Read the first part of the analysis here.
Congress wins more than 150 seats.
While winning 180 or more seats should be the goal for the Congress – campaign planning, seat-sharing, and post-election maneuvering however is likely to be based on the more realistic assessment of 150 seats. At that figure the Congress will find itself in a severely weakened position – it will be a loss of more than 50 seats from its 2009 tally, and it will be forced to reach out to the once estranged allies to cobble together a coalition and form the government.
It may even have to contemplate handing out not just important and lucrative portfolios to their allies but may even be faced with the once unthinkable prospect of having a coalition partner stake a claim to the Prime Ministership – Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Bannerjee, Sharad Pawar, and Karunanidhi – all have had or continue to nurture Prime Ministerial ambitions.
This does not include the list of aspirants to the top spot within the Congress itself, like P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and yes, even the current Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has shown a silent tenacity to hold on to the top job.
Allowing a lameduck third-front of a government, propped up from the outside of the Congress, to come to power at the center will benefit the BJP more than the Congress. A BJP government at the center however worries the Congress more. Being the single largest coalition partner in any such alliance, it will still be in a position to call the shots, as it did in the few months in 1991 when Chandrashekhar, with only 64 MPs in the Lok Sabha, was Prime Minister. This prospect in whatever manner it may justify externally, but will not be palatable to the Congress.
To form the national government on the other hand would demand that the Congress bring considerable influence and inducements to bear upon allies to fall in line. Three strategies, not dissimilar from the Chanakyan principles of saam daan, dand, bhed could be applied here. First, the outright purchase of the elected members of Parliament. Prices are likely to top a hundred crore rupees (Rs 100,00,00,000) per MP, going even higher for those small parties with a handful of MPs because these are likely to be more desirous of an immediate cash payout for services rendered.
The good news for the Congress is that it is likely to have sufficient funds to finance such a purchase of parliamentarians – in no small part thanks to the returns from multiple scams over the last ten years (2G spectrum, Devas-Antrix, CWG, Coal block allocations, etc…) and a depreciating rupee that will make exports cheaper (every dollar brought in to the country via the hawala route will fetch sixty or more rupees – another reason to manage a further gradual depreciation of the rupee between now and the general elections).
Second, it could threaten to selectively leak embarrassing information about allies to the media. This could range from evidence collected on corruption by the central investigating agencies but never acted upon, lurid details about moral depravity secretly captured, and so on – it will continue to run the government, albeit in the capacity of a caretaker, till a new cabinet is sworn in.
Here again, the good news for the Congress is that it has enough journalists and main stream media channels ready to orchestrate a media campaign to the tune dictated by the party – not least of all for the reason that several channels have benefited from Congress largess over the years. If not logic, then leaks should do the trick – most of the Radia tapes have not yet been released (the entire tapes are with a prominent news magazine).
Should the Congress, with a depleted strength of 150 seats in the Lok Sabha, form the next national government, it will find its own appointee as a pliant President (one should not need to point to the tenure of an earlier resident of Rashtrapati Bhavan who went out of his way to oblige the then Congress leader in 1999), and once in power, have the full power of the state machinery to cement its position. The Congress has shown a resilience and tenacity that has surprised many with its ability to retain power with even a minority position in Parliament.
Congress wins 120 seats.
This will, and should, sound warning, emergency bells within the Congress. This is an unimaginably bleak outcome to contemplate for the Congress. In this situation the Congress will have little option but to sit in the opposition.
For how long will it be determined by the relative strengths of the BJP and its allies as well as the ephemeral Third Front that pops up from time to time like a mirage in a desert, but only to dissipate upon closer inspection?
A Congress party tall of 120 seats is very likely to mean a commensurately higher number of seats for the BJP, though not necessarily so. The Congress will naturally derive hope from the self–destructive tendencies in the BJP that surface with depressing regularity, as well as the now legendary short memory of the Indian voter. Depending on how many seats the BJP and the NDA win, the Congress may have to wait a year or the entire five-year term of the Lok Sabha before taking another crack at power.
At 120 seats – less than a quarter of the Lok Sabha strength, the Congress will however confront an existentialist threat, to put it bluntly. The lack of any credible face in the Nehru–Maino dynasty to lead the party could lead to a further splintering of the party. Should opinion polls and the assessment of the Home Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau point to a substantial reduction in the tally of Congress seats, equally drastic steps will be called for. One of these steps I will outline in the next post, but two that would be natural candidates I will describe here.
Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of the Nehru Maino dynasty, has lined up a long list of achievements to his credit in the short span that he has been in active politics – achievements that have not gone unnoticed in international circles. From the stunning insight that politics is in our shirts and pants to a long exposition on the relative strengths of pachyderms and bees, his sprays of wisdom have left all drenched in stupefied awe.
The voter however has shown himself to be built of more skeptical stuff, in every single state that Shri Rahul Gandhi has campaigned. A frank assessment within the cloistered confines of 10, Janpath could lean towards replacing the face of the Congress campaign as a result.
Priyanka Vadra, granddaughter of Smt. Indira Gandhi and considered by many to possess the same qualities of her grandmother (a ruthless instinct and razor-sharp political antennae), at least in certain respects, has for long been called the trump card of the Congress – to be used only as a last resort. If Rahul Gandhi’s European looks are appropriately acceptable to the intelligentsia, Smt. Priyanka Vadra has the added qualities of projecting a homely family woman- happily married to Shri Robert Vadra, who has demonstrated the greater success and skill in entrepreneurship.
The specter of a resurrected Indira Gandhi will find resonance with the Indian voter eager to seek deliverance from the dynasty. She could be sprung late in the Indian electoral scene, thereby throwing in disarray a BJP campaign expected to zero in on Rahul Gandhi’s lack of qualifications to lead the country. It is somewhat against the grain of Indian tradition to gun after women in politics, so this would create a narrow window of opportunity for the Congress to exploit.
One potential spanner in the works – the presence of Robert Vadra – will need to be taken care of before that. A public disowning would probably suffice. Of course, that disowning will need to cast as a sacrifice – of the young daughter of a widow, a wife sacrificing her prime duty to serve life as an obedient wife to answer a higher calling to the nation. A somewhat similar line adopted by Smt. Sonia Gandhi has worked quite well with our nation’s astute media for close to ten years. Shri Robert Vadra, the damaad, could be persuaded to toe the party line.
Lastly, there is Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of the Nehru-Maino dynasty. She has been plagued by an illness that the nation knows little about – and one can only pray that she recovers completely from that illness-that-shall-not-be-named-or-discussed. The veil of secrecy is for a reason. The illness, if kept unknown, can be used if and when needed. The last wish of a dying empress, if made at the appropriate juncture in the political campaign of 2014, choreographed by an astute national mainstream media, could be deemed worth at least a couple of percentage points of a vote-swing.
This could prove crucial and win a dozen or more seats for the Congress. Lest one be accused of insensitivity, do note that since no one knows anything about this illness of Smt. Sonia Gandhi, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to cast aspersions on the genuineness of the stated condition of the matriarch – defanging the BJP’s expected attack on the one hand whilst generating a wave of sympathy with the voter on the other.
Our national media, which thinks nothing of entering the holy shrine of Kedarnath to videograph it at a time of national calamity can be relied upon to broadcast a calibrated message of sympathy, sensitivity, hope, and subliminal advertising calling for a surge of votes for the Congress. When one’s survival is at stake, it is permitted to speak a lie – so goes one piece of sage advice from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. The Indian political scene is nothing but a Mahabharata set in this age of kaliyug. Where one lie may do, a thousand are permitted to be used.
The views expressed are the personal views of the author.
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