I am indeed astounded and stunned.
How could the Hero from the `moral’ victory in Gujarat suddenly turn into Zero? And how could the steadily declining fortunes of the BJP suddenly turn into a landslide victory in Tripura?
Well, trust the media, especially the left liberal type, to change the narrative at the drop of a hat. The UP ke ladke wave turned out to be a massive Modi tsunami and now Gujarat’s moral defeat for the BJP has transformed into a virtual takeover of the North East.
On the other hand, the narrative on the right rarely acknowledges the increasing blips on the BJP radar and glosses over the emerging cracks in BJP citadel, notwithstanding its relentless march across India.
The truth, my friend, lies somewhere in the middle.
Wake up now at least and Smell the Coffee
Ever since Modi was anointed PM candidate for the BJP, there was more than mere disquiet in Lutyen’s Delhi. The fact that he won was like blasphemy to the intelligentsia faithful. Rather than understand the ground realities, they came up with 31:69 theory. BJP won just 31% of the votes and so 69% of India is against BJP. Guess what, Nehru won 48% of vote share in 1957 and Rajiv the same 48% after Indira’s assassination in 1984 – were 52% of India against them? In the same vein, was 81% then against the Congress in 2014? In 2009, Congress got 29% – did these folks question why 71% voted otherwise? Just bizarre!
Fascism – a favourite word among the left-liberals. Remember the petition of more than 100 intellectuals that India will become a fascist country if Modi is elected. 4 years later, Indian democracy is still alive and kicking. Look at the irony – the left-liberal establishment is today claiming that EVMs are tampered while Modi tweets “Long live democracy”. That says it all.
It took a while before the left-liberal brigade grudgingly accepted that Modi is indeed the PM of India. I am not sure if they have come to terms with the fact that Yogi A is now CM of Uttar Pradesh. The fact that a rustic Lalu Prasad running a criminal syndicate-government in Bihar or the suave CPI(M) intellectuals running the `harmad bahini’ in Bengal were once toast of the town reflects the sheer hypocrisy of the Lutyen’s Delhi.
That was then. Now is different. A majority BJP government under Modi is quite different from a rag tag coalition set up. The reluctance of the Lutyen’s brigade to accept the change in status quo, and more importantly, to understand why so, lies at the heart of their changing narratives.
Clutching at straws
It is, therefore, left clutching at straws.
Any bad news for the Modi government is good news. A sliver of hope. A ray of sunshine. Anything will do. Yesterday Kejriwal. Then Nitish. And then Mamata. And Akhilesh. And then Rahul 2.0.
Delhi was the Kejriwal revolution that misfired. The Bihar grand alliance soon became a grand failure. Mamata’s goons finished the left in Bengal. Akhilesh was too gullible to believe in the media narrative and not in the public one. And Rahul – a perpetual coming of age that’s not coming!
Demonetisation – this issue could have been such a potent weapon for the left-liberal. While it remained like a deer caught in the headlights, Modi snatched away the political narrative. Today, it is just a footnote.
The latest was Gujarat. The moral victory hailed by the left-liberal media was in fact a Congress defeat. The real story of the Gujarat elections was the success of Hardik and Jignesh, without which the Congress campaign would have been a disaster. 10% of vote share – that’s what the Congress reaped from the Gujarat youth leaders. Not from the temple-hopping Rahul Gandhi 2.0 which was portrayed by the Lutyen’s media.
The tendency to clutch at any fragile straw that comes their way is the reason why the left-liberal establishment has lost credibility. There is no consistent narrative which they own. Nationalism, socialism, secularism – their version of the narrative has been found to be rather too opportunistic and hypocritical in the new age politics championed by Modi.
Fraying at the edges
But all is not hunky and dory on the right side.
The Gujarat scare and the Rajasthan by-polls come as a stark reminder to the right brigade that 2019 is not a done deal. There is an unmistakable waft in the air of redolent smoke oozing from a stalling BJP engine. The narrative of a resurgent BJP fresh from its victories in UP or North-east cannot hide the enormity of the challenge the BJP faces in its traditional bastions. The cow story has run its course and the milk is drying. Love jihad has its uses, but more in a local context. With 21 states in the BJP fold, development assumes critical importance. This is where narrative will matter – BJP versus the opposition.
The Congress has more than a fighting chance in Karnataka and Rajasthan. If it can sustain the momentum in these states and put its house in order in MP and Chattishgarh, it can clearly put the BJP on the back foot before the general elections.
With the run-up to the next general elections, none other than the BJP allies are showing up to be its worst enemies. But then that’s politics. A hung Parliament will suit the opposition – it will suit the BJP allies even more. Side-lined and left out of wet ministries, they cannot demand their pound of flesh in this regime. But everything’s possible in the next one. And sure they have company in the left-liberal brigade a.k.a. Radia tapes redux.
The Emperor has no clothes
The key to the next elections is the Congress. This is because the critical states for BJP where it got sweeping victories in 2014 are bi-polar states where the Congress was the principal opponent. Big gains, if any, will come from these states – Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, Chattisgarh, Karnataka.
This is where the BJP strategy to keep discrediting the Congress comes to play. If it can even keep 70-80% of the seats it reaped in these states in 2014, it will have a good shot for a majority in 2019 by compensating from other states.
And has the Congress learnt the right lessons from 2014? Not really. No attempt to strengthen grassroots, limited efforts to foster local leadership, no organisation change and removal of deadwood, no alternative narrative to counter the BJP. Just two tangible changes are visible – Rahul Gandhi has been elevated to Party President and he has suddenly discovered Hinduism.
Well, the emperor has no clothes and no one can really tell him that.
The problem with Rahul Gandhi is a fundamental one – and that relates to fundamentals. Politics is about everything – history, law, culture, economics, technology, diplomacy, statecraft, governance – and how to bring to bear these elements to deliver development. And above all it is about leadership. Leadership that develops and communicates a coherent vision. Leadership that inspires and brings people together under an umbrella. Leadership that outwits and defeats opponents.
Basic building blocks are the foundation to a successful politician. If you have neglected the basics for 45 years, then you cannot make it up in just two. A crash course in Stanford cannot make you clear IIT. The repositioning of Rahul Gandhi post-Berkeley cannot hide the obvious deficiencies in his weak grasp on politics and things that matter in politics. Funda clear nahi hai, Bhai!
Well, in fortuitous circumstances he could still become the PM. But, I doubt whether he can be a good one.
Cat among the pigeons
The BJP’s win in UP and now the one in Tripura has virtually let loose the proverbial cat among the pigeons. The opposition parties are running helter skelter, and the ones still left standing are struggling to guard their fences.
We will see varied responses from different categories of pigeons.
- The mother pigeon, Congress, will try to keep the brood together and lead a frontal counter-attack
- The strong pigeons that are still standing (Mamta, KCR, Stalin, NCP, Kejriwal) will try to take a dominant role in order to feign mother pigeon status and to avoid a similar rout in their home state. Naveen is the only strong one who can guard his citadel by staying neutral.
- The mortally injured pigeons (Lalu, Mayawati, Akhilesh, Left) will need a hand to rise up – they will work with any alliance that can save them from obscurity.
Most interesting will be how the BJP allies react. Some will continue to align with BJP (JD(U), Akalis) , others like the Shiv Sena or TDP may join the opposition alliance or tread an independent path. Best of Luck!
The Cat is, obviously, aware of all these possibilities. It has at its behest a plethora of instruments to coax, deter, incentivise or intimidate the pigeons. Trust the BJP to use these and more. Politics 101.
Bringing Nitish to his side was possibly the best masterstroke played by Modi. In one stroke, Modi removed the most credible pigeon from the opposition. A pigeon who, unlike others, had a counter narrative and the ability to articulate it. Persuasively, effectively and in a manner that was strikingly in contrast to Modi. Modi removed the veritable Anti-Modi from the contest. Or has he?
It will ebb and flow
Between now and May 2019, there will be at key events that will also influence and shape the ultimate outcome.
- Karnataka elections – the next straw for the left-liberal brigade. If Congress wins, its Rahul 3.0. Else wait for the next round of elections where it will hope and pray it does better.
- MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh Elections – Often dubbed as the semi-finals, this will provide momentum to whichever party that wins. My guess is BJP may bring forward the general elections if it wins Karnataka; else it will go all out for these states before the general elections.
- Triple Talaq: The passage of this bill will be critical for the BJP. It will reposition the Congress and opposition with the obscurantists and with the non-progressives, fueling the narrative of appeasement in the guise of secularism.
- Ram Mandir: By far, the most critical factor. Should there be a SC decision before elections, this will resonate the most in 2019. BJP is primed to take advantage of it, win or lose.
- Corruption cases: A double-edged sword that can hurt the UPA or NDA. Currently, being in power, the NDA gains with insider knowledge and controlled leaks. The Chidambaram episode will be salient, depending on how it fares with the judiciary. I also think that the National Herald case will have consequences for the Congress. Modi is going big on the corruption issue and make this as a key differentiating factor – I think more skeletons are going to come out.
- Pakistan: The favourite whipping boy. And for whipping up more than a sense of nationalism. Admittedly, they deserve it. But, a little bit of chest-thumping and machismo never hurt politics, did it?
Times have changed. So has politics. I am not sure whether the Lutyens brigade has understood the enormity of change happening or the reason thereof. Or for that matter whether the Right. The overtly dominant Hindu narrative from the right and the lack of a consistent one from the opposition gives cause for concern.
A changing global order characterised by a closing America and a bulldozing China requires a stable government at home, a strong polity, a decisive leadership and effective socio-economic development with communal harmony. Who can deliver it? It’s anybody’s guess.