Now that voting for the multi-phase state Assembly elections across India is well underway, it is perhaps apposite to examine what precisely is at stake for the major political players in the fray. Making poll predictions is a zero-sum game and can be left to pundits of various hues; what interests us here is to assess the impact of the ongoing polls, whatever their final outcome, on the dominant political personalities in the fray.
The BJP, led into the battle of the hustings by the triumvirate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, and party president JP Nadda, may appear on the surface to have the most skin in the game. Yet, counter-intuitive as it is to say it, they have the least to lose.
In West Bengal, they were the fourth party in the last Assembly poll. In Kerala, the BJP had one seat in the legislature. The party has been a non-player in Tamil Nadu for decades. It is only in Assam ~ the breakthrough state for the BJP in the East ~ where not being able to retain power would be a severe blow to the party.
Some argue that the so-called reputational loss to the BJP would undermine it going forward if it does poorly ~ say, it fails to prevent Ms Mamata Banerjee returning to power for a third consecutive time in West Bengal even if narrowly, cannot stop the DMK-led alliance from dislodging the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, fails to improve its seats tally significantly in Kerala, and just about squeaks through in Assam. That would not only be an incorrect reading of the political tea leaves, as it were, but would also betray a lack of understanding of how the BJP under Mr Modi sees itself. For one, there is absolutely nobody who can match the Prime Minister’s popularity amid the party faithful.
Secondly, apart from Mr Nitin Gadkari and Mr Rajnath Singh, there is not a single active BJP leader who does not owe his position whether in the party or in government directly to Mr Modi. Thirdly, state-level BJP or NDA leaders including Mr Subendhu Adhikari and Mr Mukul Roy (Bengal), Mr Sarbananda Sonowal and Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), and Mr Edappadi K Palaniswami and Mr O Panneerselvam (Tamil Nadu), will cop some of the blame if the results disappoint.
Lastly, the current BJP leadership, while it may not have been in decision-making roles when the party was famously reduced to two Lok Sabha and a handful of Assembly seats across the country in the early 1980s, is still old enough to remember a time when the current position of dominance the party enjoys was a pipedream. This is not a revolution, the Sangh Parivar brass is likely to ensure, which will be allowed to devour its young.