The third anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, official hype notwithstanding, has been marked by disquiet in the villages of a large part of India due to a farmers’ agitation. On the urban front, concerns about jobless growth (borne out by statistics in the official Economic Survey) has somewhat dampened spirits. Opposition parties have rallied round the only national party in its ranks, Congress, and Sonia Gandhi has emerged as the pivot of the move for anti-Modi politics. The Aam Aadmi Party has been kept out of Opposition powwow, as other parties respected Congress’ aversion to AAP. For the first time since May 2014, when BJP swept everyone aside and rode to power on the glory of Modi’s popularity and Amit Shah’s organisational skills, the Opposition seems to be at a takeoff stage in the run-up to 2019. And at this juncture the heir-apparent of the Congress mantel, Rahul Gandhi, has decided to take off for foreign shores. He cited his maternal grandmother’s advanced age (93) and said he was going to meet her. A noble thought. His 47th birthday being on 19 June, of course, raised questions about the intent of the sojourn. Year after year, Congress workers have held havan and cut a cake in front of Rahul’s portrait on 19 June, as he prefers to be abroad on this day. Thus, his absence this year would not have been unusual, but for the unprecedented circumstances prevailing in India’s political scenario. Apparently, the choice of candidate for President of India is not of much importance for the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru. Or is other parties’ lack of confidence in his ability the reason for Congress choosing to parley sans Rahul?
The BJP spokesperson has gone to the extent of saying that Rahul treats politics as a “picnic”. This despite the fact that days before his sudden flight to Europe he had visited many trouble spots. He ticked off Sandeep Dixit for his disparaging remark against the Army chief. His political statements from the trouble spots were not lightweight stuff. A week earlier, Rahul went to Amritsar’s Golden Temple as an ordinary pilgrim, stood in the queue and accepted karha prasad. This visit, which came within days of belligerence by a section of pilgrims on the anniversary of Operation Blue Star, went practically unnoticed in the media. While planning his trip abroad this time round, Rahul seems to have taken the advice he got from Sharad Pawar seriously and thus tweeted before leaving, unlike his sudden disappearances in the past. The Congress spokesman has tried to justify the grandmother angle, but he was skating on thin ice. The “picnic” remark of BJP superseded all defence that Congress could offer.
Three years of Modi rule have seen many positive changes. Initiatives launched by the government will take time to germinate. The fact is that rate of unemployment has grown and job creation has slowed down. Make in India; Digital India; Standup India; Smart Cities and Swachh Bharat have not progressed in the desired pace.
Three years of Modi rule have seen many positive changes. Initiatives launched by the government will take time to germinate. The fact is that rate of unemployment has grown and job creation has slowed down. Make in India; Digital India; Standup India; Smart Cities and Swachh Bharat have not progressed in the desired pace. IT companies have not added jobs in Digital India. Manufacturing has not shown any remarkable growth. Many start-ups have failed to take off. Smart cities are only heard of, not seen. Foreign investment has not shown any spurt.
In the first decade of Independence, there was an interaction between a young Leftist leader elected as an Independent to the Lok Sabha and Jawaharlal Nehru. There was food shortage due to drought in Uttar Pradesh and the Prime Minister asked the MPs from the state to assure the people that the government was doing its bit. “Logon se haunsla rakhne ko kahiye (tell the people not to lose hope)”, Nehru said. The young MP stumped the PM by saying, “Panditji, UP ke logon mein bahut haunsla hai—us haunsle ke prateek aap hain. Roti aate se banti hai, haunsle se nahin (People of UP have a lot of hope—you represent that hope. Bread is made from atta, not from hope).”
People have faith in Modi. They have hope. But for the first time in three years social media has negative posts about the ruling dispensation. The farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh has echo in Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and even in Gujarat. Loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh, necessitated by BJP’s poll plank, has brought in its train demands countrywide. Farm production has increased. The added supply has crashed prices. Small and marginal farmers are the worst hit. Unplanned imports have added the farmers’ woe. Situation is such that an ally of the ruling NDA, Swabhimani Shetkar Sangathan leader, Raju Shetti, has met Opposition stalwarts and called for an agitation.
There is a learning for India’s Opposition from the recent British elections. For years, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn was seen as a “non-performing asset”. The increase in Opposition seats and reduction of Conservatives to a minority, dependent on outside support, has suddenly taken the NPA tag off from Corbyn. In 2019, BJP’s popularity will be put to test. Hope in Modi is not reduced. Will a Jeremy Corbyn emerge in India—who will improve the Opposition’s profile in the run up to 2019? For this, Congress may have to be magnanimous—Nitish Kumar or Mamata Banerjee could perhaps be relied upon.