Saturday, February 3, 2018

General Election in May 2018, not in 2019

          One and a half year back, in one of my weekly columns published on 16 May 2016, I had written that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prepared a road map for simultaneous elections of Parliament, State Assemblies, urban local bodies and Panchayats. I had also mentioned that Modi-government hopes to come up with a constitutional amendment in mid-2018 for this purpose.

Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) backed think-tanks worked overtime during this period to create a favorable political climate for merging the elections. But the debate failed to create the desired impact on the public mind. Political parties, especially the regional outfits, including the allies of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), are averse to Modi’s idea. In absence of consensus among political parties any constitutional amendment is now seem impossible.

But Modi seems adamant to his idea and I have strong reasons to believe that he is preparing for parliamentary elections in summers this year with elections for five assemblies. He is not going to wait till April-May 2019. Immediately after the completion of election process in three north-eastern states—Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya—by early March, Modi might announce the dissolution of Lok Sabha and go for elections in May 2018 itself. In this case, the bye-election for Delhi’s 20 disqualified MLAs will also be held that time only.

The term of Congress ruled Karnataka assembly will be over on 28 May this year. The state, in any case, has to go for election in early May. Three BJP ruled states in Hindi heartland are also completing their terms in January next year—Chhatisgarh on 5th, Madhya Pradesh on 7th and Rajasthan on 20th January 2019. They have to go to polls in December this year. Congress ruled Mizoram assembly will also complete its term on 15 December this year and election there can be held in November end.

There are strong chances that the chief ministers of BJP ruled states will recommend early dissolution of their assemblies and would like to go for polls with Lok Sabha to gain the advantage of direct Modi-effect to counter anti-incumbency against them. Vasundhara Raje, though in rule for only five years in Rajasthan, is facing a strong unpopularity wave against her and is in no position to hold the fort next time. Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chhatisgarh will be completing their thirds terms as chief ministers and fatigue factor is quite visible in both the states.

BJP, therefore, will prefer polls in these states under the umbrella of parliamentary election campaign. To have general election at its due time after 15 months from now has its own disadvantages for BJP. Modi will have to go to polls in April-May 2019 after getting a vote on account without presenting a full-fledged budget. The positive impact of the current budget will be washed away by that time. The state of economy is in a bad shape and, rather than improving, it is going to take worst shape by each passing month now with the rise in international crude prices. The negative effects of grave economic slow-down in last three and a half years are becoming visible. BJP feels that it will be impossible to handle the situation after 6 months from now when ill effects of government’s economic decisions will surface and could be seen with naked eyes.

RSS leadership also feels that a positive budget in next few days will be able to camouflage the current economic situation. This will have a scope to inspire hope in the minds of electorate for few months and it would be a wise decision to have parliamentary election during this period. Merging the elections for five states will also be seen as a step further in the direction to return to an era of simultaneous elections across the country mooted by the prime Minister. Modi will have an argument while delivering his election speeches that despite the unwillingness of the opposition parties he is doing his bit. To further strengthen this argument BJP will ask its Maharashtra chief minister to dissolve the assembly five months in advance and go for polls in May 2019 with Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Modi knows that opposition parties are not that prepared for the parliamentary election if they are advanced to May this year. It will be difficult for Opposition to take a proper shape in haste. Most of the regional parties are struggling for resources. BJP, being the ruling party, has clear advantage to attract election funding. All these factors indicate for an electoral upheaval in the coming months. It is not without a reason that major media has begun showing survey results predicting the possible scenario in case elections are held today. All these survey reports are not innocent in giving more seats than 2014 to BJP and NDA. They have also predicted marginally better chances for the Congress by reducing the seat projection for outfits such as Aam Admi Party and few UPA allies. But the message written in between the lines is clear.

Prime Minister Modi has recently advocated in detail the theory of simultaneous elections in his tailor-made interviews to TV channels and print media again. His sudden liberal approach in giving access to friendly-media at this juncture is something which must be seen as having deep political design behind it. After hypes for his performance at World Economic Forum at Davos and in lining-up 10 important ASEAN leaders behind him on Indian Republic Day, there is nothing wrong if Modi and his party see the events as achievements in the field of global economics and international diplomacy that also can influence the elite vote bank in months to come. The gathering of ASEAN political chiefs at New Delhi has been projected as a befitting answer to China, which in the days of nationalism can garner due dividend to BJP.

Bulls of the share market, nationally and internationally, want Modi to get at least one more term as prime minister as they find his policies favorable for rising index. They hope the Bombay Stock Exchange to cross 50000-mark in next four to five years provided the sentiments of the ruling dispensation match with the sentiments of the market. Therefore, those who think that current economic crisis has disinclined the corporate world from Modi regime will find themselves ditched. Whatever is the ground reality in manufacturing sector, whatever is the truth of industrial growth and whatever GDP figures tell us; Dalal Street is booming and players know how to keep it booming despite the actual report of economic health of the nation.

So, be prepared and do not be taken by surprise when you listen to our Prime Minister’s address to the nation at 8 pm after Holi some time when he announces the immediate dissolution of Lok Sabha and asks you to sacrifice your fifty days only to give birth to a new government which will write a new chapter of ‘Achchhe Din’. The political signals my antenna receiving have tremendous potential to fill the summer sky with general election clouds.

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