There seems to be a barely concealed bravado about the ruling party assuming that it already has the 2019 poll in its pocket. From BJP chief Amit Shah, everyone in the ruling dispensation seems to be convinced that a second term for the NDA is a certainty. While making due allowance for unforeseen events, there is near unanimity even among the anti-Modi elements that, as of now, there is no stopping the return of the NDA for another five-year term. The Prime Minister’s I-Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort further firmed up the impression, what with several targets to be realised by 2022 or even later.
A recent opinion poll by a well-known media outlet further bolstered the confidence of the ruling party. Should the polls be held now, the survey revealed, the NDA could end up winning nearly 350 seats. Whether Amit Shah has taken the cue from the said opinion tester to set the target for his party’s rank and file to win 350-360 seats is not known. But given the total disarray in the Opposition, and, more importantly, the continuing connect of Modi with the masses, that handsome tally does not seem too ambitious.
Shah might have energised the BJP cadres, enforcing a structured and systematic plan for round-the-year mass contact and party enrolment even in the states where the BJP hitherto was barely present, but without the charismatic figure of Modi to rally around the voters his efforts could not have borne fruit. Not unlike Indira Gandhi at her peak in the early 1970s, it is Modi’s public image that has brought the BJP such spectacular successes.
Let us be clear about it. Shah’s strength lies in turning Modi’s popularity into seats for the BJP. Notably, despite A.B. Vajpayee’s nation-wide appeal, the BJP at the time had no one to exploit it for greater number of seats. L.K. Advani was a good organiser, but being himself a claimant for Vajpayee’s position, his efforts probably lacked that extra something which alone on election time makes the vital difference between winning and losing.
Shah is not Modi’s rival. And he does not have an eye on Modi’s Prime Ministerial gaddi, at least not till the fellow Gujarati completes his second term in 2024. Who will lead the party then, or whether Modi, on popular demand, will agree to do duty, nay serve the people for the third straight term of five-year each are questions only the future will answer. Though there are some in the BJP who sotto voce hazard the possibility of Shah emerging as the Prime Ministerial candidate upon Modi’s voluntary withdrawal from the race in 2024 or later.
But right now, there is no denying that the Modi-Shad duo is on course to win yet another Lok Sabha poll. Better messaging, and oratorical skills do not fully answer why Modi is such a draw with the people. The truth is that at the ground level the difference in governance is being felt by the aam aadmi. Whether it is the sheer fine-tuning of welfare schemes, such as the delivery of LPG cylinders to below the poverty line households, the frontal assault on rampant leakages in several anti-poverty programmes and the general drive against corruption and black money, the fact remains that these have further added sheen to the PM’s image. The widespread perception that he means well and cares for the poor is a factor in his growing popularity.
Above all, it is the poor state of the anti-Modi forces which probably is the single most important reason for the BJP’s confidence to score an encore in 2019. With Nitish Kumar back in the Modi stable, and the belated effort of Sharad Yadav to try and become his own man at the fag-end of his long political career—when all along he had relied on others to get him into Parliament—set to come to nothing, the revival of the Opposition seems unlikely.
While Mamata Banerjee has little or no pull outside Bengal, and Lalu Yadav in the doghouse, it is the deadwood Crown Prince who continues to be the biggest drag on the Opposition. His failure to gain maturity and drive, and above all, the cowardice of the Congress’ bonded slaves, who refuse to break free from the dynastic shackles, have grounded the Opposition juggernaut. And so long as the dynastic prince remains at the helm, there can be no question of any forward movement.
However, the Modi-Shah duo will be making a huge mistake if they come to take the people for granted. There is no telling what and when the popular mood turns against the ruling party. Voters are fickle in these matters, with a solitary mishap changing the popular mood. Therefore, the duo need to be mindful of the antics of the cow vigilantes, the vicious social media trolls, the anti-love jihad warriors, the Hindi language zealots, the unthinking fetters on the public broadcaster, the sycophantic conduct of veranda journalists now ensconced in various positions of patronage, et al.
A self-confident government sure of its hold on the popular mood should be able to cut some slack to its critics, especially when it knows that with Rahul Gandhi as their Great Helmsman they will only come to further grief. Dismissing with disdain the concerns of the so-called liberal sections can only inject avoidable bitterness in the polity. Avoiding it will add to Modi’s appeal, even as it defangs his critics.
WIDENING THE PARTY BASE
On the eve of Independence Day, several parts of the national capital witnessed an unusual sight: Ordinary people taking out motorised processions, shouting Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai, while crisscrossing residential areas. Such displays of nationalistic fervour on the eve of 15 August hitherto were reserved for the dull and dreary official events. Clearly, it was the BJP or one of the off-shoots of the RSS which had organised the aam aadmi to take out rallies to work up patriotic passions.
But what should be far more significant for the political observers, and worrying for the Opposition, was the composition of the rallying crowds. A vast majority of them seemed to be from the poor and lower middle classes. This is the aspirational class, which the BJP has successfully enlisted in its support. While the middle class colonies, which hitherto constituted the core-support of the BJP, seemed to be indifferent to the procession of people on two-wheelers and on an odd truck or two, with patriotic songs blaring from loudspeakers, the people from the lower middle class and shanty clusters most enthusiastically seemed to have come out at the call of a Sangh Parivar outfit. It is this penetration at the mass level, which accounts for the BJP’s rise, and its transformation from an urban-based middle class party to the most dominant political force in the country. Even a cursory comparison of the speeches of Vajpayee and Modi would tell you that the latter has knowingly shifted the thrust and direction of the party, making it overtly pro-poor, a winning strategy paying handsome dividends.
MINISTERSHIP -DENIED, TURN -OPPOSITION HERO
There is more to Sharad Yadav’s supposed “courage and conviction”, as a viscerally anti-Modi mouthpiece proclaimed editorially the other day, in organising an anti-Modi front. His belated effort to become a leader in his own right probably stems from the knowledge that Modi is dead-set against making him a minister, even as Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA may have made it possible for the JDU to be represented in the ministry. Incidentally, such is the venom of the newspaper quoted above that it laments the fact that Nitish has ditched the Mahagathbandan “to go back to the NDA and his old partners in the political crime.” Crime, Mr Editor?
COMMUNIST DOUBLE STANDARDS
It is ironic that the CPM should suspend Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Banerjee for his “lavish lifestyle”, a charge apparently triggered by his possession of an Apple watch and a Mont Blanc pen, while completely ignoring veterans who too have very expensive habits. Among them is a senior party apparatchik who with spouse in tow has no hesitation enjoying the good things in life, often at the expense of close relatives who stand accused of stealing hundreds of crores in taxes.
Why, Jyoti Basu, the longest serving Chief Minister of West Bengal, used to love his expensive scotch and soda every evening, while another senior leader chain-smoked, but only one of the more expensive foreign brands. Why pick on poor Ritabara, even when he has revealed how a fellow politico gifted him the said pen while the Apple watch came from a close friend?