Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for April-May 2019. There has been some talk about them being advanced by a few months. Here is why I think elections could be advanced by a year and held in the next few months itself.
There are six primary reasons and six inferences from reading the tea leaves of recent and impending events.
The primary reasons are:
1. State election outcomes uncertain: If one were to do state-wise estimates of BJP’s future performance, it would be hard to expect them to repeat the 282 seats won in 2014. In many states in the north and west, they managed clean sweeps. If one goes by ground reports, BJP could be expected to lose 40-50 seats in the 5 states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It will also be hard to repeat the 71 (with 2 additional seats from allies) in Uttar Pradesh. Upside is limited to the North-East and perhaps Odisha. Two critical states with a large number of seats where BJP has close to zero presence are West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the BJP has not yet shown they can beat the regional parties. So, factoring all these calculations, it does appear like BJP is looking at 215-225 seats. In addition, if the BJP suffers electoral setbacks in the state elections later this year, then there will be negative momentum going in for the Lok Sabha elections. The trendline is downwards, especially if the Opposition parties realise that their survival is linked to a unity. In which case, why wait?
2.Delivering on promises tough in the absence of structural reforms: There is a big gap between promises and delivery, as every government in power realises. The two big challenges in India today are seen to be the distress among farmers and lack of jobs for youth. Both of these are hard problems to solve in the next 12 months. The time to solve them was in 2014-15 when structural reforms needed to be done in agriculture, labour laws, education and related sectors. The angst is only going to increase with the passage of time. So, why wait? Use the budget to make the future promises, and use the feel-good emotion to call for early elections.
3. Limited funds for development / grand plans: The surplus funds available with the Central government are going to be limited going forward because of payouts to the states on account of GST, hardening fuel prices and bank recapitalisation to address the bad loans problem. So, the fiscal situation is not likely to improve further from where it is now. So, why wait?
4. Unpredictability of monsoons: We have had two good monsoons in a row. In times of uncertain climate conditions and various El Nino-type effects, a hat-trick may be too much to expect. The risk of a below average monsoon could dampen sentiment in rural areas which make up for nearly half the voting population. And funds will be hard to come by for more farm loan waivers. So, why wait?
5. The Surprise factor: Surprise is half the battle won in a war. No one expects elections in March-April of 2018 even though they may believe elections could be held anytime between November this year and May next year. So, BJP could use the surprise element and stun the Opposition. A party in power is always ready with its plans and resources for elections. So, why wait?
6. Opposition not yet united or allied: The more time that is available, the more likely is the Opposition to regroup and form alliances. Congress fortunes seem to be on the upswing. Why given them more time? The mistake the UPA made in the last term was that they gave the BJP and Mr. Modi time to build the momentum while being inactive themselves. If they had advanced elections by a year, the Congress could still have mustered 100+ seats, rather than the 44 it ended up with. With each passing month, the Opposition is likely to pick up a few seats. So, why wait?
The 6 inferences from recent and coming events are:
1. The 2 interviews: The Prime Minister gave two interviews in two days over the weekend. This is unusual. It raises the question why and why now. How many interviews of the PM do we remember from the first three-and-a-half years?
2.Timing of the Republic TV survey: Republic TV broadcast a cVoter survey suggesting that NDA would win 335 seats in the Lok Sabha. Again, the timing is significant. Why now? Perhaps to signal the BJP’s electoral strength and suggest to regional and other parties that the only game in town is BJP. (According to me, as I explained above, the NDA 335 estimate substantially exaggerates the BJP’s strength.)
3. Prime Minister in Davos: The PM’s visit to Davos this week will ensure wall-to-wall coverage, with wonderful imagery of meetings with global leaders and CEOs to showcase India’s growing strength. A great platform as part of a build-up.
4.ASEAN leaders as Chief guests at the R-Day parade: The Republic Day will have 10 leaders from ASEAN countries in Delhi. This again enhances the stature of the PM and India. A very good backdrop for some immediate action.
5. A feel-good budget soon: The Budget on February 1 will be the BJP government’s last budget. As such, expectations are that it will have plenty of goodies for different sections. The PM has rightly anchored expectations by saying he does not believe in sops, so they will be given a different name. People’s memory of political and economic news is just about 90 days, so if the post-Budget feel-good has to be exploited, now is the time. The BJP will not get another opportunity like this in this term.
6. Simultaneous elections, the ultimate sacrifice: The growing chatter about simultaneous elections provides a backdrop for the ultimate sacrifice by the Prime Minister – a year less in power to save massive costs for India. Lok Sabha elections this March-April could be combined with state elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Maharashtra, which would account for a third of the country electorally. It could be positioned as the next big reform to ‘clean’ India. In addition, the chances of victories in those states for BJP could be enhanced by combining the elections with the Lok Sabha elections.
So, if one looks at it like this, why would the BJP not call for early elections in March-April this year? Why wait?