Ruminations: Development-plus game plan
Mar 17 2017
The UP poll campaign was driven by Modi’s development plank, progress for all, fight corruption and lawlessness
The BJP poll campaign ran on parallel tracks appropriating all that those two images conveyed. It was at one end driven by Modi's development plank, his call to progress for all, a promise to bring development, fight corruption and lawlessness. Modi reached out to farmers and poor labourers, and won them over. Modi also appropriated the Hindu majoritarian mind space during his rallies, but that has essentially been an agenda that was driven by those in the second picture –MP Sakshi Maharaj and Union minister Giriraj Singh. Their campaign period was not restricted to the immediate context of the February-March assembly elections. For them, it has been a slow pegging away at the Hindutva agenda, which included suggesting that Nathuram Godse’s patriotism was no less than Mahatma Gandhi's, saying that Hindus need to have more children, an obvious reference to the growing Muslim population. The racist targeting of Congress president Sonia Gandhi was an extension of that agenda.
With payback time round the corner, since the 2019 elections are just about two years away, there is movement on both tracks. On one track, there is the prospect of loan waivers and higher MSPs for Uttar Pradesh farmers. On the other track, a village in Bareilly has asked Muslims to leave. A newly-elected BJP legislator wants Deoband to be named Deovrind, the name taken from the Mahabharata. And the party wasted little time in reinstating a former vice president of the state unit of the BJP who had made insinuations against Mayawati, the Dalit leader and icon of caste politics, now fighting a battle for survival in politics. The alacrity with which the followers of upper caste Hindu majoritarianism have got off the blocks should please Sakshi Maharaj and Giriraj Singh.
The latter developments have, naturally, triggered alarm bells in the liberal-secular camp. Alarmed enough liberal-secular camp followers to think, a full two years before the next Lok Sabha polls, of a Janata experiment-like multiparty coalition to stop Modi and his seemingly unstoppable band of political marauders. From all indications that will be a difficult task, not least because the opposition against Modi is a divided lot, with leaders sending out mixed signals on the nature of their equation with the Modi government. Just to give some examples, three of his strongest critics at one time, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, have backed Modi on perhaps the most controversial move of his prime ministership: demonetisation of high-value currency notes. It is difficult to imagine that they will join, leave alone head a credible anti-Modi coalition.
There is another impediment to the success of an anti-Modi set-up -- Modi himself. This is a man who is loath to rest on his laurels, acutely aware that in politics it is necessary to succeed at every stage because it doesn't take long for the tide to turn. At the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Thursday, Modi warned partymen that he would not rest, nor would he allow anyone to rest in the party. There were elections ahead, he said.
However, Modi's strongest ally against an opposition grand alliance will perhaps be his courage to take a political gamble that can throw his opponents off balance. That, and his brazenness, that helps him ride out the tough times. Consider how he has stayed the course on reforms. Fuel prices, for instance, have been increased, even during elections. But, he has not had to take the fall for that, while oil marketing companies have made a killing on the bourses. It was expected that the negative narrative that trailed demonetisation would prompt him to announce sops in his December 31 speech. None of that happened. Again, he did not have to pay a political price for that. He has announced a farm loan waiver for UP, but nothing of the kind has been announced for other states, even those where the BJP is in power. So far, there has been no open dissension on that score.
With the Congress, the other major national party, struggling to stay afloat, and so far showing little initiative despite repeated defeats, it will take more than a forming a coalition to stop Modi, who has assumed a persona that is larger than the party. Besides, rag-tag coalitions have had a poor record in India. The elections in big states, like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and in Modi's home state of Gujarat, will prove to be the litmus test for the anti-BJP parties. They are certain to be judged. If they fail, 2019 could be plain sailing for Modi and his men.