But will Rahul Gandhi’s Congress be willing to accept a leadership from outside the party?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had it great until now. Despite having the dubious distinction of leading Gujarat as its chief minister during modern India’s worst riot – the 2002 carnage – he spearheaded the BJP to four consecutive victories in the state. Not to mention his victorious march to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, in Delhi after the 2014 elections and the BJP’s amazing rally to lap up 21 states under his leadership.
He demonetised 86 per cent of the Indian currency and brought in a draconian tax regime in the name of GST. It introduced five different slabs of taxation that change by the region, and was responsible for shaving off 2 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Yet, people were convinced that Modi had introduced the ‘One Nation One Tax’ policy and hailed him as a game-changer. Indeed Modi seemed invincible and was set to further rise up the hillock.
But, not so anymore!
Now, there exist two distinct possibilities ahead of the next general elections – one, Modi faces a united opposition consisting of the resurgent Congress and most of the regional parties and, two, that he rides a wave of popular sentiment that bills him as the solitary honest man. At this point, though, the first possibility seems stronger and I have 11 reasons to believe so.
Before getting any further, it is important to understand that the next Lok Sabha elections are likely to be advanced and held within 2018 along with the elections for eight to ten state Assemblies, notwithstanding the Karnataka Assembly poll results.
If BJP triumphs in Karnataka, they would want to maintain the winning streak, and if they lose, they would want to get done with the general elections before sentiments dip further.
Now, let me again get back to the point where I contend that the Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP is on the decline right now.
Disillusionment and resultant desertion by allies
The BJP’s oldest ally, Shiv Sena, recently announced that it will go alone in the next general elections. Their current alliance with BJP is primarily dictated by power compulsions. But with the Maharashtra Assembly polls likely during the general elections, due to the uncertainty of the alliance, the BJP is set to lose an ally.
The first person to endorse Modi as the PM candidate, outside the BJP, was TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu. His recent decision to walk out of the NDA and move a no-confidence motion against the government should not be seen in isolation.
As BJP tries to undermine the identity of regional players, a counteroffensive becomes inevitable. TDP was pushed to the corner by the BJP’s refusal to accord special status to Andhra Pradesh. Naidu’s survival depends on his commitment to regionalism and his agenda is not the same as that of the BJP. So, a divorce was inevitable.
As regionalism gets entrenched in India, Indian politics is set to get interesting over the next few months. As every state stands up for its own interests, watch out for silent BJP allies such as Nitish Kumar. Their loyalty to the BJP will soon come under the scanner. The same holds true for Punjab’s Akali Dal, which has already expressed its discontentment. Not to mention that a separation with the Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu and Kashmir government is just a question of time in the current violent situation in J&K.
Consolidation of regional rivals
The coming together of unlikely allies in Parliament on the issue of special status to Andhra Pradesh is symbolic of what might happen when the general elections are held. If the Congress, TDP and YSR Congress can come together; so can other regional forces.
The bigger story, though, is the coming-together of Dalit-friendly BSP led by Mayawati and the Muslim-OBC-friendly SP led by Akhilesh Yadav. The SP recently clinched the Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies with tacit support from the BSP. This turns the tables in UP, where BJP won 72 of 80 seats in the last general elections.
It is 1989 once again for Indian politics. Back then, the Left and the Right had propped up VP Singh to keep the Congress at bay. There may not be a big pan-India alliance or even one coalition. Modi’s rivals may arrange themselves in various formations.
Rise of the state-first sentiment
There is a definite focus on the ‘state-first’ slogan in addition to a consolidation of the federal forces. The Karnataka Congress is going further and showing a Karnataka-first approach which BJP can’t counter at this point in time. Ironically, the idea of pitting regional forces against the BJP’s brand of politics is being tested first, ironically, by another national party. In Karnataka, the Congress has given up all pretensions of being a pan-India party. Its CM Siddaramaiah has donned the garb of a politician dedicated to the interest of his state, creating its own flag and arguing for Lingayatism as a separate religion.
Aggressive anti-BJP stance of regional rulers
Every regional leader is now itching to revolt against the BJP. Mamata Banerjee, K Chandrasekhar Rao, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Naveen Patnaik and even Uddhav Thackeray are ready to counter the BJP’s aggression.
In this new polity, where the BJP is claiming to put India first, albeit, through questionable slogans, the counter cries of ‘my-state-first’ are rising to a crescendo.
The hurdles created for the AAP-led Delhi government, threats of prosecution against Mamata Banerjee’s second line of leaders, the BJP-inspired defection of BJD leaders, the political tensions caused in Kerala and the governmental trust deficit in Jammu and Kashmir – everything has led to an anti-Modi stand adopted by the regional parties.
Joblessness and agrarian distress
Assuming office with the promise of creating two crore new jobs a year – which ended in the creation of a paltry 20 lakh jobs – Modi’s development plank stands exposed. IT, realty and retail sectors are actually reducing their workforces.
The recent farmers’ protests across various states including the Kisan Long March have brought agrarian distress to the forefront. The government has failed to give minimum support prices, implement Forest Rights Act for tribal cultivators without land rights, and waive off farm loans.
Social disharmony and Minority-Dalit-Tribal bonhomie
Winning the mandate on a development plank and squandering it with trivial issues such as ‘Love Jihad’, cow vigilantism, ‘Ghar Wapasi’, Padmavati and the likes; the Modi government has worsened the social harmony index.
Alongside, attacks on Dalits in various states have led to increasing Dalit disenchantment with the current dispensation despite the tokenism in appointing a Sanghi Dalit as India’s President. With the rise of Dalit icons such as Jignesh Mevani, Prakash Ambedkar and others, the minority-Dalit bonhomie is evident. It will get a further fillip with Mayawati, Akhilesh and RJD’s Lalu Prasad coming under the same umbrella. The farmer discontent across many states is also bringing a large section of the tribal population closer to this axis.
Foreign policy failures and border skirmishes
India, under Modi, has failed to dissuade China from getting entrenched in the Doklam region, failed to win over Nepal after a suicidal economic blockade of the landlocked Himalayan nation, failed to raise large-scale investments from abroad in spite of endless trips of the PM (except from Japan) and failed to put a break in Pakistani violations along the Line of Control, leading to a higher number of Indian soldiers getting killed on the border in the last four years.
Crony capitalism, NPAs and growth challenges
The Indian banking system is gasping for breath, with NPAs increasing to nearly Rs 9 lakh crore, more than double of the number when Modi took over as PM. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and many others have shown in quick succession how vulnerable the banking fundamentals are. While growth has plummeted by 2 per cent after the twin blows of demonetisation and GST, SMEs are facing closures. Although the high profile PR exercises at Davos and Moody’s ratings created some positivity, the ground reality remains bleak and, more so, with low investments.
Hollowness of the anti-corruption plank and alienation of intelligentsia
Indira Gandhi coined the famous slogan “They want to defeat Indira, we want to vanish poverty” and came to power. Modi wants to do the Indira act coining the slogan, “They want to defeat Modi, I want to defeat corruption”. The government claimed to have eliminated black money through demonetisation. But the actual scenario is different.
Black money stashed abroad hasn’t been brought back, the same amount of cash demonetised has been pumped back into the system, appointment of the Lokpal hasn’t been made yet, no action has been taken against Robert Vadra and 2G scam-tainted leaders, and the CBI is behaving like a caged-parrot.
The Rafale deal with a huge price differential from UPA times is another nail in the coffin. The Army has no funds, and a crony capitalist with no defence production experience has got the procurement and servicing contract of defence products.
The intelligentsia is aggrieved too. Nobody forced the government to promise people Rs 15 lakh each. Nobody forced Modi to wear a wildly expensive suit. Nobody forced the BJP to use Photoshop and fake images. Nobody forced the BJP to appoint prehistoric sexist moralists in high posts. Nobody forced its silence over the horrific lynchings of Muslims and Dalits. No one forced it to treat protesting students like criminals, or threaten Pakistan on national television. Nobody asked it to force Aadhaar down the throats of unwilling citizens. Nobody told it to jettison a competent RBI governor. Nobody forced it to start dictating citizens’ personal choices. Nobody made the BJP turn nationalism into a bigot’s weapon. Nobody asked it to trample science under superstition and religion. Nobody asked it to force digital transactions on a nation where bank access, data connectivity, and electricity are partial at best. But each of these was done, and blatantly and often hopelessly justified, using a pliant media.
BJP’s internal challenge
Apart from the Advani-Joshi-Sinha populated BJP Margdarshak Mandal and others like Shatrughan Sinha, several current central ministers such as Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh are apparently unhappy with the concentration of power in the hands of the PM. Challenges are also being posed by UP CM Yogi Adityanath from within the party, VHP’s Pravin Togadia from outside the party and Subramanian Swamy from somewhere in between. One conspiracy theory today is that party president Amit Shah ensured the defeat of the party candidate in Gorakhpur by choosing a lightweight candidate to cut Yogi to size.
BJP’s biggest strength: Congress
If BJP wins again, it will be purely due to the Congress. The Congress is currently governing in only three states and the party president is young and inexperienced. With things in disarray, it will still be upon the oldest political party of India to show maturity and bring all anti-BJP forces together. Will the Congress exhibit that realism? Will it accept a non-Congress leadership this time to get BJP out of the way and wait for Rahul Gandhi for another day? This remains a million dollar question.
On Dussehra, Modi provided the perfect visual metaphor. He raised a bow to shoot an arrow into the effigy of Ravana, failed twice and then just threw the arrow a lame couple of feet. A grand set-up for an embarrassing flop!