By Raghav Bahl
Guess who can ensure that Prime Minister Modi is catapulted back into South Block in 2019? Amit Shah? No, that’s too obvious. RSS? C’mon! Arun Jaitley? You’re kidding me. Rajnath Singh? Now you are trifling, so this quiz is over. Let me tell you the story from the beginning.
He used to be a clerk with the Noida Authority. But an entrepreneurial bug bit him just when the world went into an economic Armageddon in 2008. He wanted to get the better of Jeff Bezos, and by golly, he did! He floated 50 real estate companies in Noida, Greater Noida and other badlands of Uttar Pradesh. His business recorded an 18,000 percent increase in profits, leaving Jeff stunned. His net worth jumped from $1 million to $200 million in five years, prompting Bill and Warren to google him. In 2013, the tax sleuths thought they had seized Rs 400 crore from his henchmen but had to let go. After Indian currency was demonetized in November 2016, his Karol Bagh bank account showed cash deposits of over Rs 1.50 crore. He was anointed the successor and second-in-command of a Top Five political party but vowed never to become an MP, MLA or Chief Minister.
Who could this strange character be?
You give up? Can’t guess? Here’s a clue. His sister is the (al)mighty Mayawati…
Ah, of course, the bloke’s name is Anand Kumar, and he can single-handedly get Prime Minister Modi re-elected in 2019.
Because Anand Kumar and his behenji (sister) are in deep trouble with India’s Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation, facing a clutch of disproportionate assets and corruption cases. They are vulnerable to blackmail and/or threats and/or inducements and/or defiance and/or rebellion. The boxes they choose to tick, whether ‘and’ or ‘or’, could decide the electoral outcome in 2019.
Stunning reversals in ‘Modi Dozen’ states
To understand this odd political situation, let’s dial back to Narendra Modi’s extraordinary victory in 2014. He (along with a couple of loyal allies like Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam Party) had maxed his score in 12 large states of India (let’s call them the ‘Modi Dozen’), which were Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Karnataka and Seemandhra.
Out of 283 Lok Sabha seats, he got 227, a strike rate of 80 percent — incredibly, he won four out of every five seats fought in these 12 states.
But the political gale of 2014 is ebbing, even reversing, quite discernible in the Modi Dozen states. From the Gujarat scare in December 2017 to the rout in Chitrakoot and local polls in Madhya Pradesh, to the reverses in University elections in Delhi, Varanasi, Guwahati, and Jaipur, to the ultimate annihilation in the Rajasthan by-elections in Ajmer and Alwar, the voter mood is no longer “ra ra Modi”. At best, you can call it even-steven; so don’t be surprised if the 283 seats in the Modi Dozen states are sliced close to half, with the Bharatiya Janata Party / National Democratic Alliance picking up 140-150 (minus approximately 80 seats from 2014) and the Congress / United Progressive Alliance upping their tally to 120-130, scooping up an additional 70-odd seats here.
If the actual 2019 Lok Sabha tally does equal our hypothesis, then the NDA is already down to about 260 seats, and the UPA up to 150 after the Modi Dozen states are counted. Now add Mamata Bannerjee’s near-sweep in West Bengal, DMK’s expected resurgence in Tamil Nadu, and K Chandrashekhar Rao’s / Naveen Patnaik’s holding reasonable ground in Telangana/Orissa… this could pull up the ‘potentially pro-UPA and anti-Modi’ seat count to 200.
Elephant in the room is Mayawati’s ‘Elephant’
It does not require Ramanujan’s mathematical genius to figure out that the 2019 race is elementally stripped down to Uttar Pradesh. Remember, in our 260-seat NDA tally after the Modi Dozen states have been counted (as above), there are 73 NDA seats from U.P. That’s the elephant in the room.
And guess what is Mayawati’s election symbol? An elephant!
Now her political resurgence would be nothing short of miraculous. In 2014, the Modi wave had decimated the Bahujan Samaj Party, leaving Mayawati without a seat in Lok Sabha. Even as the Samajwadi Party (five seats) and Congress (two seats from Amethi and Rae Bareilly) had held on to their bastions, Mayawati had crumbled without a trace. But three years later, in the ‘Modi, Shah and belatedly Yogi Adityanath’ tsunami of 2017, even as her tally plummeted to just 19 seats in the assembly, her vote share stayed at a robust 22.23 percent. And six months later, in the local body polls, she actually won mayoral seats from Aligarh and Meerut. Even Congress and Samajwadi Party reclaimed some aura in rural areas.
Astonishingly, within six months of a mind-numbing sweep, BJP’s vote share had cracked to less than 30 percent.
The arithmetic in U.P. is sharp and drawn in blood. If Mayawati signs up with the Congress and Samajwadi Party in a pre-poll alliance, BJP’s seat tally could crash to less than or about 30 in U.P., opening a 43-point gash in its 2014 mandate. If you think I am being unrealistic or biased, see the numbers put out in the latest poll by a ‘Modi propagandist’ media outfit. Hidden in their fine print is an assertion that a Mayawati+SP+Congress alliance in U.P. could sound the death knell for the NDA in 2019. Even rabid propagandists (often outright liars) are saying this now!
So this conclusion is inescapable: if U.P. does see an unprecedented one-on-one contest between NDA and a freshly minted Mayawati+SP+Congress alliance, NDA’s country-wide tally could drop to 200-220 (BJP alone could fall to 170-200), putting UPA+Mamata+DMK within striking distance of the majority mark of 272 in Lok Sabha in 2019.
Will Mayawati align with the opposition or go solo and play spoiler?
The arithmetic may be irrefutable, but Mayawati is not. She is unpredictable. Remember what she did on April 17, 1999? She committed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the morning that she would support him against the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha. Vajpayee relaxed and proclaimed his victory. But just a few hours out, on the floor of the house, she did an audacious political somersault and voted against the government. When the final votes were counted, it was 270 to 269, against the government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had lost by an unprecedented single vote.
Mayawati had engineered a cool, guilt-less coup. That’s how ruthless and opportunistic she is.
So she is five times more desperate and vulnerable.
Which way will Mayawati swing in 2019? Go it alone, and therefore split U.P. votes and help Modi win, getting a reprieve for herself in myriad corruption cases? Or will she align to defeat Modi, either ruling over Lutyens Delhi or risking persecution at the hands of a slighted opponent?
How do you fathom the mind of a nondescript school teacher who became the first Dalit woman chief minister of India’s largest state?
Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.
Featured image: Flickr