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The Rise and The Fall

COMMENT / By Prem Chandran AFTER GUJARAT, NOW RAJASTHAN shows the way to the future of Indian politics. Clearly, the .....




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02-03-2018
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COMMENT / By Prem Chandran

AFTER GUJARAT, NOW RAJASTHAN shows the way to the future of Indian politics. Clearly, the Congress is not dead; it came out of the cold storage and is breathing fresh life. It?s just incidental that this turn-around for the party is happening at the precise time when Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru family, has taken over its leadership.

Looking back, it must be noted that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have unwittingly contributed to the people?s growing antagonism towards the Saffron edifice in the past over three years of their leadership from the nation?s apex. Where they should have acted in haste, they vacillated. Cow vigilantism and the governments' failure to rein in the ruffians and vagabonds on a bloodletting spree have proven to be the last straw on the disadvantaged camels' back even as they held the trump card in elections state after state.

As a result, the pro-Hindutva BJP that grew from strength to strength since 2014 is swiftly getting back into the reverse gear. It now looks as if the ?Congress Mukht Bharat? slogan that the Modi-Amit Shah duo raised in their jubilant days could eventually give way to a ?BJP-mukht Bharat? slogan. In democracy, as in autocracy, people have a natural distaste to those wielding power and pelf unless such men (or women) worked wonders or are proven to be good souls.

A set of about eight assembly polls will precede the General Elections by mid-2019, and the BJP stands no chance of winning at least two major states, Karnataka and Rajasthan, based on the present ground realities. Three North-Eastern states that are now up for polls might or might not give the BJP some breathing space. In Tripura, there is a remote chance of the CPI(M) being put on the defensive after a quarter of century of its rule there and this premise is based on the likelihood of a divide/consolidation between the tribals on the one side and the Bengalis who dominated them in public life on the other. Nagaland and Meghalaya are open for horse-trading and a newly enthused Congress can be trusted to put up a strong fight in the March hustings. If at all the BJP wins two of the three NE states, it will not give any substantial boost to the party?s image. So, where does this scenario leave the Modi-Shah duo in the run-up to the 2019 polls?

The politics in the Southern states has its own dynamics that differs from state to state. Neither Modi?s image nor Shah?s strategies would work in a big way in the South. Regional chieftains like K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, the DMK and AIADMK factions in Tamil Nadu, Siddaramaiah in Karnataka and the Pinarayi Vijayans and Oommen Chandys in Kerala leave no space for an outside politician to sneak in and steal the wind out of their sails. They have strong grassroots support. Modi does have a fan-following in the South, but not enough to lift the BJP into power. After the 2019 polls, if push comes to shove, Chandrababu Naidu can tilt scales either way; so with KCR, who will side with the winning side in Delhi. As long as Modi runs the government, they would be with him; the games can change if the scenario changes.

KCR would be pleased to be in the Congress camp as it would help him garner the large share of Muslim votes in Telangana; and so with Naidu. No ideology guides these two leaders other than their lust for power. Neither DMK nor AIDMK is anathema to the Congress ideology. BJP cannot hope to get more than a seat or two in Kerala, where minorities hold nearly 50 per cent of votes in any given situation. Two Hindu communities there are deeply divided between them, and will not stand together. Pondicherry included, the Southern states have as high as 130 seats.

If not for Modi and Shah, how to get these seats in Parliament? The best that the BJP got in the south in the form of a leader in the Telugu states was Venkaiah Naidu, and in Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa. Yeddyurappa has strong support from the Lingayat community, but Venkaiah Naidu has had no mass following worth the name. He was there for the show. Yeddyurappa, with a stigma of corruption, was outwitted by Congress? Siddaramaiah, who consolidated the support of other communities, including BCs and Muslims, and created a fortress around him. Modi?s image is the only currency that sells for the BJP in the South as of now; but this has its limitations mainly because of language problems.

BJP needs a little less than 270 seats in the 552-member Lok Sabha to form the next government. Where will the number come from?

Turn to the North, including Maharashtra. BJP?s ally Shiv Sena is roaring against the saffron party for quite some time and is waiting for an opportunity to teach Modi a lesson. Reason: Modi put breaks on Sena?s tantrums, and Shah keeps flexing his muscles in the state. Maharashtrians in general have a natural aversion towards Gujaratis, and this is sharply evident both in the political and social life. Reason: their outlooks are different. Maharashtrians as a community with their social reform movements of the past are idealistic and rough, while Gujaratis as a mercantile class is more open-minded, flexible and pragmatic. Normally, Maharashtrians do not suffer a Modi or Shah.

The Shiv Sena wants to run Mumbai on its very own terms, and make money too, but Modi would keep giving them pinpricks; and the BJP is digging more and more in. A Promod Mahajan could bridge the divide to an extent, but not the present CM, Devendra Fadnavis with his base anchored in Nagpur. An alternative ally for the BJP could be the NCP of Sharad Pawar. But, NCP is seeing a sharp fall in its support base except in Pawar?s home turf in Western Maharashtra. The Maratha strongman has lost a few teeth of late. Under the circumstances, the maximum the BJP can hope for is a 50:50 share of the state?s 48 Lok Sabha seats.

So with Gujarat, where the BJP and the Congress plus its allies are on an even footing now. Punjab is with the Congress; and there too a 50:50 win is likely for the two sides. Haryana may see a revival of Congress fortunes for the reason the BJP?s government headed by Manoharlal Khattar is making no major waves. People?s disenchantment is largely evident. What of Uttar Pradesh? Adityanath Yogi might make some push; and Modi magic works to a substantial extent in the state; but there are powerful regional leaders like the Mulayams, the Mayawati, etc. The Muslim votes are there for the Congress to bank on. The cow vigilantism has alienated the Dalits from the BJP in several of the northern states. This may have an impact even in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is in power for too long, and anti-incumbency factor might come into play in the next polls.

With some strong backing from CM Nitish Kumar, the BJP might get half of the 40 LS seats from Bihar. Assam too might give the BJP more than the 50 per cent share of the 14 seats. West Bengal that has 42 seats will just give the BJP a handful; likely. Trinamool will have a sweep of as many as 30 seats to the minimum. The CPI(M) will emerge a laughing stock, and so is the Congress there. But, the good tiding for the Congress at the Centre will be that Trinamool MPs can be depended on for support to the tri-colour GOP; but not to the BJP in any eventuality also as Trinamool?s support base is largely Muslim. The regional parties in the North-East are not a dependable ally to any side. Whether they have an alliance with BJP or not, if the Congress forms the government, they will be too glad to be part of it in Delhi, any time.

This leaves the BJP with only one hope for winning the 2019 polls to the Lok Sabha. That is a re-play of the Modi magic. But, will it work for a second time?

Modi as Prime Minister did not do a bad job. He gave strong leadership to the nation; tried to strengthen systems as in the case of the GST, which created problems at the implementation stage. But this was expected when such a massive reform measure rolled out in a market mechanism that had no controls whatsoever so far. Tax evasion was to the maximum. GST regime changed all that. It will fetch a lot of money to the exchequer in the long run. The results are already showing. Which is also why 50crore Indians will now get annual health insurance cover of Rs five lakh. Could anyone imagine this in the past? It looks like, some more surprises are on the way.

Kashmir is now breathing somewhat easy. It had gone to dogs due to the complacence of the Centre during the UPA periods. Modi reversed the trend, starting with the extermination of LeT commander Burhan Wani. Now, BJP shares power there with Mehbooba Mufti and her men. There?s a close watch on what?s happening there. Modi put China on notice. Chinese PLA was stopped in its tracks; right at Doklam, the sensitive Bhutanese (not Indian) region next to the Sikkim border. Modi took courage in his hands to do this even as our military strength is weak; and, believe it, he challenged China by marching into Bhutan?s soil. PLA is not moving back, true, but not moving forward as well. Indian military reinforcements are positioned in and around Doklam, face-to-face, and PLA is at best blinking. A war with India could bring economic disaster for China, not just a loss of the hefty markets for its wares in India.

On the foreign policy front, India improved its ties with the US ? a process that first started under Narasimha Rao and later strengthened by Manmohan Singh under the UPA. Clearly, we are on the right lines. But, Nepal strayed away from India. Bangladesh is still a good ally. Sri Lanka is the snake in the grass. Afghanistan is what China is aiming at now, and it suits Pakistan?s interests as well. With dragon sniffing around, India cannot hold on in the region all alone. More strengthening of ties with the US is a dictation of the times. For, even an axis of China and Russia could not be ruled out for the future, and in respect of Afghanistan as well. Modi has the grit and determination to act, but it appears from ground level that he would do well to fasten the pace.

Modi squandered an opportunity when he stormed into power in 2014. That was the time when the whole of India appeared mesmerized by his campaign blitz. He could have acted fast and set many things right at the very start. Even the RSS could have been put in its place. Today, RSS factors in more in Modi?s scheme of things. The more Modi loses public esteem, the more will be the RSS dictations. Hardline Hindutva has limited appeal in this country; but soft Hindutva sells. When you kill humans in the name of cow, there are not many Hindus who would appreciate this. Hinduism is a tolerant religion; which was why Mahatma Gandhi succeeded with his non-violent offensives to neutralize the might of the British.

Pravin Togadias are a shame on Hinduism, a religious faith that holds aloft a supreme cultural legacy. Good that he?s now in the new avatar of a Weeping Tom. There are similar misguided elements in down South, in Mangalore, who only brought a bad name to the BJP in Karnataka ? that was by far the best soil for the Saffron surge in the South. They need be reined in. When Modi started his rule from Delhi, he said the Indian Constitution will be his Bhagwad Gita. Mohan Bhagwat might disagree, but India in general took the vow in good faith. Cow needs protection, but vigilantes need be sent to jail. They are an uncultured lot of street-smart ruffians. Modi?s failure to do so would cost him and the BJP heavily in the next round of elections, more prominently in the North as the Gujarat and Rajasthan poll results have shown.

Putting a Ramnath Kovind in Rashtrapati Bhavan by itself is small comfort to India?s poor and the disadvantaged. At best, it had an element of symbolism. Poor Indians have begun seeing through the games that politicians play. The days of Indira Gandhi or her tactics were long over. In election, numbers matter. Rahul Gandhi apparently understands this. premcee@gmail.com

--www.indiahereandnow.com
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