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The grand extravaganza opens!

Thursday, March 14, 2019
By Bharatkumar Raut

The biggest extravaganza of Indian democracy - the campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha elections - is has begun with the date of elections announced by the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi yesterday. Now there would be a fierce battle to seek people's mandate would be seen all over the nation. While on one hand the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party would leave no stone unturned to ensure that the power is retained with them, on the other hand, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi would make every attempt to wrest the power. Who would win and who loses is a matter of speculation at present, though it seems that the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an upper hand.

There are at least half a dozen leaders in the field on the national scene. However, the main battle would surely be between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. With UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has now taken a back seat and Rahul emerging as the chief architect of the Congress future, the BJP is relying on the skills of Party President Amit Shah, who has by now emerged as the undoubted number two leader of the ruling party. Shah is the most successful BJP president in history if you simply go by his electoral track record. Shah is equally known for his arrogance. Yet Shah, whose cold demeanour and taxing demands make even senior BJP leaders shiver, ate humble pie with Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar when it came to the delicate job of alliance negotiations.

Cross strategies!
The BJP won 22 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in 2014. Yet to keep the alliance with Janata Dal United intact, Shah - the most hard-nosed bargainer in politics today - settled for 17 seats to contest in the national election now barely weeks away. Just contrast this with the Congress party, which finally decided to go solo in Delhi, rejecting an alliance with newbie AAP. The Congress had won zero seats out of 7 in Delhi. The BJP is now gloating that it has all seven seats in the bag.

Shiv Sena Party chief Uddhav Thackeray has made no secret of his personal dislike for Modi and Shah duo, attacking them repeatedly and taking nasty, personal jibes similar to the kind of name-calling Arvind Kejriwal used to do with the Congress. Shah, instead of sulking, ensured that he had the otherwise out-of-favour Nitin Gadkari become the chief negotiator with Thackeray. Gadkari, using Hindi film metaphors and Marathi, brought Thackeray around. Even Thackeray's outrageous demand that his son Aditya Thackeray, who has zero administrative experience, be made Chief Minister, was taken patiently by the BJP. Maharashtra with 48 Lok Sabha seats is the second bellwether after 80-seat Uttar Pradesh. In 2014 the BJP contested 24 seats and the Sena 20. At the height of the Modi wave the BJP won 23 seats and the Sena 18.

Shiv Sena wanted a reset of the seat-share and an assurance that the Chief Minister would be from the Sena to ensure its continued big brother status. After tense negotiations that even involved State Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis - he was forced to watch as his job was bartered away - the deal was that the BJP would contest 25 seats and the Sena 23. On the contentious chief ministerial post, Shah gave Thackeray a personal assurance. The BJP conceded that the State Assembly polls would be held with the general elections and the two would fight in alliance on an equal number of seats. However even after the alliance Uddhav Thackeray wanted proof of India's air-strike at Balakot. The BJP has maintained a diplomatic silence.

Even in Uttar Pradesh Shah has gone out his way to ease negotiations with small parties like the Apna Dal. To ensure disarray in the powerful rival camp in UP, Shah is propping up Shivpal Yadav (Akhilesh Yadav's estranged uncle) and Amar Singh (ex-Samajwadi Party) to eat into the Samajwadi Party base. In his will for power Shah has stooped to conquer while the opposition remains the gang that could not shoot straight.

Modi in his blatant attack on the opposition calls rival alliances "mahamilavat (tainted)", both he and Shah have assiduously cultivated allies for the NDA. Modi has been calling the Akali Dal Badal family on a near-weekly basis. Last week when Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal was unwell, he was surprised by a solicitous call from the Prime Minister. Piyush Goyal was tasked by Shah to get the AIADMK - PMK combine on board for the BJP to have a crack at Tamil Nadu, which has been steadfast in its rejection of the party. Goyal was chosen because of his ease with English and he made innumerable trips to Chennai to win them over. Shah has told his team that "no insult is permanent in politics - only winning is", as he firms up his NDA contingent.

This week would be very significant and decisive for Indian polity with all parties and their leaders now would make fierce efforts to ensure maximum benefit on their side. New slogans would emerge and new promises would fly in air. The question is will the Indian voter, however illiterate he would be fell to the campaign extravaganza? Time has proven more than once that whatever may be the promises and allegations, Indian voters do exactly what they wish to do. They silently engineer a political coup without any bloodshed.

That's the beauty of Indian politics. Its silent but not dumb!

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