Feb 13, 2018: (Rajesh Jain is a technology entrepreneur who was involved in Narendra Modi’s 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. This article was first published on Nayi Disha and has been republished with permission.)
Till a few months ago, the answer was obvious. But now, as one does the electoral math, the choices open up. Let’s go through the various possibilities – each of which could happen, and has distinct implications for India’s economic future.
The number of seats the BJP gets in the next election will determine who becomes the next prime minister.
Scenario 1: BJP Gets More Than 230 Seats
Narendra Modi will continue as prime minister because with existing allies, NDA will have a majority. Even though there’s noise from some of its alliance partners, they will all fall in line before the election. The PM’s clout over the coalition partners will be largely determined by how close BJP gets to its 2014 figure of 282. BJP has to make the next election close to a wave election if it has to ensure a repeat of the 2014 mandate.
Scenario 2: BJP Gets 200-230 Seats
In this scenario, there will probably be a leadership tussle within the BJP and the next PM could be a person other than Modi. This will primarily happen because many of the regional parties outside of the NDA whose support will be required for forming a government will perhaps want a new leader since (a) they will want greater control of the ministries they run, and (b) they will want to show their own voters that they could not possibly be fighting with a Modi-led BJP and support him at the same time. It would be devastating for them politically.
This is similar to the 2009 scenario in reverse. In 2009, Congress got 206 seats and put together a coalition government with many regional parties.
Scenario 3: BJP Gets Less Than 200 and Congress Leads a Coalition Govt
In this scenario, Rahul Gandhi will be the next prime minister. Since BJP and Congress tend to get about 330 seats in total, BJP getting less than 200 will mean Congress inching closer to 130. This is somewhat like the 2004 scenario, where Congress got 145 seats and formed the UPA with a number of smaller parties. BJP will find it very hard to get the necessary numbers because it is the dominant party in India and will need the support of too many regional parties which is unlikely to happen. The key determinants here will be Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, and the post-election decisions made by DMK and TMC, which will each have about 30-35 seats and thus a formidable aggregate of 60-70 seats between them.
Scenario 4: BJP Gets Less Than 200 and Congress is Unable to Form a Coalition Govt
This will take us to 1996, when regional parties refused to support the BJP which had emerged as the largest party. If the regional parties deny support to either of the two large national parties to form a coalition government, they will need to decide if 15-20 of them can come together and lead a coalition with outside support from BJP or Congress.
In 2009, there were talks of Congress governing for good as the BJP tally had slid to 116 seats. In 2014, there were similar talks of the BJP governing for long with the Congress scoring merely 44 seats.
Scenario 5: A National Youth Movement Opens up the Leadership Game Completely
A fifth interesting option can open up if a new national movement led by the youth comes to life. What Indian voters need is a new set of ideas. With a restless young population wanting new opportunities, a faster track to prosperity and speedy improvements in governance, conventional policy actions will not satisfy the aspirations of voters in India. These are perhaps the ideal conditions for a startup to disrupt the political landscape. WhatsApp and Facebook now have a reach of more than half the Indian voters, with at least one person in every family. If they reach the conclusion that none of the main political parties are likely to meet their rising expectations, then the youth can push for new leaders rapidly.