Watch Nidhi Razdan: BJP and the art of the possible in India Video Credit: Gulf News

As the battle for the Lok Sabha formally kicks off in India, Prime Minister Modi has set the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the larger NDA alliance an ambitious target. 370 seats for the BJP (it currently has 303) and 400 plus for the NDA. These are the numbers that BJP leaders are repeating at every public meeting and every possible forum. The reality is that adding 67 seats to its own tally from 2019 won’t be that easy for the BJP.

I recently wrote a column explaining how the party would not only have to retain states where is has maxed out already but also gain seats in newer battlegrounds like the southern states. Which perhaps explains why the BJP is sewing up alliances and aggressively wooing former allies back into the NDA fold.

It is an open-door policy for the BJP which is willing to welcome anyone and everyone into the NDA fold to reach that 400 mark. Just this week, Prime Minister Modi shared the stage with TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, who had exited the NDA in 2018 in a rather bitter break up.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

Both sides attacked each other strongly in the years that followed with the BJP describing Naidu as corrupt and immoral and Naidu strongly criticising Modi and his government for being a “one man show”.

That however did not stop both sides from embracing each other once again because of the demands of realpolitik. It’s the same story in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar’s flip flops and his direct attacks on the Prime Minister himself have been forgotten so that the JDU is once again back with the BJP.

Another surprise face to hold talks with the BJP has been Maharashtra leader Raj Thackeray, who strongly opposed PM Modi in 2019 but is now seen as a useful tool for the BJP in the crucial state. Even though this Thackeray’s political clout has diminished significantly over the years, the BJP is taking no chances and wants to use the Maratha card to counter his cousin Uddav.

A reunion with the Akali Dal is possibly on the cards as well along with an alliance with Naveen Patnaik’s BJD in Odisha.

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

More like psy-ops

BJP leaders say the Prime Minister is willing to put the past bitterness behind with these parties so that the NDA crosses the 400 mark. Winning at any cost is the goal.

It doesn’t matter that many of these smaller parties left the NDA earlier because of how badly they were treated. Some faced splits like the Shiv Sena in Maharastra. Today, many of these regional players find themselves in the margins and need the BJP too.

So why 400? Modi wants to beat the 404 seats Rajiv Gandhi got in 1984. That was however a different time and a very different election that took place on the back of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Today, the BJP’s stated targets seem more like psy-ops intended to give the impression of invincibility to the wider voters and to demoralise the opposition camp.

The crucial states which will be the deciders in the 2024 elections are Maharashtra, Bihar, Bengal, and Karnataka as well as other southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In both Bihar and Maharashtra, the BJP and its allies are facing a strong opposition.

Last time, the BJP- Sena won 41 of the state’s 48 seats. Now the Shiv Sena has split and there is a considerable sympathy factor at play for Uddhav Thackeray. Can they repeat 2019?

In Bihar, the BJP and the JDU won 39 out of 40 seats in 2019. Then Nitish Kumar left and joined hands with Lalu Yadav’s RJD and the Congress, only to return to the NDA a few months ago. His political U-turns have left even the most expert analysts reeling. With his own credibility eroded, can Nitish help the BJP win all 40 seats in Bihar?

The party is banking on doing better in Bengal where it won 18 seats last time. But in Karnataka they are still struggling after the assembly poll defeat to the Congress. Tamil Nadu and Kerala may see the BJP improve, but will it be enough?

400 is possible for the NDA but not easy. Politics is the art of the possible.