Soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had wanted “ten years to take the country into the 21st century”. By all accounts, he is on course to realise his wish. Regardless of what the Opposition might do between now and the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019, one thing is fairly clear: it will be a huge miracle if it can deny Modi a second five-year term. The Modi-led BJP is set to dominate the national polity in the foreseeable future. Period.
Let us explain. Before the stunning outcome in UP, it was reasonable to argue that in 2019, Modi could still return to power, albeit with a reduced majority. Political pundits were almost unanimous in concluding that even if the BJP were to drop a hundred-odd seats, it would still be in a commanding position to form government. Its tally of say, 182 seats, would be enough to attract other smaller groups to take it to the half-way mark of 272 in the 17th Lok Sabha.
However, given the disarray in the Congress Party, and, consequently, the complete absence of hope of a credible alternative, it would be a huge surprise if the party leaped into three figures from the current 44 in the next Lok Sabha. Besides, with the Congress failing to untie itself from Rahul Baba’s little finger, it might be hard for it to locate partners willing to bolster his claim to prime ministership. Other regional groups might still do well in their states, but none would individually have more than 40-odd seats to be able to stake claim for leadership of the non-BJP bloc. The complete absence of a challenger with a pan-Indian following would continue to be another vital asset for Modi.
The above composition of the next Lok Sabha was a strong probability before 11 March, not after that. Of course, the unforeseen can alter the current scenario, but, as of now, Modi is most likely to repeat the 2014 feat. For, the unprecedented result in Uttar Pradesh is proof that the Lok Sabha win was no fluke. He has endeared himself to the UP voter like no other leader before him. Mere caste and community aggregations do not explain this kind of a wash-out of the Opposition. It was the personal popularity of the Prime Minister, which, in the end, smote away all non-NDA parties.
With a BJP government in place in Lucknow, it is quite possible for the party to retain a huge chunk of the 73 seats it won in 2014. Elsewhere too, after the 11 March blitz, the regional chieftains will feel suitably chastened as to desire the security of pre-poll seat-sharing alliances with the BJP ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the AIADMK, in the absence of a strong leader like Jayalalithaa, would find it profitable to seek safety against poaching by DMK by entering into an alliance with the BJP. Or, even the DMK might want to hold Modi’s hand, especially if the old patriarch Karunanidhi is rendered inactive and Stalin feels threatened by the recalcitrance of half-brother Alagiri.
The point being that a strong and popular leader like Modi, who has no one to challenge him at the national level, is sitting pretty to choose newer partners, while the old ones are doubly keen, post-UP poll, to continue the mutually beneficial alliance. Cleverly, Modi has reached out to the very sections which had not long ago constituted the core support-base of the Congress Party, that is, the poor farm hands, artisans, daily wagers, industrial workers, the huge unemployed army et al. While the traditional Jana Sangh-BJP base of Brahmin, Bania and the urban middle class had nowhere else to go, it was by roping in the far more numerous masses that Modi stitched up a winning alliance of the haves and the have-nots at the polling booth.
However, another way to understand Modi’s apparent invincibility is by taking a look at the Opposition. Let us begin with Naveen Patnaik. Into his third term, he is losing some of the steam, as the recent panchayat polls reveal. The clear gainer was the BJP. He will be happy to support Modi in New Delhi, especially if the BJP were to revive the alliance at the state level for the next Assembly polls. No one from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, as of now, bids fair to offer a credible challenge to Modi. After the UP shout-out, Mamata Banerjee has suitably toned down her anti-Modi rhetoric, now actually talking of cooperation with the Centre, though she remains strong enough to retain power in Bengal as and when the next Assembly elections are held.
Mayawati before 11 March was a viable sectional leader, though without much presence outside UP. After 11 March, her capacity to play solo even in UP has come into question. That leaves Nitish Kumar. The Bihar Chief Minister was probably the only non-BJP leader not to have abused Modi for demonentisation. He was proved right. But he cuts a sorry figure on the national scene, given the rising existentialist problems for the Bihar alliance stemming from Lalu Yadav’s increasingly demanding brood.
Indeed, the real challenge to Modi does not come from the Opposition. No. It stems from the performance of his government. Should he allow the popular perception to grow that there is little or no improvement at the ground level, there is bound to be a severe blowback. However, a consummate 24x7 politician with no known or hidden diversions, Modi is too smart not to deliver quite a few tangibles for the masses for them to return him to power for yet another five-year term. As for Rahul Baba, well, he can plan a long break from the failing family business, especially when, unlike quite a few others in the Opposition who still have pockets of regional influence, Rahul’s grip on the hitherto family fiefdoms of Amethi and Rai Bareli has slipped precariously.
PC OUT OF BOUNDS FOR MEDIA
P. Chidambaram’s very name is enough to put the media on guard. The former UPA minister has acquired a reputation for going after journalists should they dare to report anything unflattering. On the other hand, Chidambaram’s long-time tormentor Subramanian Swamy, thanks to his constant spewing of charges against all and sundry has made him controversial for much of the mainstream media. As a result, very often the BJP MP’s serious charges of malfeasance against the former Finance Minister go unreported.
But conscientious journalists owe it to themselves to report without fear what are after all serious charges of wrong-doing. The other day at a press conference in the capital, Swamy alleged that Chidambaram has hidden foreign assets and provided the addresses of two pricey properties in Cambridge, UK. These, he alleged, were jointly owned by Chidambaram’s wife Nalini and his son Karti’s wife Srinidhi. He alleged that the money came from various companies floated by Karti. Swamy also referred to commissions allegedly paid by a Russian bank, which had dealings with a public sector bank. Aside from a lone English daily, the media appears to have blacked out the press conference, though Swamy maintained that the charges were based on documents unearthed by the I-T Department and the Enforcement Directorate during raids on Karti’s business empire. However, sources close to Chidambaram and his son Karti deny all these allegations.