Modi’s 400-plus-seat goal seen as trigger for raids on Opposition leaders

‘Nehru had won a third straight term in 1962 with the Congress bagging 361 of the then 494 Lok Sabha seats. Our target is to surpass that’

The latest offensive against Opposition leaders by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate may owe partly to the BJP’s objective of winning the 2024 general election with a much bigger margin, which requires it to “discredit and disunite” its opponents, party sources believe.

They say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not just looking to equal Jawaharlal Nehru’s record of being the only leader to win a third straight term, but wants to go one better in terms of the victory margin.

The BJP leadership has coined the slogan “Abki bar char sau par (400-plus this time)” — an ambitious scale-up from the 303 seats the BJP had won in 2019 while its allies tallied another 50.

“Nehru had won a third straight term in 1962 with the Congress bagging 361 of the then 494 Lok Sabha seats. Our target is to surpass that,” a BJP leader said. The Lok Sabha now has 543 elected seats.

However, BJP managers acknowledge, the leadership understands that improving on the 2019 tally at all — let alone meeting the 400-plus target — would be an uphill task.

Internal assessments by the BJP suggest that Modi’s “popularity and credibility” have increased since the last general election, but the party believes that this isn’t enough to generate a bigger victory margin.

The BJP is now left with hardly any major ally, the JDU and the Akali Dal having parted ways and the Shiv Sena having split. “To win many more seats than last time, the Opposition should be in complete disarray, disgraced and crippled,” a BJP leader said.

Therefore the desperation to discredit potential opponents through the investigative agencies and turn corruption into a campaign plank, he said. “The people of the country realise that the Congress and most regional parties are corrupt. Modi had promised a war on corruption in his Independence Day speech, and now action is being taken,” the BJP leader added.

While disarray and disunity have haunted the Opposition since Modi’s ascendance to power in 2014, the “war on corruption” waged through the central agencies seems to have intensified the problem. The arrest of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia by the CBI and the ED has seen the Congress break away from the Opposition ranks to welcome the move.

While the Opposition at large has pilloried the central agencies’ renewed drive against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his family, ally and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JDU has chosen silence. When Parliament reconvenes on Monday for the second half of the budget session, the Opposition will be hardpressed to muster the unity that is required to corner the government over its “selective” use of investigative agencies against political opponents.

The Opposition, galvanised only last month over the Adani controversy, appears to stand divided now. Apart from the crackdown on Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party and the RJD, the central agencies have targeted Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K. Kavitha.

Kavitha, an MP, has been accused in the same excise policy case as AAP leaders. The land-for-jobs charges against Lalu, his son and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, and other family members are at least 14 years old. Lok Sabha seats from Bihar and Telangana will be crucial to the BJP’s chances of winning with a bigger margin. The BJP and its then allies had won 39 of Bihar’s 40 seats in 2019, with the BJP tallying 17, the JDU 16 and the LJP 6.

With the JDU dumping the NDA and joining hands with the RJD and the Congress, the BJP believes it would be near-impossible for it to win back all the 17 seats in Bihar. BJP managers believe that increasing the heat on Lalu can widen the differences between the RJD and Nitish, causing disarray in the ruling coalition.

“Nitish Kumarji, hadn’t you said that Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav and (Lalu’s wife) Rabri Devi face serious corruption charges and action should be taken?” BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia asked at a media conference on Sunday. Mindful of his past stand on the corruption charges against Lalu and his family, Nitish has avoided commenting on the latest raids on the family’s residences in Patna and Delhi, sidestepping the media’s questions. “More than dividing the Opposition, the BJP wants to financially cripple its opponents. Everyone knows that a lot of money is needed to fight elections,” an RJD leader said.

He said that all the Opposition parties, including the Congress, faced a money crisis because potential donors were afraid of angering the government.

In Telangana, where the BJP bagged four Lok Sabha seats in 2019, it can win more this time only if it can marginalise the Congress. BJP managers believe that the direct confrontation with the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, “perceived to be corrupt”, can help the BJP grow in the state. Apart from Karnataka, Telangana is the only southern state where the BJP can hope to win substantial seats. And even Karnataka threatens to be difficult, with reports suggesting the BJP could lose the Assembly polls this summer.

The investigative agencies are active also in Bengal, a state outside the BJP’s core area that had given the party 18 of 42 seats in 2019, boosting its hopes before dashing them in the 2021 Assembly elections.

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