Regional chieftains hold key to stable Modi government

Regional chieftains hold key to stable Modi government
An Indian court on Saturday convicted Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former film star turned powerful politician, in a corruption case that has dragged on for nearly two decades.

NEW DELHI - As India's capital and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepare to receive Mr Narendra Modi, a former movie star turned politician from the south and a writer-politician from the east might just hold the key to a stable government in India.

Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the 66-year-old All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief from Tamil Nadu, and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik, 67, have indicated that they would not be averse to joining a coalition led by the BJP, which is expected to emerge with the largest number of seats when results are announced today.

Exit polls have predicted a sweep for Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Patnaik in their states. The two regional players could provide Mr Modi with a stable government so he would not have to depend on outside allies.

Ahead of the results, massive preparations were on to celebrate a BJP win. Ladoos, a popular Indian sweet were being rolled out in the BJP headquarters, and firecrackers were being bought to be distributed once election trends become clearer.

Different party leaders were also putting up new posters of a victorious Modi. There were also reports of the party hiring bands of musicians and dhol walllahs or traditional drummers to celebrate the win.

Exit polls have tipped the BJP and its allies to win the most number of seats, with anywhere from 249 to 289 in the 543-seat Parliament.

A simple majority requires 272 seats but if the BJP and its allies were not to reach that halfway mark, the two regional parties could help them make up the numbers and form the government.

Ms Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, once a leading actress, is a flamboyant politician known for giving away laptops and kitchen blenders. By contrast, Mr Patnaik, the Odisha Chief Minister, keeps a low profile, speaks only in English and is known for a clean and efficient government in his state.

Yesterday Ms Jayalalithaa, who has a tight grip over her party, expelled party colleague K. Malaisamy for speaking too soon when he said Mr Modi "is a great friend" of hers and suggesting she wanted close ties.

Senior BJP leaders on Tuesday flew down to meet Mr Modi, who returned to his hometown of Gujarat after the last vote was cast in the nine phase elections that ended on Monday. Meanwhile, the BJP worked on putting in place a strategy for possible post-election alliances.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, speaking to reporters, said: "NDA (National Democratic Alliance) will welcome the support from more and more people to run such a big country. To run the government, the magic figure of 272 is needed but to run this country, we need the support from all." He added: "I want to make it clear straight away that Narendra Modi is going to become the next prime minister."

Mr Modi has promised to lead India out of a period of sluggish growth, create jobs and boost the manufacturing sector. But coalitions have proven to be tricky - national-level policies have often been held up by smaller allies. The BJP heads a grouping of several smaller parties called the National Democratic Alliance and hopes to get a big result that would not leave it at the mercy of its allies.

Dr N. Bhaskara Rao from the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies said: "A stable government is important because Mr Modi has to take tough decisions to bring the economy out of the doldrums. He needs the numbers to lead a strong alliance where allies are not pulling in multiple directions.

"While he will largely get it, at the same time Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik have their own state-level compulsions. Jaya is going for assembly elections in less than a year and she will focus on issues important to Tamil Nadu while Naveen Patnaik needs good ties with whoever is in power, to push through his developmental goals."

gnirmala@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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