Some pundits say Pawar is the only politician with support across the parties: from Stalin in Tamil Nadu to Mamata in West Bengal to Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra. Even Naveen Patnaik’s BJD (Biju Janata Dal) may not be averse to participating in such a coalition!

This scenario could even lead to a split in the ranks of Modi supporters. What will the BJP do? How will BJP MPs react?

Scenario 4

Let’s assume Modi is not in a position to stake a claim, but simply refuses to resign. Or the BJP does not replace him. What then? Donald Trump, Modi’s friend and idol in politics, had shown the way in January 2020, when he refused to recognise Joe Biden’s victory. Trump created riotous confrontations and even attacked Capitol Hill. (Is that why Modi has already deployed the CISF and CRPF to take control of Parliament and the Central Vista?)

The legions of Modi bhakts could easily turn violent. There are gangs, financed and supported by the RSS; there are infiltrators in the police, intelligence, senior bureaucracy; there are indoctrinated teachers and professors, third and fourth layers in government jobs and universities. One command from the BJP, and they can destabilise the INDIA bloc, if it looks like forming the government.

If results are not in favour of the BJP, there may be attacks on Muslims and their mosques, because they voted against Modi and sabotaged a ‘nationalist’ Hindu government. Jamia, JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) could also be under attack; there could be largescale civil unrest and India might find itself in a law-and-order nightmare.

Mainstream media will ignore the orchestrated anarchy — it did in Manipur not so long ago. An interim Modi government could declare an emergency and call in the Army.

If it looks like they are losing power, the Modi regime will fear exposure, more than anything else — from the Rafale deal to electoral bonds, from demonetisation to GST. The officers in all these departments who actually ran Modi’s schemes will be in a state of panic.

It won’t be pretty, 4 June and its aftermath.

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