The Narendra Modi government has good reason to feel relieved at Thursday’s outcome. Following the stunning rejection of the Congress, and the no less significant repeat of J. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, it will now be able to provide meaningful governance with added vigour and energy. The nuisance value of the Rahul Gandhi-controlled Congress both in Parliament and outside stands considerably diminished after the party’s rejection in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam.
The Centre can push ahead with major structural reforms, including the game-changer GST, now that the Rahul-Sitaram unwholesome jugalbandi has bitten the dust. Neither Banerjee nor Jayalalithaa need to ally with the Modi government, having won their states on their own. But it always pays to cooperate with the Centre. In return for issue-based cooperation, Jayalalithaa and Banerjee can hope to get a better deal for their states. And Modi can get key reforms, presently stuck due to the blind hostility of the Congress, through in the Rajya Sabha. The point is that Thursday’s outcome will have a salutary effect on governance of the country.
Ordinary people have reason to welcome the decimation of the obstructionist Congress. Under the heir apparent, the grand old party had deserted both reason and common sense, its one-point programme being to oppose Modi. Instead of building itself from the ground up, it stuck to the Delhi-centric drawing-room politics, with its leaders patronising family retainers and sycophants, and giving short shrift to genuine workers.
In Assam, the blow to the Congress would not have been as stunning had Rahul not humiliated Himanta Biswa Sarma, forcing him to join the BJP. Allowing Tarun Gogoi’s MP son, Gaurav, a place in his durbar while ignoring Sarma, a mass leader in his own right, cost the Congress dear. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee seemed to have done what on a national scale Indira Gandhi had way back in the 1971 Lok Sabha poll. Ordinary Bengalis developed sympathy for “a lonely and helpless woman” against whom everyone from the right, left and centre had ganged up. All-against-Mamata got her such a huge sympathy vote that misgovernance, the Narada and Saradah scams, the TMC goon raj, et al became irrelevant. Hopefully, Mamata will desist from aping the CPI(M), which too won successive elections without providing meaningful governance. She must control TMC goons and get down to the business of reindustrialising Bengal, providing jobs and opportunities to Bengalis.
In Assam, the challenge for the BJP will be to deliver on the promise of weeding out illegal migrants. No one can send them back, but at least you can stop further influx and disenfranchise those who came in illegally. Kerala, true to form, has reverted to the rival front, throwing out the scam-ridden UDF.
In Tamil Nadu, this was probably DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s last campaign. He might have wanted to see the favourite son, Stalin, settled in the chief ministerial gaddi. The Tamil voters willed otherwise. The succession war in the Karunanidhi family is bound to be further exacerbated after the debacle. As for Jayalalithaa, she too is no spring chicken, suffering from various debilitating ailments which oblige her to drastically cut down her public appearances. But in the contest between rival freebie packages, hers turned out to be superior. Apportioning the revenues, which are not limitless, between the needs of development and distribution of all manner of freebies can impact growth. She has her job cut out. Also, it may be time for her too to have a game-plan for a post-Jayalalithaa scenario in the AIADMK.
Also, the outcome will impact Nitish Kumar’s ambitions for an all-embracing anti-BJP alliance. Neither Mamata nor Jayalalithaa is likely to endorse his prime ministerial claims, though after Thursday’s outcome Rahul may have no option but to play second fiddle. The election in UP next year will pose a test for the anti-BJP-ism of Sitaram Yechury and Nitish Kumar, though neither has any support in the state. Both Mulayam and Mayawati will pay scant care to Nitish’s self-appointed role as prima donna.
A lot will also depend on how Narendra Modi reaches out to regional satraps, from Mulayam and Maya to Naveen Patnaik and Chandrakshekhar Rao. Since the Congress is reduced to a rump of its former self, the BJP is better placed to strike mutually advantageous alliances with regional chieftains. Should cooperative federalism, which Modi often talks about, come to be actually practised the nation will have reason to celebrate. Verdict 2016 holds lessons for all parties, for none more so than the Family-owned Congress. The Family must loosen its grip if the party is to survive. And the BJP must remain humble and purposeful in its hour of triumph.
Yes, 2019 is still some distance away. Before that we will have elections in Punjab, UP, Karnataka, etc. PM Modi is much better placed for return to power since Congress has ceased to be the natural alternative to replace the BJP at the Centre. A gaggle of ambitious regional leaders seem better placed to challenge PM Modi’s BJP in 2019 than the Rahul Congress. Rahul needs to consider another career option. And grow the family wealth, if possible, while remaining out of politics.
YECHURY ON BACK FOOT
Pragmatic Sitaram Yechury might find himself overwhelmed in the Politburo by the doctrinaire Prakash Karat-led Kerala component whenever it meets next to post-mortem the Bengal rejection. So certain was he of the success of his unholy alliance with the Congress that a few days before the results he was happily brandishing an SMS which gave Mamata a maximum of 100-120 seats, and the Left-Congress combine a clear majority. And to lend the prediction credence, he would helpfully volunteer that it was the assessment of the Intelligence Bureau which was no friend of theirs.
1 CRORE VS 1 LAKH WAGER
The high-profile TMC leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Derek O’Brien, enthusiastically wagered a bet with a journalist on the Bengal outcome at the start of the campaign. He would give Rs 1 crore if the TMC lost while the journalist can give only Rs 1 lakh if it won. But as the campaign gathered pace and at one time looked as if the Left-Congress front might surprise Mamata, Derek seemed to waver. Reminded about the one crore to one lakh wager a few days before the last round of polling, he now said whoever wins can buy the other “lunch in Khan Market”.
If only the TMC leader had not lost the nerve, the journo, would have been poorer by Rs 1 lakh. The journo was lucky. He got away with the price of an expensive meal in a Khan Market eatery.
SABOTEUR IN THE RANKS
After the results, the Trinamool Congress MP from Barrackpore, Dinesh Trivedi, is another sorry politician. He had gleefully written his own party’s obituary rather prematurely. Though not an honourable thing to do, Trivedi lost no opportunity to tell one and all that Mamata was losing the election. A politician without a constituency to call his own, if two years ago at the advent of Modi in New Delhi he was looking at a possible entry into his Cabinet, lately he was hoping for a place in the Congress. Poor fellow! The outcome has made the Congress unattractive and the BJP has no place for him. As for TMC, a number of top leaders are baying for the ingrate’s blood.