Race to 2019
Narendra Modi has had an enviable race so far. Nevertheless, some challenges appear to be cropping up
Rarely, in recent times, has any world leader had it as smooth as Narendra Modi. He spearheaded his party to four consecutive victories in the states. Not to mention his victorious march to the 7, Lok Kalyan Marg after the 2014 elections and BJP's amazing rally to lap up 21 states under his leadership. Despite some hotly debated policy moves, PM Modi seemed invincible. But, he is not entirely unchallenged anymore, especially after the by-elections and the Karnataka polls!
Now, there exist two distinct possibilities – one, that Modi faces a united opposition comprising of the resurgent Congress and a majority regional parties; second, that he rides a wave of popular sentiment 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.
Disillusionment and desertion
BJP's oldest ally, Shiv Sena, recently announced that it will go alone during the next general elections. With the Maharashtra Assembly polls likely during the general elections, BJP is set to lose an ally. The first person to endorse Modi as the PM candidate, outside BJP, was TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu. His recent decision to walk out of NDA and move a no-confidence motion against the government should not be seen in isolation. As every state stands up for its own interests, watch out for the silent BJP allies like Nitish Kumar and Ramvilas Paswan, the political weathercock. The same holds for Punjab's Akali Dal, which has also already expressed discontent. Not to mention that a separation with the Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu & Kashmir government could just be a question of time given the Valley's volatile political atmosphere.
Consolidation of regional rivals
The coming together of unlikely allies in the Parliament on the issue of special status to Andhra Pradesh, and coming to power of an alliance government led by a smaller regional power JD(S) in Karnataka are symbolic of what might happen when the General Elections are held. If Congress, TDP and YSR Congress can come together or if JD(S) and Congress can come together, so can the other regional forces. The bigger story, though, is the close ties between Dalit-friendly BSP and the Muslim-OBC-friendly SP. While the SP clinched the Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies, RLD is set to take a Kairana seat in Uttar Pradesh with SP-BSP support. It is 1989 once again for Indian politics. Back then, the Left and the Right had propped up VP Singh to keep Congress at bay.
There is a definite focus on the 'state-first' slogan. The Karnataka Congress showed a Karnataka-first approach which BJP could not counter effectively. State-first sentiments are strong in Bengal's TMC, Telangana TRS, Andhra's TDP and Tamil Nadu's DMK – they all are coming together with their mutually exclusive spheres of influence against their common national adversary BJP. 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. The manufactured 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 J&K have all 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 vulnerable. The IT sector, the realty sector and the retail sector are reducing their workforces. The recent farmers' protests across various states including the Kisan Long March have brought agrarian distress to the forefront. The Kisan bodies are preparing for a mega national protest on August 9 with the slogan, 'BJP, Quit India'. The government has failed to give Minimum Support Prices, which are 50 per cent higher than the cost of production or even implement Forest Rights Act for tribal cultivators without land rights, and waive loans with transparency.
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 social harmony index has been compromised. Alongside, attacks on Dalits in various states have led to an increasing disenchantment among the Dalits. With the rise of Dalit icons like Jignesh Mevani, Prakash Ambedkar and others, there is an evident minority-Dalit bonhomie, which will get a further fillip with Mayawati, Akhilesh, and Laloo coming under the same umbrella.
Policy failures and 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, 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 Pakistan's violations of the Line of Control leading to a number of Indian soldiers being killed on the border in the last four years. There is now a spate of informal visits to nations like China and Russia resulting in not much.
The Indian banking system is gasping for breath with NPAs increasing to eight lakh crores, more than double of what it was when Modi took over. The State Bank posted its last quarter loss of Rs 7,718 crores. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and many others have shown how vulnerable the banking fundamentals are. Growth has plummeted to 2 per cent after the twin blows of demonetisation and GST and SMEs are facing closures. Although Davos and Moody's ratings created some positivity, there are doubts raised from within World Bank on the efficacy of such positivism.
Anti-corruption and alienation
Indira Gandhi coined the famous slogan, "They want to defeat Indira, we want to defeat 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". However, the actual scenario is different. Black money stashed abroad hasn't been brought back, the same amount of cash demonetised has been pumped into the system, the appointment of Lokpal hasn't been made yet, no action has been taken against Robert Vadra and the 2G scam-tainted leaders and CBI is behaving like caged-parrots, as said the Supreme Court. The Rafale deal with a huge price differential from UPA times is another issue on fire. The army has no funds and the sham of an OROP policy has seen that the defence veterans continue with their unabated protests. The intelligentsia is aggrieved too. Nobody forced the government to appoint prehistoric sexist moralists in high posts. No one forced it to treat protesting students as criminals. Nobody made it turn nationalism into a weapon or trample science under superstition. Nobody asked it to force digital transactions on a nation where bank access, data connectivity, and electricity are partial at best. But each of these was done and often hopelessly justified by using a pliant media which is now more a lapdog than the watch-dog it is supposed to be.
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 numbered hands. 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. After the Karnataka debacle, the voices of protests are finding more space within the ruling party.
A resurgent Congress
BJP believed that the Congress is currently ruling in only three states with a young and inexperienced party president in a state of disarray. But Rahul Gandhi, first in Gujarat and now in Karnataka, is showing reasonable maturity and bringing all anti-BJP forces together, whether the three young leaders in Gujarat or JD(S) in the post-poll alliance in Karnataka. Will Congress exhibit this realism going ahead? 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. But the challenge is mounting upon Modi-Shah for certain.
On the last 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 away. A grand set-up for a less than an aspiring end.
(Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi & Mumbai; and former Dean of Media of Symbiosis and Amity Universities. The views expressed are strictly personal)