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Modimatics: Minimum 240, target 300

Surveys are being conducted of 380 constituencies where it is expected that the BJP has a chance.

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 25th Jan 2014

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi holds a bow and arrow as party President Rajnath Singh displays a mace during a rally at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. PTI

arendra Modi has begun consolidating his leadership within the BJP, decentralising operations to centres such as Mumbai, Hyderabad and Lucknow, where formerly all operations were controlled and monitored from Delhi. Surveys are being conducted of 380 constituencies where it is expected that the BJP has a chance of winning, and in each, names are being vetted who would add an extra boost to the campaign if nominated as the party candidate, rather than drag down the ticket. This is in the context of reports that several seats were lost in Delhi and Chhattisgarh because of poor choice of candidates, including some who "bought their nomination". The target is to secure 300 seats for the BJP alone, or in the "worst case" scenario, 240. Preliminary calculations indicate that any tally beyond 200 for the party will ensure either the BJP leads the government, or that any alternative government would collapse in a couple of years, leading to a fresh election that the BJP would sweep. However, rather than 2016 or Rahul Gandhi's reminder to his flock about 2019, the intention is to "win now, and win big". A BJP tally beyond 220 would "ensure that Prime Minister Modi has a strong hand to effect needed reforms", a key strategist claimed, adding that "any tally above 240 would put him in a position where he would smoothly be able to fulfil his promise of prosperity with security and stability" to the voter.

Aware that the BJP has become an enervated outfit, with cadre activity considerably reduced since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took a conscious decision in 2001 to move away from the saffron model towards a more Congress model of party development, Team Modi has been busy setting in place its own framework for the implementation of Vision 2014, which is the securing not just of 272 Lok Sabha seats, but 300. BJP strategists are aware that cadre disenchantment with the functioning of the Vajpayee government contributed to the party's defeat in 2004. BJP Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi is aware that a high tally is essential for him to have the credibility and depth of institutional support needed to achieve his plan of re-organisation of the working of government agencies.

While the BJP may still be enabled to lead the next government should its tally be as low as 180 seats, some of its senior leaders are talking of a "last mile" strategy where they, rather than Modi, would be projected as the PM designate "in order to get enough allies to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha". The downside is that such a government would in effect be a continuation of the past, and therefore a severe disappointment to those who voted for change by opting for Modi. "It would weaken the BJP. There is no option to Modi. Either he becomes PM or Leader of the Opposition", said a strategist.

A number cruncher revealed that a Modi-less BJP "would get less than 110 seats", while a BJP with Modi fully in command would "comfortably cross 240 and could reach 300", hence the significance of the projection of Modi as PM.

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The Congress Party is likely to cross double-digit wins only in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, according to number crunchers active in assessing the situation.

Indications are that a Modi-led government would be very different from the "politician-heavy" governments that have been in vogue since 1947. The names of technocrats and experts such as Deepak Parekh, General V.K. Singh and even scientist Anil Kakodkar are doing the rounds as possible entrants, although all of this remains speculation. What is clear is that a Modi-led government would "function under his leadership and in fulfilment of his promises to the electorate", rather than — as with the Manmohan Singh Council of Ministers — be a collection of "feudal lords, each jealously safeguarding their independence from the Prime Minister's Office".

The Congress Party is likely to cross double-digit wins only in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, according to number crunchers active in assessing the situation. "Modiji's twin strengths are clean government and strong growth." In his estimate, "If the Aam Aadmi Party gains 25 Lok Sabha seats, it means a loss to Congress of 50 seats and to the BJP of 30 seats." This could cost Modi either the PM-ship or the capacity to run the government with the freedom he needs to perform. Hence the effort to ensure that the AAP does not act the spoiler by poaching on the swelling vote banks being built up by the Modi for PM campaign, especially in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, cities where they are hoping to win seats by persuading voters "that AAP is stronger on fighting corruption and the Congress Party" than Modi. "We have to see that the AAP tally is within single digits," a key strategist said, adding that "in the weeks ahead, it will be clear that to fight Communalism, Corruption and Congress, the best bet is Narendra Modi and not Kejriwal."

The leaders hand-picked by L.K. Advani to assist him in leading the party into the 21st century are without much of a base in their home states, a list which includes Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Yashwant Sinha, Ananth Kumar and Rajnath Singh. Those privy to the thinking of the "Delhi Group" within the BJP say that their own forecast is that "the BJP will get around 170-180 seats, which in their view means that one of them (with Jaitley and Rajnath being the frontrunners) can become the PM, in a context where they expect (or hope) that Modi will not be able to cobble together a majority if he is projected as the PM candidate". While Narendra Modi himself is silent on possible post-poll outcomes, a strategist claimed that in the event of a lower seat tally, "we will seek to persuade him to serve as Leader of the Opposition", in the expectation that "a hodge-podge government will rapidly lose public support" and pave the way for fresh elections "where there will be a big majority for Modi". They are unanimous that there is no point in the BJP being part of any government "unless the comprehensive growth and reform agenda of Narendra Modi can get implemented". For this, the calculation is that the BJP needs "240 seats, so that the centre of gravity is with the BJP".

Calculations made on the basis of ground-level research suggest that "in UP, 45 Lok Sabha seats are feasible, and 25 in Bihar", according to these strategists, who say that "this time around, there could be a clean sweep in MP and Gujarat, while in Rajasthan the only non-BJP seat will be that of the late Sis Ram Ola". They place the number of alliance seats in Maharashtra at 35, while the BJP is expected to get 17 seats in Karnataka. The expectation is that the alliance will get at least 7 seats in Haryana, as well as all except two seats in Punjab, and four in Delhi. Although outside analysts regard this as improbable, number-crunchers working towards a 300-seat verdict claim that the BJP will on its own win three seats in Orissa and two in Andhra Pradesh. They see "a clear preference for Narendra Modi" in the electorate this time, "similar to that for Indira Gandhi in 1971". A senior strategist dismissed the AAP as "promising circuses for the people while Modi promises bread".

 
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