Lotus is still in full bloom
Setback for the BJP in a few constituencies and disaffection among some allies are wrongly being extrapolated. Modi stands tall against the Opposition leaders who are challenging him
Is the Lotus in half-bloom? Not really. I begin with a trace of hope but tinged with deeper despair as one reflects on recent political events. Sentiments have unmistakably turned hostile towards the ruling establishment in a week’s span when a ‘post-Mods’ India was unthinkable six months back. A series of setbacks for the BJP- led NDA alliance are consequences of the by-election defeats; the images of pathos that stir one’s conscience as the multitude of satyagrahi farmers marched to Mumbai in the peaceful Kisan morcha; as also the exodus of allies leading up to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) attempting a futile no-confidence motion. Of course, the latter, only squanders Parliament’s precious time, with BJP and allies assured of about 314 votes.
In times when Modi’s peers, like China’s Xi Jinping, abolished presidential limits, allowing him to remain ‘emperor for life’ or when President Donald Trump’s mercurial disposition rules the US with firing special counsel Robert Mueller on Twitter, we need to pride ourselves on a vibrant and mature democracy. Because the Mods regime, despite its perceived descent into illiberalism, is still subject to checks and balances even without the lack of a formal Opposition, as clearly, Congress with 48 MPs could not qualify as lead Opposition.
Now, with the resurgence of regional forces, there is a new triumphalism amongst the Opposition that puts the ruling BJP up for tough times. Opinions are replete with cynical notes, “BJP is on track to lose 2019 election”, as a surge of anti-incumbency sentiments pervade mainstream and social media and trolls go silent on rebuttals. If such pessimism is amplified in a column by one who has been an avid ‘Mods-bhakt’, it’s time for the Prime Minister to deeply introspect; be sensitive to the vox populi of a nation at odds with its destiny; pick up his gauntlet; and redeem his pledge with a sense of urgency.
The BJP-led NDA has squandered a mandate given to its mascot Mods and only Mods, not the BJP, which only he can salvage. That decisive vote was for a new India which would be progressive, prosperous and liberal. No one voted for a regime that would treat protesting, idealistic students as criminals; nor for a nanny state that dictates culture, dress or culinary choices; or build humongous statues when farmers are in pain; or turn hyper-nationalism into a badge of honour; or to overlap church with state. Nor was the mandate given to stifle enterprise by putting a “bullet into India’s economic heart” with imposing a cumbersome and second highest GST rate in the world, or the ill-thought out demonetisation without a comprehensive report on its after-effects by studying its ‘cost-benefit’ analysis. Because the economic stress generated after demonetisation and GST places India third only to Greece and Italy for bad debts.
Further, the Modi Government was voted to create the promised two crore jobs a year, instead of pursuing the easier and populist route of welfarism. And if Mods cannot win over the youth and debt-ridden farmers necessitating a 12 per cent growth rate (which is a near impossibility), the political fortunes of BJP could erode drastically. The by-election gains of the Congress and regional parties in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar may not be predictive of Lok Sabha trends and could be transient losses for the BJP. But these events played out in sporadic pockets of India, portend a larger picture of growing national discontent. While the no-confidence does not endanger the BJP-led NDA, it tests the strength of political realignment ahead of 2019 in an attempt of an anti-Mods consolidation. Therefore, there are multiple messages for the BJP to course-correct in its penultimate year.
First, the formidable BJP election machine backed by RSS foot soldiers is inadequate to douse discontent amongst the jobless youth, farmers, urban-middle class, traders or the business community. This poses an existential urgency for the BJP despite the comfort of Mods being firmly on TINA grounds (there is no alternative).
Conversely, TINA is also the BJP’s biggest strength in view of the empirical track record of Federal Fronts comprised of multi-party power-hungry satraps who have never succeeded in building ground-level movements, invariably collapsing under the weight of their own disagreements. The Congress has also thus far failed to successfully exploit the BJP’s blunders. So, weather it’s a Federal Front or a Congress-led coalition, the challenge is: Can the Opposition create a pan-India monolith? Because a national grand alliance is a more complex structure as compared to a State coalition, requiring consensus on a common minimum programme, a concurrence on who will head the alliance, and be the prime ministerial-face of the alliance.
Strategically, the BJP cannot underestimate the level of preparedness of the opponents who have sounded the bugle of a likely preponed general election to their cadres as they go about preparing their vision statements and hitherto fractious parties forge unnatural alliances.
With SP-BSP likely to sustain their revived by-election bonhomie and come together as they did in 1993, analysts forecast a loss of 50 seats for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh itself. That is a huge blow which makes the party tilt towards a ‘Look East’ policy. But denting the bastions of Odisha and West Bengal is a tough task to compensate for losses in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Second, there is an over-reliance on Modi’s electoral charisma and BJP chief Amit Shah’s wizardry to overpower the disenchanted voter, hoping that he will not swing towards a Federal Front or a Congress-led UPA III. When masses are restless for change, the exasperated voter is prepared to give unlikely formations a chance, the way the Aam Aadmi Party gained in Delhi.
Third, the Opposition does not lack financial resources though it may not compare to the BJP’s war-chest.
Fourth, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s political articulation may sound imbecile and the stuff that the BJP’s IT-cell savours to use as spoofs on social media, but he does manage to rattle the establishment like the proverbial “ant that irritates the elephant”.
The latest niggling worry for the Government is the near-secessionist tone of the southern States triggered by what I call, stirring ‘Dravidian Asmita’. Its an effective and emotive pitch to widen the north-south divide by invoking the regional pride of south Indians who contribute to the national exchequer but feel shortchanged in an allocation of development funds. Whipping up regional frenzy is then a kind of manufactured apartheid by DMK’s MK Stalin and other southern Chief ministers at playing the victim card which is a part of populist politics.
A new proposal doing the rounds is to have a rotating Prime Minister from amongst the Federal Front. So, can adversaries like BSP-SP, MNS-NCP, or TMC-KCR do political business together, ostensibly uniting to rid the country of fascist rule in the name of democracy? Will local satraps be magnanimous and mature enough to think statesmanlike for the progress of other States?
Because as of now, a faceless Front, which is headless and amorphous, is Modi’s delight to trample over. And worse still, for a potential UPA III coalition, should Rahul be the prime ministerial candidate, Mods would be at his best at dynasty-bashing when in presidential mode. So either way, its vantage Mods. I end with humorous and mildly statutory warning to the Opposition, that after the serial by-poll losses, “Mods is wounded. And a wounded Mods is more dangerous than a somber one”.
(The writer is an author and columnist)
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