Despite regional variations in the theme, the victor in May 2014 will be decided by this crucial equation: whether fear trumps hope or hope drowns fear. If both fear and hope find equal electoral space, we will have a hung house and more chaos. Among the major players vying for pole position at the centre, Narendra Modi personifies hope and fear – more of the former… The fear factor will work against BJP only if Modi does something silly – or the Sangh parivar sabotages his carefully laid plans by raising hardcore Hindutva issues. Modi’s best bet is to hope that fear will lose…
Two four-letter words will define Elections 2014: Fear and Hope. The fears and hopes of people and political parties may be contradictory and often the same person may engender both fear and hope, but despite regional variations in the theme, the victor in May 2014 will be decided by this crucial equation: whether fear trumps hope or hope drowns fear. If both fear and hope find equal electoral space, we will have a hung house and more chaos.
Among the major players vying for pole position at the centre, Narendra Modi personifies hope and fear – more of the former. To the 85 per cent of Indians who don’t see themselves as minorities, Modi is largely about hope since he talks the language of development and governance. To the rest, there is some element of fear. For Modi to win, he has to minimise the fear factor and enhance the hope factor to this 15 per cent. His last few rallies in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar show that he is not talking Hindutva at all.
Even though this may not diminish the negative perception Modi has among Muslims and other minorities, the reduction of the fear factor allows another aspect to play out: a splintering of the minority vote among parties that Muslims are comfortable with. For Modi it is enough if the fear factor is reduced, and Muslims stop voting tactically just to defeat the BJP. If fear is the dominant factor, Congress becomes the main beneficiary in the battle for power in Delhi.
The second fear factor at play is not among the electorate – but political parties that stand to lose from Modi’s gain. Parties such as Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U), Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, and Mayawati’s BSP will be obvious losers if the BJP gains under Modi. The same goes for the Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka and the Telugu Desam of Chandrababu Naidu.
Some of these parties feel threatened by the rising tide of the Modi vote, but even where Modi is not a major factor (as in Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu or Kerala), a rise in the BJP vote threatens their ability to win. A 5-10 per cent BJP vote share can mean fewer seats for Chandrababu Naidu or even YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress in a three- or four-way contest. This fear factor will ensure two opposite trends: while those who have burnt their bridges to Modi will seek to band together (as Nitish Kumar is trying to do by talking of a Third Front with non-Congress, non-BJP parties), others will seek to see what the additional BJP vote will do to their seat count. This is why the BJP has found two new allies in Tamil Nadu, and one more in Maharashtra (the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana), apart from bringing back BS Yeddyurappa to the party fold in Karnataka. More allies could be available in Assam.
The Third Front’s USP in various states is the same as that of the Congress: using the fear factor to drum up a block minority vote. The exceptions to this rule are AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. They represent hope without fear of Modi – though that could change if the BJP shows a significant vote share in these three states after May 2014.
Beyond Modi, there is another party that is creating both hope and fear: Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In the urban lower middle class, and a section of the elite, AAP engenders hope that it will change the “system”. But AAP also stokes fears in the older and upper middle classes – fears that AAP will create instability and chaos by frequently taking to the streets – as it did recently over the issue of suspending four cops. AAP creates a fear factor in business and the BJP – for it could take some crucial seats away from those inclined to vote for Modi.
AAP creates a limited measure of hope in the Congress. The grand old party feels its cannot win in 2014, but is hoping that the BJP’s votes will be partially eaten up by AAP. However, many regional parties that are no less corrupt than the main national parties also have fear on their radars. AAP has begun targeting – this is bad strategy driven more by hubris that common sense – regional leaders like Mulayam Singh and Mayawati, and this prepares the ground for them to look at changing their spots after the elections. Mayawati has supported the BJP in the past, though she is an unreliable ally. It is, however, difficult to see Maya or Mulayam supporting either BJP or AAP if it emerges with a significant number of seats in 2014 (anything above 15 seats).
In Haryana, where AAP is targeting the likes of Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD, the regional parties would be happy to align with BJP. Here it is the BJP’s call on whether these regional parties will add to its votes or subtract from it due to the corruption tag. The NCP in Maharashtra is already trying to give itself room for manoeuvre post polls. And what emotion does the Congress itself evoke? Neither hope nor fear. Another four-letter word – pity – is the most likely emotion. The Congress ads on TV are trying to build both fear and hope – Main nahin, hum, or Tode nahin, jode – about Modi and Rahul Gandhi, but given the economic destruction and stench of corruption surrounding the party, the message will have a tough time getting through. Tode nahin jode also sounds odd given the opposite reality now playing out in Andhra Pradesh, where Telangana and Seemandhra partisans are at each other’s throats. (It’s jode nahin, tode). Modi made this point tellingly at his recent Meerut rally.
The fear factor will work against BJP only if Modi does something silly – or the Sangh parivar sabotages his carefully laid plans by raising hardcore Hindutva issues. Modi’s best bet is to hope that fear will lose.