By: Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, has had it great till now. Despite having the dubious distinction of leading Gujarat as its Chief Minister during modern India's worst riot – the Godhra carnage – he spearheaded his party BJP to four consecutive victories in the state. Not to mention his victorious march to the 7, Lok Kalyan Marg after the 2014 elections and the BJP's amazing rally to lap up 21 states under his leadership.
He demonetised 86 percent of the Indian currency and brought in a draconian tax regime by the name of GST. It introduced five different slabs of taxation that change by the region and was responsible for killing 2 percent of the country's GDP. Yet people were convinced that Modi had introduced the 'One Nation One Tax' policy and hailed him as a game changer. Indeed Modi seemed invincible and was set to further rise up the hillock. But, not so anymore!
Now, there exist two distinct possibilities ahead of the next general elections – one that Modi faces a united opposition consisting of the resurgent Congress and most of the regional parties and two that he rides a wave of popular sentiments where he is billed as the solitary honest man. At this point though, the first possibility seems stronger and I have ten reasons to believe so.
Before getting any further, it is important to understand that the next Lok Sabha elections are expected to be preponed and held within 2018 along with the elections for 8 to 10 state assemblies notwithstanding the Karnataka assembly results. If BJP triumphs in Karnataka, they would want to maintain the winning streak and if they lose, they would want to get done with the general elections before sentiments dip further.
Now, let me again get back to the point wherein I contend that the Modi-Shah led BJP is on the decline right now.
Disillusionment and Resultant Desertion by the Allies
BJP's oldest ally Shiv Sena recently announced that it will go alone during the next general elections. Their current alliance with BJP is primarily dictated by power compulsion. However, with the Maharashtra assembly polls likely during the general elections due to the uncertainty of the alliance, BJP is set to lose an ally.
The first person to endorse Modi as the PM candidate, outside the BJP, was the TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu. His recent decision to walk out of the NDA and move a no-confidence motion against the government should not be seen in isolation. As BJP tries to undermine the identity of regional players, a counteroffensive becomes inevitable. TDP was pushed to the corner by the BJP's refusal to accord special status to Andhra Pradesh. Naidu's survival depends on his commitment to regionalism and his agenda is not the same as that of the BJP. So, a divorce was inevitable.
As regionalism becomes primordial in India, Indian politics is set to become interesting over the next few months. As every state stands up for its own interests, watch out for the silent BJP allies like Nitish Kumar. Their loyalty to the BJP in the evolving milieu will soon come under the scanner. The same holds for Punjab's Akali Dal as well, which has already expressed discontent. Not to mention that a separation with the Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu and Kashmir government is just a question of time in the current violent situation in J&K.
A Consolidation of the Regional Rivals
The coming together of unlikely allies in the Parliament on the issue of special status to Andhra Pradesh is symbolic of what might happen when the General Elections are held. If the Congress, TDP and YSR Congress can come together; so can the other regional forces.
The bigger story, though, is the unification of Dalit-friendly BSP led by Mayawati and the Muslim-OBC-friendly SP led by Akhilesh Yadav. While, the SP clinched Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies, the BSP is set to take a Rajya Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh with SP's help. This turns the tables in UP where BJP won 72 of the 80 seats during the last general elections.
It is 1989 once again for Indian politics. Back then, the Left and the Right had propped up V.P. Singh to keep the Congress at bay. There may not be a big pan-India alliance or even one coalition. Modi's rivals may arrange themselves in various formations.
Rise of the State-First Sentiment
There is a definite focus on the 'state-first' slogan in addition to a consolidation of the federal forces. The Karnataka Congress is going further and showing a Karnataka-first approach which BJP can't counter at this point in time. Ironically, the idea of pitting regional forces against the BJP's brand of politics is being tested first, ironically, by another national party. In Karnataka, the Congress has given up all pretensions of being a pan-India party. The CM Siddaramaiah has donned the garb of a politician dedicated to the interest of his state creating its own flag and arguing for Lingayatism as a separate religion.
The Aggressive Anti-BJP Stance of the Regional Rulers
Every regional leader is now itching to revolt against the BJP. Mamata Banerjee, Chandrasekhar Rao, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Naveen Patnaik and even Uddhav Thackeray are ready to counter the BJP's aggression. In this new polity, where the BJP is claiming to put India first, albeit, through questionable slogans, the counter cries of 'my-state-first' is rising to a crescendo.
The created hurdles for the AAP-led Delhi government, threats of prosecution against Mamata Banerjee's second line of leaders, BJP inspired defection of BJD leaders, crafted political tensions in Kerala and governmental trust deficit in Jammu and Kashmir – everything has led to this anti-Modi stand adopted by the regional parties.
Joblessness and Agrarian Distress
Coming with the promise of creating two crore new jobs a year that ended in the creation of a paltry 20 lakh jobs, Modi's development plank stands exposed. The IT sector, the realty sector and the retail sector are actually reducing their workforces.
The recent farmers' protests across various states including the Kisan Long March have brought the agrarian distress to the forefront. The government has failed to give Minimum Support Prices, which are 50 percent higher than the cost of production, implement Forest Rights Act for tribal cultivators without land rights, and waive loans.
Social Disharmony and Minority-Dalit-Tribal Bonhomie
Winning the mandate on a development plank and squandering it for trivial issues like Love Jihad, cow vigilantism, Ghar Wapsi, Padmavati and the likes; the Modi government has worsened the social harmony index. Alongside, attacks on Dalits in various states have led to an increasing Dalit disenchantment with the current rulers despite the tokenism to appoint a Sanghi Dalit as the Indian President. With the rise of Dalit icons like Jignesh Mevani, Prakash Ambedkar and others; there is evidently a minority-Dalit bonhomie, which will get a further fillip with Mayawati, Akhilesh and Laloo coming under the same umbrella. The farmer discontent across many states is bringing a large section of tribal population closer to this axis.
Foreign Policy Failures & Border Skirmishes
India, under Modi, has failed to dissuade China from getting entrenched in the Doklam region near Bhutan, failed to win over Nepal after a suicidal economic blockade of the landlocked Himalayan nation, failed to raise large-scale investments from abroad in spite of endless trips of the PM (except from Japan) and failed to put a break in Pakistani violations of the Line of Control leading to a larger number of Indian soldiers being killed on the border in the last 4 years.
Crony Capitalism, NPAs & Growth Challenges
The Indian banking system is gasping for breath with NPAs increasing to nearly 9 lac crores, more than double of what it was when Modi took over. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and many others have shown in quick succession how vulnerable the banking fundamentals are. While growth has plummeted to 2 percent after the twin blows of demonetization and GST, SMEs are facing closures. Although, the high profile PR exercises at Davos and Moody's ratings created some positivity, the ground reality remains bleak and more so with low investments.
Hollowness of the Anti-Corruption Plank & Alienation of the Intelligentsia
Indira Gandhi coined the famous slogan, "They want to defeat Indira, we want to vanish poverty" and came to power. Modi wants to do the Indira act coining the slogan, "They want to defeat Modi, I want to defeat corruption". The government also claimed to eliminate black money through demonetization. However, the actual scenario is different. Black money stashed abroad hasn't been brought back, the same amount of cash demonetized has been pumped into the system, appointment of Lokpal hasn't been made yet, no action has been taken against Robert Vadra and 2G Scam-tainted leaders and the CBI is behaving like a caged-parrot. The Rafael deal with a huge price differential from UPA times is another nail in the coffin. The army has no funds and a crony capitalist with no defence production experience gets the procurement and servicing contract of defence products.
The intelligentsia is aggrieved too. Nobody forced the government to promise us Rs. 15 lakh each. Nobody forced Modi to wear a wildly expensive suit. Nobody forced the BJP to use Photoshop and fake images. Nobody forced the BJP to appoint prehistoric sexist moralists in high posts. Nobody forced its silence over horrific lynching episodes of Muslims and Dalits. No one forced it to treat protesting students like criminals, or threaten Pakistan on national television. Nobody made it force Aadhaar down the throats of unwilling citizens. Nobody told it to jettison a competent RBI governor. Nobody forced it to start dictating citizens' personal choices. Nobody made it turn nationalism into a bigot's weapon. Nobody asked it to trample science under superstition and religion. Nobody asked it to force digital transactions on a nation where bank access, data connectivity, and electricity are partial at best. But each f these was done and blatantly and often hopelessly justified using a pliant media.
BJP's Internal Challenge
Apart from the Advani-Joshi-Sinha populated BJP Margdarshak Mandal and others like Shatrughan Sinha, several current central ministers like Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh are unhappy with the concentration of power in the hands of the PM. Challenges are also being posed by Yogi Adityanath from within the party, Pravin Togadia from outside the party and Subramanian Swamy somewhere in between against the Modi-Shah dispensation. One conspiracy theory today is that party president Amit Shah ensured the defeat of the party candidate in Gorakhpur by choosing a lightweight candidate to cut Yogi to size ahead.
BJP's Biggest Strength: Congress
If BJP wins again, it will be purely due to the Congress. Congress is currently ruling in only three states and the party president is very young and inexperienced. With the party currently in disarray, it will still be upon the oldest political party of India to show maturity and bring all anti-BJP forces together. Will Congress exhibit that realism? Will it accept a non-Congress leadership this time to get BJP out of the way and wait for Rahul Gandhi for another day? This remains a million dollar question.
On Dussehra, Modi provided the perfect visual metaphor. He raised a bow to shoot an arrow into the effigy of Ravana, failed twice and then just threw the arrow a lame couple of feet. A grand set-up for an embarrassing flop!
(The writer is currently the School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and had been the Dean of Media of Symbiosis and Amity Universities earlier.)