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Modi-magic Faces Challenge, Time for Survival War

 

Written By : Sankhadip Das
Kolkata, India
Photo Credit: Prem Singh

The faith has died. People reposed, destiny disposed.

The faith that Narendra Modi would be the sole rescuer of the nation; the people’s trust that Modi was the Messiah who would bless us with achhe din; he was the leader who would put an end to all social and political insecurities, corruption and instabilities, is just no more.

What is worse, the trust collapsed not because of failure or inefficient delivery. It collapsed because of lack of political will to deliver on promises. The intention came under doubt. The goalposts were shifted as soon as power was theirs. Social welfare, jobs and security were instantly replaced by Swachh Bharat, Yoga, cow vigilantism and religious supremacy. Those who promised two crores new jobs every year started counting pakoda sellers and pan shops as new employment. The chants of sabka saath, sabka vikas paved way for Hindutva agenda. The language of the rulers changed; the self-proclaimed sevak started to turn into an oppressor. The sense of fall was alarming because of the moon that was promised. Any realistic promise would not have created such disappointment.  

That’s what should worry Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he goes to the people again in 2019, or later in 2018, to get the mandate renewed. If surveys still suggest he is leading the popularity chart, it is more a commentary on the absence of a challenger whom ordinary voters can identify with. That is not a pre-requisite for change as circumstantial logic will accord acceptability on a suitable alternative. There is no denying the fact that the circumstantial logic is turning against Modi. That is because the trust has been broken.  

While ordinary people digested policy shocks like demonetization in the fond hope of achhe din – which primarily meant economic security and social equality – the rich and powerful waited in vain for exceptional dynamism in policy-making that would take their businesses to soaring heights. The poor suffered because of deepening rural distress and shrinking job opportunities, the rich were dismayed because of deteriorating investment climate and slowing economic activities. Short-term disruptions by GST and intensified tax terrorism added to their woes as they could not take advantage of the rising tide of global economic recovery. Though the rich and powerful may still continue to invest in Modi as the main challenger Rahul Gandhi has not tried to establish any rapport with them, what will hurt him is the doubt in the minds of the poor about his intentions. 

There is no denying the fact that Modi will find it extremely difficult to renew the social contract he was given by the people across the country. The main contractual obligation – of substantial improvement in their economic well-being – has not been fulfilled. Modi has won elections in states but more and more people have begun to see him as a leader who can clobber his rivals through political guile and bulldozing tactics but cannot deliver on his promises. His welfare schemes have been largely rhetorical; falling short of the expectations created by the enchanting achhe din dream. If he goes back to the people with a new set of promises, people will receive it with suspicion.

Gujarat demonstrated how the tide was ebbing and the rural areas were particularly angry with the Modi Government’s policies. He had to resort to all kinds of tricks to save Gujarat. Eventuality of Karnataka election showed how circumstances can change the logic of accepting a new alternative. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh… etc, Modi factor may come under much greater stress and the result could be more distressing. The anti-incumbency in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh is peaking while Rajasthan has almost given up on the BJP in just one term. In key Uttar Pradesh, an alliance between Samajwadi Party and the BSP may leave the BJP maimed, while Bihar may also be challenging because of the sympathy factor for Lalu Yadav and the decline of Nitish Kumar’s popularity. In another big state Maharashtra, things will become very difficult for the BJP if Shiv Sena fights alone and the Congress aligns with Sharad Pawar’s NCP.

A large number of people will still vote for him because his credentials as a Hindutva protagonist remain intact, even enhanced. But that element was embedded in people’s psyche in 2014 also and hence there will be substantial decline in his following in almost every state of the country. Losses will be significant in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Haryana where the BJP peaked, winning almost all the available seats. It could lose over 100 seats in this region itself. With anti-incumbency catching up in other reasonably good states like Maharashtra, Assam and Karnataka, the number could tot up to 150. Of the new catchment areas the BJP has set its sight on, only the North-East appear promising as Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala may remain out of bounds for a party that relies solely on Modi phenomenon for its survival.

This grim scenario looks possible at a stage when the opposition is still unorganized and no leader has been projected as yet. Once the Congress consolidates its position by winning Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and projects Rahul Gandhi as a realistic challenger, the BJP’s position may look more vulnerable. This makes one thing clear: The BJP won’t have a clear majority in the next election. Modi with 200 odd seats may not be Modi at all. While garnering support to make for the shortfall would be extremely difficult for the BJP with Modi at the helm, while replacing him with a lesser mortal will not be an easy exercise either. 

Even if all these conclusions seem feasible to you, Modi is not one who will succumb so easily. He will put all his might to disrupt normalcy of electoral calculations and create a situation where the temperature and pressure are optimized to work in his favor. He has already shown his potential in blasting us with his extraordinary decision of Demonetization. Now, brace yourselves for what may be the death throes as he fights for survival in 2019.

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