The Modi majority predicted by the exit polls seems to have been the tipping point for Amit Shah to launch a vigorous new "Operation Lotus" to dismantle (to borrow Rahul Gandhi's word of choice) the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
While Shah flexes ahead, showing zero signs of fatigue after the lengthy national campaign, the Congress is busy shooting itself in the foot in the only state where it has a stable government, Punjab. There, the ugly infighting between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and minister Navjot Singh Sidhu is a daily routine. Now, Singh, or the Captain, as he is known, perhaps the only regional heavyweight left in the Congress, wants Rahul Gandhi to discipline Sidhu and several of his loyal ministers have asked for Sidhu to resign for trash-talking the Captain in the home stretch of the election.
Captain wants Gandhi to act or else. The else is currently unspecified.
Meanwhile, Kamal Nath, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, which the Congress won in December, has publicly accused the BJP of offering upto 25 crores to his MLAs to switch sides and bring down the government. Tricky for him since he has just four MLAs more than what's needed to survive a trust vote (including the support of independents and Mayawati's party as well as that of Akhilesh Yadav). The existential threat has forced Kamal Nath to make a distress call to Mayawati.
In Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP has floated the theory that "20 Congress MLAs will join the BJP after the vote counting tomorrow". Yeddyurappa is the eternal claimant to the post of Karnataka Chief Minister. But it is true that the ruling alliance between HD Kumaraswamy and the Congress in the southern state has been in rehab for some time.
None of these crises for the Congress should surprise anyone familiar with the BJP's politics and its ability to crack open underlying opportunities. I had reported here earlier this month that senior BJP leaders had told me that they could topple the Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh governments easily but were waiting for the national election results to move in for the kill.
Anyone who tracks the Congress should be equally unsurprised that it appears totally unprepared for the BJP's ambush. In Karnataka, especially, the BJP has attempted so many versions of "Operation Lotus" that the Congress should know the drill by now. Panic buttons have been pressed and the familiar spectacle of MLAs being sequestered from temptation in strongman D.K. Shivakumar's resorts will resume. Rahul Gandhi has also summoned senior leader Ramesh Jarkiholi to Delhi today after reports that he met Yeddyurappa on Monday.
Yeddyurappa has promised Shah that the BJP will get the lion's share of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka.
Perhaps the rooms in D.K. Shivakumar's resorts should provide for twin beds for legislators from Madhya Pradesh with the BJP demanding that Kamal Nath be asked to prove his majority in the state legislature. Kamal Nath was sworn in as Chief Minister in December and has been under relentless pressure to ensure the Congress wins many of the 29 parliamentary seats. In 2014, the Congress had won two seats - Guna elected Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath won Chhindwara, which he has represented nine times.
Most exit polls say the Congress will win less than four seats (out of 29) this time. Kamal Nath has dismissed the exit polls with his usual elan but a BJP sweep will be seen as a failure of his leadership while he is fighting to ensure the survival of his own government.
Whatever the results tomorrow, apart from the national scene, Rahul Gandhi has to contend with the escalating conflict in Punjab. Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife, Navjot Kaur, have blamed Amarinder Singh for her not getting the ticket to contest Amritsar. Since then, the former cricketer has turned into a PR train wreck for the Chief Minister. Sidhu is not a team player, whichever party he happens to be in. He insisted on participating in a comedy show despite his day job as a minister. Then his public bonhomie with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made things awkward for the Congress. Now, he's accusing Amarinder Singh of thwarting his wife's political career while also alleging "senior Congress leaders" have a nexus with their opponents, the Badals.
Expect no political downtime even after the central government is formed.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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