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Elections 2016: Can Naveen Patnaik Become PM in 2019?

Sutanu Guru takes a hard look at assembly election results and analyzes how seemingly impossible things can happen in Indian politics

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If elections in India tell you one thing: it is that virtually nothing is impossible. Improbable is quite doable in that sense. The politician who articulated this profound thought was himself a beneficiary of the art of impossible. He was V. P. Singh, a Gandhi family loyalist who revolted against Rajiv Gandhi and ended up becoming a Prime Minister. It is a different matter that he was candid enough to predict himself that V. P. Singh would be a disaster as prime minister! Till May 16. 2014, virtually no active mainstream journalist believed that Narendra Modi would become prime minister with the BJP winning 282 Lok Sabha seats. Back then, no one thought it possible for Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav to become allies. So inspired were the CPM and the Congress by this Nitish-Lalu combine that even they became allies in West Bengal in the 2016 assembly elections. Not that it helped them any! Many more such seemingly impossible things have happened in Indian politics for decades.

It is against this background that this author wonders aloud if Naveen Patnaik, leader of the regional party BJD and four time chief minister of Odisha PILs end up accidentally becoming the prime minister of India. You might laugh at this laugh. But who knows?

Of this outcome to become probable, two things have to happen in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The first is that the Modi regime performs so poorly in the remaining three years of its tenure that voters make up their minds to teach a lesson to the BJP. As of today, the chances of that happening don't appear very bright. But then again, who knows? In such a scenario, the BJP might drop below 200 seats. The second is that while the Congress will recover from its tally of 44 seats in 2014, the reluctant leadership of Rahul Gandhi will prove so uninspiring that the best it can hope for is just about 100 seats at best. Given the track record of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress disconnect with Indian voters, that doesn't appear to be an unlikely outcome.

If that does happen, regional satraps like Mulayam Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, Jayalalithaa and ChandrababuNaidu could well win more than 200 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Of course, you can add Arvind Kejriwal to the cocktail if you like. This will be similar to the outcome of the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. That was when “Secular” parties had decided to stop the BJP from coming to power. That was why Atal Bihari Vajpayee was forced to resign after a 13 day tenure in office. Secular parties will remain hostile to the BJP. But then, their ambitions will clash. Many regional leaders have made no secret of their dreams of becoming prime minister. The problem is, other regional party supremos will almost certainly veto the more ambitious ones. What then? Back in 1996, they discovered that H. D. Deve Gowda from Karnataka had no chance of overshadowing other regional leaders and also didn't have the numbers to try out anything adventurous. So he became the prime minister. When he had to resign, an even more unassuming I. K. Gujral was made the PM.

Odisha sends just 21 members to the Lok Sabha. At best, Naveen Patnaik can hope to control maybe 15 to 20 MPs. Nor would he threaten to overshadow the more powerful and ambitious satraps. Any takers for this improbable theory ?


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