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BJP is overconfident, says former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni

Friday, 9 May 2014 - 6:15am IST | Agency: dna

With only last phase of the elections remaining, focus has now shifted on government formation. In an interview with dna's Ashutosh Kumar, former BJP MP Sudheendra Kulkarni contends that BJP is overconfident if it thinks it will get a majority on its own.
  • Kulkarni says BJP’s campaign focuses only on one person

The BJP has been talking about getting 272 seats. How far do you think that this figure is a credible one, especially in the era of coalition politics?
There is no doubt that the BJP's tally in the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha will go up spectacularly from its current 116 seats. However, I doubt that it will get 272 seats – that is, majority – on its own. 272+ was a good target to galvanise the party, and the party has indeed got galvanlized to achieve the goal of forming the next government. But the next government will be a coalition government led by the BJP.

BJP has built the poll campaign around its PM candidate Narendra Modi? How is it different from the earlier campaign strategies of the party?
This is the most personalized campaign ever mounted by the BJP. Not even in 1996, 1998 and 1999, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the party's prime ministerial candidate, was the BJP's campaign so focused only on one person. The BJP's poll managers designed and implemented this kind of campaign which is more suited to a presidential system of government.

Is the campaign too 'person specific'? If you think yes, kindly elaborate.
Yes, this campaign is undoubtedly "one person" specific. In this sense, it is uncharacteristic of the BJP, which believes in collective leadership. The party's campaign strategists believed that Narendra Modi symbolized three different kinds of appeal to the BJP's support base – and also to that section of the electorate that has so far been outside its traditional support base. His three-fold appeal was: Hindutva, Gujarat model of development, and the need for India to have a "strong leader".

What kind of outcome do you see for the BJP/NDA on May 16?
The likeliest outcome of the counting on May 16 is that it will be a BJP-led government with Narendra Modi as India's next prime minister. Of course, no person can be 100% sure of the final outcome.

In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, a whole new aspect of old BJP and new BJP emerged. What is your perspective on this?
As I said earlier, the nature of the BJP's election campaign in this election is uncharacteristic of the party. If Modi becomes prime minister, a new kind of BJP will emerge. It will bear the stamp of his leadership and his style of functioning.

How far do you think the issue of the old vs new just before elections would have affected BJP's electoral fate and what proportions will it acquire in government formation/functioning, supposing it forms a government on May 16.
In 1996, the BJP was unable to form the government – that is, unable to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha – in spite of having emerged as the largest single party with 166 seats. Which is why, Vajpayee had to step down after 13 days. If the BJP's tally in this election stops at the same level – between 160-170, the party will find it more difficult to form the next government. If Vajpayee, in spite of his wide personal acceptability in the Indian polity, could not muster the required majority with the support of new allies then, it is going to be impossible for Modi to do so now. Which is why, the BJP has consciously tried to get as close to the 272 figure as possible. It will not reach the half-way mark. However, given the weak position of the Congress, the likeliest scenario is a BJP-led government.
And precisely to achieve this goal, Modi and his supporters have adopted a new strategy of campaign. It will definitely leave its mark on both the party as well as the government (if it gets formed).

Stalwart senior BJP leaders are in a low-profile mode in the current Lok Sabha elections. Your take on L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj being on the backfoot.

This was inevitable once the party decided to mount its election campaign around one – and only one – leader.

Is BJP overconfident?
The BJP is indeed overconfident if it thinks it will get majority on its own. But there is no doubt that it has also been over-active in this election.

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