The voting in Karnataka is over. If the polls are correct, neither the Congress nor the BJP will get a majority though the former could be marginally ahead. In this situation the critical question is: what will the JD(S) do?
If HD Deve Gowda adheres to his stand not to support either and, instead, sit in opposition, we would have an impasse. Then anything could be possible. Siddaramaiah may be forced to step aside, splits could be engineered in the two big parties and, of course, there would be a lot of talk of money changing hands. But if Deve Gowda is truly implacable, we could even head towards a period of President’s rule followed by another election.
So, instead of a calm after the electoral storm, the real turbulence may be about to begin. A solution may neither be easy nor swift but it could be surprising.
However, nothing that happens in Karnataka will diminish the bigger question that’s already staring India in the face: what will happen at the national elections in one year’s time? Most people believe two outcomes can be credibly discounted.
First, the Congress will not get a majority and it’s hard to believe Rahul Gandhi could emerge as prime minister with the support of allies. Second, the BJP is unlikely to win as many seats as in 2014. Its losses in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Haryana are unlikely to be made up by gains in the North East, Bengal and Odisha.
The key question is how many seats will the party lose? If the BJP retains around 250, any government it forms will be more dependent on allies than the present one. In turn, this will have an impact on Modi’s style and authority. Even if neither alter dramatically, they cannot be the same as they are today.
However, what if the BJP only wins 210 or 220? As the single largest party it could still form a government but now might the allies demand a different prime minister? Or is this fanciful thinking? The truth is we just don’t know.
What happens in 2019 depends not just on how voters view the BJP after five years in office but also on the quality and unity of the opposition it faces. This could be the cause of either Modi’s denouement or survival.
In the unlikely event of opposition parties collectively implementing Mamata Banerjee’s suggestion of a one-to-one fight, the BJP could be in serious trouble. However, though Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav seem determined to make this a reality in UP, it’s hard to believe it’s possible in Bengal and Tamil Nadu or, even, Maharashtra, leave aside Delhi.
Still, it’s possible we could end up with a situation analogous to 1989, with the BJP as the biggest party but others together comprising the majority. This is reminiscent of the National Front or United Front, a political khichri forever pulling apart rather than holding together. It’s bound to be a weak and short-lived government. The final question is: who will that benefit? Narendra Modi, who can credibly claim apres moi le deluge? Or Rahul Gandhi, who could symbolise a fresh start with a new face?
My hunch is if the BJP slides to the 200 mark it will opt out of forming a government altogether and prefer to sit in opposition. Modi might believe this is a brief interlude before time and tide restore him to power.