Whether you like it or not, there is no denying the fact that the on-going polls in five states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, are as much a referendum on the performance of the Central government as they are on the performance of the concerned state governments.
In some ways, the outcome, especially in the country’s largest state, would reveal the popular mood regarding the party in power at the Centre. A rebuff in UP can be morale-shattering. It will encourage assorted dissidents and disgruntled elements in the BJP, lying low since the spectacular win of Narendra Modi in 2014, to find their voice.
The stakes in UP are, indeed, very high for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-controlled BJP. Given that the coming polls provide the first genuine opportunity to voters to pass verdict on the controversial demonetisation, major reverses, especially in the key heartland state, would be seen as a clear thumbs-down to notebandi. Rightly perceived to be the sole architect of the move to ban 87% of the money in circulation, Modi will be hard put to shift the blame should the BJP fail in UP.
Besides, having virtually become a one-leader party—something it had assiduously avoided all through under the much longer stewardship of tall leaders like Vajpayee and Advani—if the Modi-Shah duo garner glory for victories, they can hardly shake off blame when the going gets tough. A loss in UP is certain to take the sheen off the Modi-Shah jugalbandi.
By all accounts, the on-going polls are important. They will determine the course of politics right up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, quite aside from having a bearing on the presidential poll sometime in July. Well past the mid-way mark in its five-year term, the Modi government has done well on the economic front. (Notebandi was an unwise move which interrupted growth and penalised tens of millions of innocent Indians.) Incremental reforms, consolidation of fiscal situation, toning up of official processes and removal of speed-breakers have ensured a grip on inflation, boosted growth despite global slowdown. And, what is more, prevented the further bleeding of the public financial institutions, one of the worst legacies of UPA.
Even the Budget has spared a major infliction on the national purse, with the government courageously resisting the temptation to hand out freebies to voters with an eye on the on-going polls. In fact, Akhilesh Yadav was worried stiff about Arun Jaitley unveiling some sort of a universal income scheme, fearing it could lure away his voters to the BJP. Maybe, such a please-all scheme would be launched in the next Budget, for encashment in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
Admittedly, in the Budget, Jaitley has sought to win back the trading classes, which were badly hit by notebandi and which may not have failed to notice how, to compensate, Modi was at pains to reach out to the poorer sections, while barely paying lip service to their cause. There was a clear effort in the Budget to reach out to the traditional core constituency of the BJP.
Yet, in the immediate course, the Modi government ought to be ready for all outcomes in the on-going polls. Contrary to the earlier impression, reports from UP and Punjab do not seem to be encouraging. It seems the recent tamasha in the Yadav clan has helped Akhilesh Yadav brush under the carpet his non-performance. A lone, newly-built highway is sought to be touted as proof of development, while the truth is that there was usual criminality, lawlessness, neglect and pilferage of resources associated with the Samajwadis whenever they found themselves in power.
Of course, Modi will find it hard to replicate the overwhelming win in 2014. His promise of vikas was the sole issue in the Lok Sabha poll. Neither the BJP nor any other party has a major issue this time, though Akhilesh seeks voter verdict on the faux battle within the Yadav family, by presenting himself as a man of progress as against the family elders, whom he cleverly presents as the old guard seeped in feudalism and decadent tradition.
If the stakes are high for Modi, the outcome in the comings polls is absolutely crucial for Rahul Gandhi. At a time when mother Sonia is keen to hand over the baton to her chosen heir, failure of the Congress to bag Punjab and to do moderately well, even as a second string to SP, in UP could unleash the tongues of long-suffering Congresspersons, who may openly question his leadership. Congressmen are loyal to the Family so long as the latter is able to win elections for them. If not, they will be ready to jump ship and look for greener pastures elsewhere. Indeed, Congress is reduced to such a pitiable condition that in UP in a number of constituencies it has had to field SP leaders on its seats for want of “winning” candidates of its own.
But whatever the Congress performance, in reality Rahul Gandhi will have had no role to play in it, since he is hardly a factor at the voter-level, be it UP or Punjab. He counts only with ticket-seekers, not with the actual voters. The sooner the Congressmen realise this cold fact, the earlier they would cease bowing down at the door of the Gandhis. People are no longer enamoured of them. They have moved on. Congressmen continue to live in the past, hoping against hope that Rahul, or Priyanka, for that matter, will somehow regain a charismatic connect with the masses. No, they will not.
A peep into recent history
Social media can be a tool for good as well as bad. When a colleague insisted he heard the entire statement of Nathuram Godse during his trial for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi on the popular video site, YouTube, one was truly surprised. How could it be? Hadn’t successive governments for several decades kept Godse’s long but cogent statement, spelling out in detail and with a mind-numbing clinical reasoning why he undertook the dastardly act, kept under wraps?
Nobody was allowed to read or hear his justification for the murder, though underground publishers had circulated what was supposed to be his last words before the court correctly prescribed death for his crime. Godse was not sorry for what he had done. And makes it clear that he undertook the crime after much cogitation. And does not regret it.
A generation of Indians unfamiliar with the historic background to the events leading up to the partition of the subcontinent purely on the basis of religion might find it difficult to understand Godse’s last “testament”, but the older generations will at least have a perspective as to why he did what he did. Of course, only a lunatic can condone murder.
But if you hear Godse make out a case, it will persuade you that the actual crime was committed by those who had abandoned secularism for power. Godse had merely pulled the trigger. Thanks to that idiotic act, the guilty men of the partition went unpunished, and, in fact, were guaranteed to enjoy the fruits of power for decades—a total miscarriage of justice, indeed.