BJP fears ‘Modi-can-be-beaten’ belief

New Delhi: More than the failure to manage the numbers, the BJP leadership on Saturday appeared to be worried that the Karnataka jolt would motivate various Opposition parties to rally with the aim of defeating Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In Karnataka itself, the party stared at the possibility of facing a Congress-Janata Dal Secular alliance in the general election. BJP insiders acknowledged that if the committed social bases of the two parties come together in the southern state, the BJP will be squeezed.

At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday, leaders watched with concern as the news of B.S. Yeddyurappa’s resignation broke on TV channels and Opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Chandrababu Naidu celebrated the Congress-JDS alliance’s victory.

“Our defeat in Karnataka will strengthen the belief that Narendra Modi can be beaten in 2019. It will act as a catalyst for Opposition unity,” a BJP leader said, asked how the Karnataka outcome would influence national politics.

BJP leaders acknowledged calculations that the Congress-JDS coming together could reduce the BJP to just six of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, a steep drop from the 17 it had won in 2014.

The leaders felt that the party now had to start working to ensure the Congress-JDS government does not last long and an electoral alliance between the partners does not take shape in 2019.

“We should try to destabilise the Congress-JDS government and ensure it collapses before 2019,” a BJP leader said. The leader hinted that the BJP should strike a deal with the JDS.

The BJP leaders felt that if the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party align in heartland Uttar Pradesh, then the ruling party could suffer major losses, as demonstrated by the defeat in the two Lok Sabha by-elections held recently in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.

Another fear crossing the minds of the BJP managers is that the Karnataka jolt could prompt more NDA partners to jump ship ahead of 2019 and join the Opposition ranks.

Already, the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh has broken off and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has declared that it would leave the BJP in 2019. The impact of the TDP’s anti-BJP campaign appeared to have caused losses to the party in Karnataka’s areas bordering Andhra Pradesh.

The possibility of an alliance between the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP in Maharashtra, coupled with an aggressive anti-BJP Shiv Sena, is troubling the leadership.

BJP insiders said some smaller parties like the RLSP led by Upendra Kushwaha in Bihar and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh were showing signs of restlessness and they could quit the NDA ahead of 2019 if they felt Narendra Modi was vulnerable.

The Karnataka blow would also cast a shadow on the BJP’s plans of a grand celebration of the Modi government’s fourth anniversary on May 26 and the upcoming Assembly elections in party-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh later this year.

Shah laughs off unity

BJP president Amit Shah on Saturday denied efforts by his party to buy Congress-JDS MLAs but acknowledged that had Yeddyurappa got 15 days to prove majority then his government would have survived.

“Why did they (the Cong-JDS) lock up the MLAs? What democratic principle is this? Why couldn’t you trust your members? What was their fear?” Shah asked at an India TV conclave.

“Had they allowed the MLAs to go to their constituencies they would have realised that the Congress-JDS alliance was against the people’s mandate. Many of the MLAs would have supported us,” he added.

Shah denied that the BJP would try to bring down the Congress-JDS dispensation, but predicted that the government formed by the “unholy alliance” would not last long.

“This is not an ideological alliance. It is an alliance for power. The people of Karnataka didn’t vote for this and they (the Congress-JDS) will face the people’s wrath,” he said.

Asked about the challenge from a wider Opposition unity that appeared to develop after the Karnataka outcome, Shah sought to laugh it away.

“I assure you that in 2019 we will win by a bigger margin than in 2014. Let them (the Opposition) come together,” Shah said.

“(The elections in) Gorakhpur and Phulpur were to elect local MPs and not Narendra Modi. When the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 take place then people will see who they want as PM,” he added.