Is Modi vincible?

BJP Takes Big Hit

By Poonam I Kaushish

Circa 2014: India voted for change and a new power paradigm on the wings of hope and trust. Of an accountable and honest Government which would lead India on a path of growth.
Circa 2018: After losing three large Hindu heartland States to the Congress alongside two others where it hardly has a presence and with five months to general elections Prime Minister Modi is now personally experiencing the classical saying that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown!
The defeats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which together account for 65 MPs (BJP held 62 seats) – are a serious warning to the man who till yesterday seemed invincible The State results have now left the question of his re-election wide open and made 2019 more difficult for the BJP. Raising a big query: Is Modi vincible? Will he come out smelling of roses?
Can the Prime Minister brush under the carpet that he and the BJP are to blame for the mess they are in today. Perceived as a filibuster of a “fundamentalist Party” which revels in cultural intolerance, minority lynching and cow politics. The goodwill of ushering in aachche din has slowly dissipated. He seems to be floundering as the messiah of progress and modernity in the midst of the byzantine goings-on in Lutyens New Delhi.
Moreover, there is political disquiet over Modi’s failure to curb his rabid Hindutva brigands who espouse communal polarization via the ‘ghar-wapsi’ programmes of reconversion of poor Muslims and ‘love jihad’ against Muslim boys enticing Hindu girls professing marriage. A political discourse which has corroded inter-community relations, to an extent where discrimination against the minority community seems to be par for the course.
So what went wrong? Everything. Sadly, the BJP forgot that power is 99% perception and rightly or wrongly, Modi, his ministerial brood and the Party is perceived as arrogant and brash running a one-man rock band albeit concentrating power in the PMO. A one-way street full of staccato monologue, no dialogue and questions are a strict no-no.
Undoubtedly, the results have dented Modi’s image and the Government’s credibility in hard political currency. It has made winning the 2019 elections harder for the BJP, notwithstanding the NDA Government’s stability at the Centre where it enjoys a comfortable majority. Yet, when common perception is of the public not buying NaMo’s promise of development and drift within his Government, a loss in the Hindu heartland to the BJP has many wondering whether 2019 will be a repeat of 2004 when Vajpayee lost.
Certainly NaMo and BJP’s undoing was anti-incumbency, farmer distress, the inability to create new jobs, fuel prices, clumsy implementation of GST and demonitisation which led to grave discontent among the marginalized sections of society. Along-with upper caste resentment against the BJP’s decision to circumvent changes made by the Supreme Court to the SC/ST Act. The Party did not gain enough Scheduled Caste votes to compensate for the loss of upper caste votes in these States.
This has already emboldened his critics who will intensify their whispering campaign of him being dictatorial and deeply divisive. Alongside, increase anti-incumbency sentiments given there are just five months left of his tenure.
Besides, it would create complications in Modi’s reform agenda and development to propel India on the road to prosperity. As also damage its prospects to emerge as a force to reckon with in Eastern and Southern India where the BJP’s presence is negligible. Therein the Party would have to fight strong regional leaders on their turf.
Whichever way one looks, the BJP-led NDA Government, which initially gave one an impression of ushering in a new chapter in India’s political history, has not much to tom-tom about. Caution has replaced enthusiasm. In nearly all spheres, politics, economy, social sectors, employment and curbing prices et al. Worse, it has none but itself to blame for the incredible mess it finds itself in.
The biggest failure for Modi has been his inability to take the Opposition along. The repeated logjams in Parliament says it all along-with mocking ‘Pappu’ which obviously not only backfired but heralded Rahul as the challenger to Modi.
On the economic front, beyond the financial might of overflowing tillers, booming IT business, broadband connectivity etc, lies a growth-rate of no more than five per cent, confusion on the taxation front and no brake on Government spending. Increasing unemployment, illiteracy, ill-health and suicides by farmers are the touchstone of the much-hyped and illusionary deal of achche din. Look at the irony. Cellphones go abegging, yet people continue to beg for food.
Ironically, Modi continues to enjoy tremendous popular pan India support as a strong leader with a vision. Moreover, there is none within his Party and Opposition to match his charisma and oratory. Despite Rahul emerging challenger post the Congress three States victory.
But as the saying goes it is not over till it is over. Politics is not a gudda-guddi ka khel. It all depends on whether the Congress can cobble together a Mahagadhbandhan. Can the Congress, BSP,SP, TDP, Mamata, BJD and TRS forget their intense rivalry and the intrinsic incongruities and bandy together? Indeed, a tall order if not kite flying. Bets are being placed on how long the old rivals-turned-allies, Congress-TDP and SP-BSP continue to pull together, rather than pull each other apart.
Predictably, the Saffron Sangh has fallen back on Hindutva as a strategy to win elections and is back to chanting Jai Sia Ram demanding the Government construct the Ram mandir at Ayodhya. Yet Modi needs to remember a Hindi idiom: “Bhooka Pait Bhajan Nahin Hoth Gopala” which means “Lord I cannot sing to you on an empty stomach.”
What next? Till last year it was near-certain for the BJP to win in 2019, with the margin of victory the only uncertainty. Today, there is speculation about a diminished Party requiring coalition partners to get across the finish line-or even the return of a large Congress-led coalition.
With the stakes heaped against it, clearly the NDA is banking on Modi’s ascetically incorruptible image, the burgeoning youth populace craving jobs, security and development. It remains to be seen who and how many would again buy this line. As the State results show despite replete promises of vikas, the aam aadmi booted BJP out. Can NaMo repeat his 2014 magic?
Modi 2018 is not the same persona as 2014. Today he is seen as not being able to deliver. The task becomes more uphill given in the Lok Sabha polls 2014 the NDA got 38.8% vote share. And certainly Modi is no magician who can cure India of ills expediently, despite his brand of politics, “The real meaning of politics is not power but service.” But where are the promised acche din? He has to live up to huge expectations generated by Modi’s 3D media campaign on twitter, U tube and social networking sites.
Undeniably, his task is not enviable. The burden on him is enormous given our fickle and unforgiving voters. Much is expected of him. Ultimately, much will depend upon Modi’s political will and priorities in the weeks and months ahead. He knows only too well staying ahead is the name of the game. The leader who survives is the one that rises to meet the moment, who has the wisdom to recognize the threat and the will to turn it back, and does so before it is too late. He is still the BJP’s best bet. He can sway an election and swing votes. But in a milieu wherein the winner-takes-all, who will come up trumps? —– INFA