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Campaign for 2019 starts in Maharashtra

By T V R Shenoy
September 30, 2014 13:09 IST
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Election fever'The BJP believes it has little to lose from a loss of alliance with the Shiv Sena. Fighting alone gives the BJP the chance to test its troops today, and then rework its tactics if necessary, before the big test in 2019, says T V R Shenoy.

In 1923 Jawaharlal Nehru drew up a plan for electoral reforms in the Allahabad corporation. It was generously garnished with quotations from Montesquieu, 'bewildering' -- much to Nehru's irritation -- those unfamiliar with the French philosopher.

The fact is that Nehru educated (at great expense) at Harrow, Cambridge, and Inner Temple, had his intellectual roots planted firmly in European soil.

I have no idea how acquainted Narendra Modi is with Montesquieu; I do know that he is thoroughly steeped in Kautilya, both with prescriptions of the Arthashastra and with the personae of the Mudrarakshasa.

The plot of Vishakhadatta's play is easily summarised. Chanakya and Chandragupta strike a pact with Parvateshwar to bring down the Nandas of Magadha. After Parvateshwar's death his son, Malayaketu, is moved to demand the top spot -- only to meet his doom.

It would be a trifling task to update the play for own times, would it not?

The BJP struck a pact with the Shiv Sena to bring down a mutual foe. But after Bal Thackeray's demise, his son, Uddhav, was moved to demand the top job in Maharashtra.

Having brought up Kautilya, let me quote the man himself. The seventh chapter of the Arthashastra is titled 'On the Sixfold Strategy'. In its first section Kautilya numbers the virtues of the 'exemplary ally' thus: 'Consistent, submissive, not prone to duplicity, eminent, and able to mobilise quickly.'

Kautilya went on to add: 'Someone is an ally only to the extent that he provides assistance, given that providing assistance is the defining characteristic of an ally.'

By that definition the Shiv Sena ceased to be an ally when it started making demands rather than providing assistance. And that meant that it could no longer play a role in Narendra Modi's long-term plan, which is to win the general election of 2019.

With that goal always in mind, the BJP's current leadership has three specific objectives.

It wants to be seen as the natural party of governance in states where it already plays a significant role. It wants to be seen as the natural alternative in states where it has a presence, but is not currently a major force. And it wants to establish a firm foothold in states where it is almost entirely absent as of 2014.

We celebrate Milkha Singh and P T Usha for coming fourth in Olympic events. But whether in athletics or in politics there are no medals for coming fourth.

Uttar Pradesh, it goes without saying, is the biggest apple in the electoral basket with its 80 Lok Sabha seats. But next in line are Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), and Tamil Nadu (39).

The campaign for 2019 is starting in Maharashtra because it is the first of the five biggest states to go through Vidhan Sabha polls.

The BJP believes it has little to lose from a loss of alliance with the Shiv Sena. Irrespective of what happens, Narendra Modi will continue as a prime minister with an unshakeable majority in the Lok Sabha. Fighting alone gives the BJP the chance to test its troops today, and then rework its tactics if necessary, before the big test in 2019.

For the other three major parties -- the Shiv Sena, the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party -- these Vidhan Sabha polls present an existential problem. There is a real chance that one, or more, of them could be snuffed out of existence if they end up out of power both in Delhi and in Mumbai.

What does Uddhav Thackeray stand for? The (broadly speaking) Hindutva legacy inherited from Balasaheb.

What does the Nationalist Congress Party have to offer? Some mildly pro-business statements that put it to the right of the Congress (which is not saying much).

And, quite frankly, I have no idea what the Congress offers. Do even Congressmen know?

The BJP can outflank them all easily on specific issues of governance. It can also, justifiably, claim to be a party that backs achievers, rather than a dynastic party -- which is exactly what the Shiv Sena, the Congress, and the NCP happen to be.

Does that mean the BJP will form the next ministry in Maharashtra? No, of course not. For a start there is no chief ministerial candidate to lead its campaign, an essential feature of every successful BJP campaign, whether Vidhan Sabha polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Goa, or the general election across India.

These are early days but my impression is that none of the four forces -- the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the Congress, the NCP -- will win 145 seats (the barest of majorities in the 288-strong Vidhan Sabha). That said, the behaviour of local leaders suggests that there is a current in the BJP's favour.

As I write it has been just days since the BJP broke up with the Shiv Sena (and the NCP with the Congress). But there is already a long list of people who have hopped on to the Modi bandwagon.

In Kopri-Pachpakhadi, Anant Tare left the Shiv Sena; in Panvel the sitting MLA, Prashant Thakur, left the Congress; in Swantwadi, Rajan Teli moved from the NCP to the Congress to the BJP; in Ahmednagar City, Bhausaheb Wagchoure moved from the Shiv Sena to the Congress, and then to the BJP; in Warora the sitting MLA, Sanjay Deotale, moved from the Congress to the BJP; in Chinchwad, Laxman Jagtap, the sitting MLA, shifted from the NCP to the BJP; in Junnar, the Shiv Sena's Netaji Doke was given a BJP ticket. In Purandar, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's Baba Raje Jadhav withdrew after the BJP gave its ticket to his sister-in-law.

There has, as far as I know, been no instance of anyone leaving the BJP to join the other parties. And while the Shiv Sena and the NCP have also poached on others' turfs, there has been no reported case of anyone joining the Congress.

Please note that there is no ideology involved. Those that were members of the 'secular' Congress and the NCP yesterday are now queuing up to join the 'communal forces.'

Kautilya, that supreme realist, would not have been surprised. As he expressed it succinctly in the sixth chapter of his masterwork, 'Success is happiness.'

Come counting day on October 19, which party will be happiest? The most successful one, of course!

Image: A man gets his face painted before the general election in Mumbai. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Please click here for Mr Shenoy's earlier columns.

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T V R Shenoy