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BJP nervously plans for 2019 as popularity nosedives after budget and loss in bypolls

The Week 2018-02-10 03:42:03
(File) Representational image

Will we have the general elections this year?

Suddenly, this seems like a possibility as inner circles of the BJP are discussing it, sensing growing anti-incumbency factors and taking into consideration the drubbing in the recent Rajasthan bypolls.

The BJP lost all the three seats in Rajasthan it previously held to the Congress by huge margins. In Alwar and Ajmer, the Congress vote share shot up by 25 and 11 per cent respectively. It came as a shot in the arm for the party that had been decimated in 2014 when the BJP won all the 25 seats in the state.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has had an uneasy relationship with the BJP Central leadership and now it will be eroded further as she and her style of functioning will come under scrutiny before the parliament elections.

After Raje took over, Rajasthan was seen as the second laboratory of the BJP and the RSS after Gujarat for testing their Hindutva agenda. The state saw a number of hate crimes, incidents of cow vigilantism and enforcing of the narrow RSS worldview in educational institutions.

Sachin Pilot, who led the poll campaign with Ashok Gehlot, a former chief minister, said voters had seen through caste polarisation and divisive agendas.

If that is true, the BJP has reason to worry.

The BJP expected the drubbing in bypolls and this was probably why Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not campaign in Rajasthan the way he did in Gujarat. Failing in Gujarat would have sent wrong signals to the country. Modi and party president Amit Shah ensured that top BJP leaders and ministers campaigned aggressively in Gujarat, but could manage to win just 99 of the 182 assembly seats.

In 2014, the BJP had won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat. It was a major wake up call.

Indications of the shape of things the country is likely to witness were on display when Modi campaigned in the Gujarat elections. Throwing decorum to the winds, he ploughed into the electorate with communal canards and conspiracy theories of how Pakistan was trying to help the Congress win and install a Muslim chief minister. He even named former prime minister Manmohan Singh as one of the conspirators. If that was true, how come such a serious charge was not investigated by top intelligence sleuths?

Gone are the development agendas and the dream of a new India.

Hollow promises

The campaign showed how hollow the promises that he had made to the electorate when he offered hopes of a corruption-free, strong India that would race down the economic highway.

Trouble is piling up. Modi now has to deal with an electorate scrutinising his empty promises of change, development, good governance and a booming economy that would change India.

There is also the collapse of the 2G scam case where all the accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence. This was the scam that the BJP repeated ad nauseam before the 2014 general elections.

Besides, there is the mystery shrouding various deals Modi signed like the Rafale aircraft deal with France. The Congress has called the deal a huge scam, alleging that Modi pushed it to cater to the interests of his crony capitalist friends. This is bound to come up during the next general elections.

Dangerous rhetoric

A close examination of the contents of his speeches at the recent election rallies reveals how the prime minister has been dumbing down values so crucial to a healthy democracy. Signaling that Muslim leaders in the country are in league with Pakistan during election meetings was a communal canard by Modi. The innuendo is dangerous. It did not fit into the image of a statesman and world leader that he wants to inherit.

In election after election in the last three years, such communal missives resulted in collateral damage. More than anything, this rhetoric underlined the insecurity that has gripped Modi after three years. We now see how the politics of hope is exploding into politics of hatred and fear.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, vice chancellor of the Ashoka University, says in shoring his power through conflict, Modi is taking India down the road to ruin.

Will the plank of divisive politics of hatred and polarisation work in the long run? This is something Modi and his chief strategist Amit Shah need to be worried about.

Poll ploys

Suddenly, the upcoming elections in various states are a cause of worry for the BJP. Shah pulled in senior Trinamool leader Mukul Roy into the BJP though there were serious corruption charges against him. He did that also with Maharashtra Congress leader Narayan Rane, who too is facing corruption charges. How this meshes up with Modi’s claim to fight corruption is there for all to see.

Will getting in personalities that have fallen in public grace help win elections? Unlikely.

Besides, the Trinamool won by 4.75 lakh votes in Uluberia bypoll, making Mamata Banerjee once again confident that she could emerge as the face of the opposition in 2019.

The BJP has not been able to dent West Bengal, Tripura or Kerala as the communal card has not worked as it did in states like Uttar Pradesh.

The opposition parties are trying to bond together to take on the BJP and Mamata Banerjee may extend hands if she is given some principle role to play. Clearly, she is looking at a national role in the future.

Uneasy alliances

In Maharashtra, the BJP’s ally, Shiv Sena, has made up its mind to go alone in both the state and Lok Sabha elections.

Uddhav Thackeray has hit out at Modi’s style of functioning. Sena has had an uneasy alliance with the BJP and cracks were showing since long. It will not be long before they part ways to end the two decade-old alliance.

Last year, Sena contested the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation alone and won 81 seats to run the country’s richest municipal body. Uddhav has obviously realized that it is best to go alone as the party cannot grow under the shadow of the BJP.

The Telugu Desam Party—an ally of the BJP—threatened to sever ties if Andhra Pradesh was not given a fair allocation of funds for setting up infrastructure and constructing a new capital at Amravati. The TDP has 16 MPs and the BJP has two in AP. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has tried to douse the anger by talking to Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, but it is going to be a tightrope walk for the BJP leadership to handle him as Jaitley will find it difficult to allocate funds as the finance minister is already strapped by huge allocations made to fulfill budget promises.

There have also been murmurs of protest by other allies like the Shiromani Akali Dal which said allies are being sidelined.

In Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is now realizing that he might as well hold hands with the opposition as he has sensed how the BJP wants to wrest power in the next assembly elections. Patnaik has been in power for the last 17 years. As the BJP was suspected to be wooing BJD’s Kendrapara MP Baijayant Panda, Patnaik swiftly suspended him. The BJP-BJD trouble is unlikely to go away as

Patnaik seems to be determined to put up a fight.

Tough assembly battles

The upcoming assembly polls in Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Rajasthan are also a cause of concern for the saffron party.

In Tripura, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has successfully led the Left Front government for four successive terms. In the last assembly elections, the CPI(M) had won 49 out of the 60 seats. The BJP is doing all it can to make inroads into Tripura.

Nagaland is another hot potato to hold. The civil society groups in the state have given a boycott call to polls, demanding that the Naga political issue be solved once and for all. NSCN (IM)—the armed insurgent outfit in Nagaland—has warned that imposed polls will not be acceptable. Despite boycott call, the saffron party is hoping to make an impact in the state in the elections.

The BJP does not have any presence in Meghalaya, but the party trying to gain foothold by forging some kind of alliance. It got alienated when it tried to enforce beef ban as beef is one of the popular dishes in the state. The BJP then send Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons to Meghalaya to assure them that there won't be such a ban. That the party is using Alphons—a Christian—to woo the voters in the state suggests the intellectual paucity and narrow vision of the party.

Market resentment

The government will also have to face the negative sentiment in the market after the budget. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s last budget in this term was dressed up to show that the party cared for the farmer and the poor. With elections coming up in several states like Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland, this was expected.

There were grandiose announcements like the one for healthcare, but there no clarity on where the money would come from. The government’s ambitious health scheme promises Rs. 5 lakh a year for each of the targeted 10 crore families for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation. Many just laughed it off as another “jumla” of Modi.

Markets are generally a good barometer of business sentiment.

Panic continued to run riot in the markets as investor confidence collapsed soon after the Budget was presented. The Sensex plummeted. It had not seen a fall as this since August 2017. To make matters worse, Fitch ratings said the government’s high debt burden constrained India’s rating upgrade.

Ironically, Modi had recently declared at Davos that India was the most attractive country to invest in. All the hype that his visit there generated had been forgotten when the budget details were out as the middle class felt alienated.

None of the budgets of the Modi government have reflected any sincere desire in terms of solid allotments to areas like improving healthcare, preventing diseases, reforming the education system and boosting agriculture.

If Modi had good advisors whom he would care to heed, he would have learnt to appreciate that India is essentially an agricultural economy and boosting it would only help the economy grow in a robust fashion.

When the last global recession struck, India was one of the few countries that were not seriously impacted as the agricultural economy had enough cash to keep the wheels moving. Rural India had the buying power to keep the money flowing, allowing businesses stay afloat.

Suddenly, Modi is talking about farmers at election meetings in Karnataka, assuring them that the government would ensure that they get good prices for their produce and that their interests will be protected.

With the middle class angry and alienated and the political winds blowing the wrong way, the BJP is not going to have a cakewalk. The next general election is going to be sparkling with a few surprises.

By the way, when was the last time you heard any BJP leader chant that ‘ache din’ slogan?