Doing the Modi math

The numbers don't add up, without a pooling of anti-Congress votes

Now that Nitish Kumar has left the NDA, the scenarios for the next general elections are acquiring greater clarity. The key question is: Can a Narendra Modi-led BJP win power without broad-based political alliances?

During 1998-2004, Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), Naveen Patnaik (BJD) and Chandrababu Naidu (TDP) used to be part of the NDA. Kumar left recently, the other three some years back. Can Banerjee, Patnaik or Naidu somehow return to the NDA? As I argue later, something like that may well be necessary.

Banerjee is trying to create an enduring social bloc in West Bengal against the CPM. Without Muslims, constituting nearly a quarter of the total state electorate, a long-lasting base against the left is virtually inconceivable. An alliance with Modi, it follows, is improbable. Patnaik's objections to Modi have already been strongly articulated. The TDP's situation is somewhat unclear, but its decision may not matter all that much if its share of seats does not significantly rise. The TDP won 29 seats in 1999, but it shrank to 5-6 seats in 2004 and 2009. Beyond the Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and the AGP — all small, even miniscule — the AIADMK is perhaps the only substantial regional party likely to support the BJP.

At the time of the 1998 and 1999 elections, the NDA was a coalition of 13 to 17 parties (rising to over 20 after the elections). The pooling of anti-Congress votes was so effective that it allowed the NDA to come to power. That capacious network has all but collapsed. Advani's critique of Modi is, in part, about the pooling effect. A Vajpayee-like coalition building, he believes, is necessary to defeat the UPA, and Modi's unacceptability beyond a few parties makes such pooling impossible.

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