The fallibility of exit polls notwithstanding, the BJP and the RSS seem to have taken the prediction of a simple majority for the National Democratic Alliance for granted and are tight lipped -- at least in public -- about any possible post-poll strategy including a reconsideration on the prime ministerial candidate if it falls short of the magic figure.
"We don't have any plan B or plan C... we are confident that the NDA will cross the 300-mark," BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told IANS when it was put to him that at least one of the big surveys -- by Times NOW-ORG -- has ruled out the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition touching even the half-way mark of 272 when counting for the 2014 general election takes place May 16.
He dismissed speculations that the increased meetings between top BJP leaders and the RSS brass had anything to do with the arithmetic of new alliances in the 16th parliament. "The BJP-RSS meeting was not for chalking out future strategy, as results will be in our favour. RSS workers were involved at the grassroots, so we went to meet them," Prasad asserted, overlooking the fact that exit polls have often over-estimated in favour of the BJP, most notoriously in 2004, when exit polls predicted an NDA sweep even as the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led coalition performed its worst in several years.
Some experts believe that BJP may in private be uncertain of a clear 272 for the NDA, but it is evading the possibility since any talk on assembling new allies - the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Trinamool Congress - would mean an inescapable debate on replacing the prime ministerial candidate.
While BSP supremo Mayawati has ruled out the possibility of supporting them with Narendra Modi at the helm, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee was involved in a bitter verbal spat with the Gujarat chief minister in her recent public addresses. "The BJP wants to come to power anyhow. If they are within striking distance to the halfway mark, there may be a rethinking on Modi to attract either Mamata or Mayawati. I would be surprised if they decide to sit in the opposition instead," Pradeep Kumar Dutta, political analyst and professor in Delhi University, told IANS.
Interestingly, the BJP leadership has not once said on record that they would give up power rather than succumb to pressure from allies who may demand a person with softer public image replaced Modi. They have repeatedly ducked the question, saying it was not imperative for them to answer "hypothetical" queries.
A senior BJP leader even suspected the motive behind such questions. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, too has been evading this question. "Which exit poll is showing we will not get the numbers," asked RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav in reply to a question by IANS on whether the BJP-RSS meetings involved any discussion on an alternative leadership to placate likely king-makers if the NDA performed less emphatically than exit polls suggested.
But experts believe BJP president Rajnath Singh's meeting with Sushma Swaraj may be a step in that direction. While ABP news has predicted 281 seats for NDA, Headlines Today and CNN/IBN have said the saffron front would score 272 (+/- 11) and 270-282, respectively. "BJP will go back to its tested model of having a soft person as prime minister and a hardliner as the deputy. In this case, (Lal Krishna) Advani or Sushma will be that soft person who may be inducted as prime minister if the potential allies are extremely insistent they would not back Modi," JNU professor and commentator Manindra Thakur told IANS.
Datta seconded the thought and said giving up power will be a non-viable option for the BJP. "A lot of money has been pulled in for their (BJP's) campaign in the form of donations, and that is likely to have come from the corporates. The BJP will be under obligation to return the favour through policy initiatives favouring their donors. They can't decide to quit power over Modi," he said.
Experts also ruled out any rebellion from the Modi camp if he is kept out from the top job. "BJP is being controlled by the RSS in a big way, and Modi will not assert himself beyond the RSS. Modi may eventually come to an understanding where Advani is the figure head of the government and the party network is controlled by him," Thakur said.
For now, BJP is hopeful, or at least putting up a pretence of it, that there would not be a situation where they have to hunt for more allies. "Politics is not a game of imagination. It is based on ground realities. The ground reality of the day is that there is a clear wave for Narendra Modi which will translate into a clear victory for the NDA," BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told IANS.