Modi May Be Vulnerable Now, But Is There A Real Challenger?

As the year ends, India finds itself in a political upheaval that looks to be of consequential proportions. The Modi-Shah juggernaut has finally pushed their Hindutva+ agenda too far and managed to awaken the silent majority with the passing of the Citizen Amendment Act and subsequent controversy about the NRC (National Register for Citizens) and NPR (National Population Register). Had they been more aware of world events, they would have been more careful as protests have swept the globe from Chile to Iraq to Hong Kong to Algeria to Lebanon, a phenomenon that led the Financial Times to label 2019 as "the year of the street protest". But Modi-Shah had tunnel vision and the targeting of redoubts of political resistance like JNU and AMU have been a consistent narrative since 2014. So the police charging into Jamia Millia Islamia campus in pursuit of protestors without approval from university authorities was along expected lines. The outrage and protests it engendered across the nation in the ensuing days was, however, completely unexpected. I suspect the anger was building up for some time and the CAA was the final straw that broke the camel's back.

Modi-Shah are victims of their own success. Ensuring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya was a major victory and along with the suspension of Article 370 in Kashmir, it fulfilled two core objectives of the Hindutva agenda. That just left the universal civil code but it is a complex issue and does not quite have the electoral weight to win elections all by itself. And thus, right on schedule, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was unveiled in the winter session of parliament; this can be described as a first exploratory assault on India's secular constitution with the Home Minister assuring the nation in his Rajya Sabha remarks that the NRC would follow in due course. I will not go into the gory details of the NRC, but think demonetization, only this time it won't be your money they will mess with, but your right to call yourself an Indian, along with much longer queues. Two weeks after his Rajya Sabha assertion about the NRC, with thousands on the streets across the length and breadth of the country, the Home Minister is singing a different tune, unconvincingly so and clearly on the defensive. 

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Protests have erupted across the country over the contentious Citizenship Act

Modi-Shah's default response to any mistake or miscalculation is to pretend it's all the opposition's fault and barrel through with a mixture of propaganda and brute strength. However, this, they have unwittingly roused a people's movement of vast size and a sense of belief that can match Hindutva on its best day. 

The collateral damage to the Prime Minister's global image in a matter of two weeks has been catastrophic and beyond repair. It did not help matters that the External Affairs Minister chose this moment to pariah the Democratic Congresswoman of Indian-origin while on an official visit to the United States because of her stand against the Modi government's actions in Kashmir, which drew a stinging response from almost all US Presidential candidates. If Trump loses in November, India may well need a new Foreign Minister.

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PM Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah (File photo)

Compounding problems for the BJP is its comprehensive defeat in the Jharkhand election. BJP-ruled states as represented on the map now represent just a third of the country's area, a far cry from the swathe of saffron from just a couple of years ago. But when it comes to the national picture, there is no real challenger to the Prime Minister, even as the protests weaken his position with each passing day. Sonia Gandhi clearly has the winning touch and has resurrected the Congress party from the precipice her son and heir had led it to. But if she intends to hand the reins back to Rahul, it will result in the same result and Modi-Shah would like nothing better.

Meanwhile, strategist-for-hire Prashant Kishor, who apparently is still a member of the JDU while advising almost all the regional parties in the country in some form or the other, including on the NRC, has just added another feather in his cap by taking over AAP's campaign for the upcoming Delhi election. That a mercenary is now running the campaign of an outfit that prided itself on being a party of volunteers is all I'll say about a party I once championed.

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Prashant Kishor's vociferous objection to the NRC drove his party boss Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, to denounce it officially

Kishor started by criticising his own party for voting for the CAA in parliament, and can be credited with getting boss Nitish Kumar to declare the NCR will not be applicable in Bihar. After which the strategist has been taking daily pot shots at the Congress stand on the NRC/NPR even after Congress Chief Ministers made public declarations similar to Nitish's. Apparently, the strategist wants the assurances in writing. I wonder if he got Nitish's assurance in writing too.

Political hypocrisies aside, the larger point is that there is now sufficient political space and enthusiasm on the ground for an opposition leader to rise in opposition to Modi. Surely the entire political space cannot be short of a challenger?

(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and political commentator.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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