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Unless he makes big mistakes, 2019 seems to be going Modi’s way
Neerja Chowdhury | Monday, 20 March 2017 AT 10:28 AM IST
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A file photo of supporters of the BJP celebrating outside the party office as state assembly votes were being counted in Lucknow.

A day after Narendra Modi clocked unprecedented sweeps in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, he was already looking ahead, not by talking about 2019, the next battle that lies ahead, but by talking about 2022. And by so doing, he had started batting for 2019. He talked about transforming India to such an extent that by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence that India’s nation builders — he named Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Ambedkar — would be proud. He urged the BJP workers to be humble in victory and to stoop to conquer, as a tree when laden with fruit, stoops. He promised that now the elections were over, the BJP governments would represent those who had voted for the party as well as those who had not — words calculated to reassure and reach out to those who were not with him and may be worried by such a sweep.

This is characteristic of Narendra Modi, using the momentum of one achievement to move towards the next. With the situation having gone right down to the wire in Manipur and Goa this time, the smaller parties have opted to go with the BJP, enabling the party to claim a 4:1 victory in ‘Battle 2017’, reinforcing the image of a party surging forward in all parts of India, with Amit Shah losing no time in talking about focusing on his next project to strengthen the BJP in 120 Lok Sabha seats in the East and the South, where it is weak.

Though the Congress emerged as the single largest party in both Manipur and Goa, the smaller parties have plumped for the BJP as they see Modi as the ‘Ugta Suraj’. And smaller states anyway like to stay on the right side of the Centre. That is the advantage the BJP will have in the state elections that lie ahead before 2019, like Gujarat later this year and Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, and four northeastern states next year and Karnataka, which will help build a momentum for 2019. Gujarat has been the lowest hanging fruit for the Opposition, with the Congress unable to pluck it so far. And now, to enable Modi to win in his home state, may well become a matter of Gujarati pride. If Modi campaigned so extensively in UP, he can be expected to do likewise in his own home state, where victory or defeat will be more critical for his personal standing.

Unless the BJP makes serious mistakes between now and next year, the UP and Uttarakhand victories can also have a ripple effect in the Hindi heartland states going to the polls in 2018. These states should have had to contend with anti-incumbency with Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh CMs completing 14 years in power. The trouble is that the Congress party does not have clear, persuasive, fresh faces to take on the incumbent CMc in MP and Chhattisgarh, except Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, at a time when electoral contests are becoming presidential in character. The Congress had the advantage in Punjab and Manipur of Captain Amarinder Singh and Okram Obibi Singh, both seen as strong leaders.

In all these states, the Congress is riven with factionalism. The BJP will do its utmost to encourage Congressis from the poll going states to come to its fold, as it did in UP, taking people from the Congress – and the BSP – and it will be interesting to see if it takes someone like Rita Bahuguna Joshi in the UP Cabinet to signal that those who enter its portals will be rewarded.

Unless the Congress gets its act together, there is bound to be an outflow from the party towards the BJP, thereby weakening it further and statements by P Chidambaram and Sandeep Dixit and others are a foretaste of things to come. A regional satrap like Omar Abdullah has already conceded defeat as far as 2019 is concerned and that only shows the demoralisation in the non-BJP side today. This suits the BJP to the hilt, to enthuse its side and keep the other side down.

It is true that General Elections are still more than two years away and a lot can happen in the period in a country like India with the multiple challenges it faces. After all, Modi too has been around in Delhi only for two and a half years.

The trouble is that in terms of drive, an ability to work 24x7, an agenda combined with an attention to detail which creates a well-oiled election machinery, the entire opposition put together is no match for the Modi-Amit Shah today. Nor does it have a charismatic figure like Modi to take him on, even if the non-BJP parties were to come together. That they will have to do so is the clear writing on the way as all face an existentialist crisis. Nor do they have a clear narrative around which an alternative can emerge which resonates with people. Secularism was a thread, which bound the non-BJP parties together. But if the UP results have shown something, the Hindu consolidation for Modi provided an overarching umbrella for the centrepiece made up of a caste lineup of the upper castes, the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, with aspirational India represented by youth providing the cherry on the cake.

Mayawati openly flaunted the 97 tickets she was giving to Muslims, and there was a reaction amongst a section of Dalits at being taken for granted by her.

In a family of Yadavs in eastern UP, three out of ten voted for the BJP because the Samajwadi Party’s candidate in their area was a Muslim. Had it been a Hindu Yadav, they would have voted for him and these three were younger people in the family, obviously drawn to Modi for a variety of reasons.

With hindsight, it seems that Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance also created a reaction amongst the Yadavs and other potential Hindu supporters because it was seen only as an attempt to give importance to the party’s Muslim vote bank. There was a reaction in large sections of Hindus to the secularism as practised by some political parties and these sections equate it only with ‘appeasement’ of Muslims, even as Muslims remain amongst the most backward communities in India in terms of education and employment. So the opposition parties will have to find a new political narrative and reinterpret secularism. Youth, in particular, are tired of the old idioms, and the old style of politics.

For the moment, the Opposition can only hope for Modi to make mistakes. Unless he makes big mistakes, 2019 seems to be going his way.
 
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