From Gujarat To 2G, Modi's Invincibility In Doubt

Published: December 22, 2017 21:01 IST
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The mass appeal of Prime Minister Modi is to a considerable extent based on the twin pillars of the mythicized Gujarat story that he personifies and his assurance of zero tolerance for corruption, past and present or future. Both these pillars buckled this week, a week the PM would surely like to forget.

On Monday, the BJP barely inched past the majority mark in the Gujarat election, lying stranded in double-digits at 99 seats with the Congress finishing a close second. The less said about exit polls, the better. As the voting pattern became clearer, it emerged that even though Shri Modi had campaigned as relentlessly as ever, the sturdy Modi majorities repeated since 2002 were no more. Urban Gujarat saved the BJP from defeat, but rural Gujarat gave a decisive vote of no-confidence. In seven districts of Gujarat, the BJP was completely wiped out, not winning a single seat. At one point midway through the counting, the Congress briefly nudged ahead before the BJP wrested back the lead. It was a moment of electoral mortality that the BJP is unfamiliar with in Gujarat, having won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 with a whopping 60% of the vote. Undeniably, the Modi Wave is long gone and the PM's electoral fortunes, if not popularity, have dipped even in his home state.

In his rhetoric, the PM repeatedly reaches back to his Gujarat story even now, whether it be an anecdote about his childhood or to boast of the state's development or to voice a general sense of pride. Gujarat is the political lodestar that guided him to the Prime Minister's chair and continues to provide him sustenance. So the Gujarat election was much more than any state election, it was the Modi political brand showing weakness in the land where it was born. In the run-up to 2014, the PM conquered his party and snatched the leadership from a hapless Advani through a presumption of electoral invincibility, the belief that Modi was a winner and only he could lead the BJP to victory. That was not wrong. Despite major defeats in the Delhi and Bihar state elections in 2015, which were considered aberrations, Shri Modi never really lost his halo of electoral invincibility. The sweep in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year despite the self-inflicted demonetization fiasco only added to the perception. Ever since then, the BJP, with Amit Shah at the helm of operations, has used this electoral strength to form even more state governments by extra-constitutional means, and even the once mighty Nitish Kumar surrendered meekly.

But the PM's electoral fortress of Gujarat did almost fall and it has certainly weakened him though the repercussions may not be visible for a while. The resignation of a BJP MP from Vidarbha during the Gujarat campaign presaged possible change within the party. 10 to 12 of the BJP's Gujarat MPs will have looked at the election result and come to the realization that even the PM may not be able to save them from defeat in 2019. And if MPs in Gujarat are insecure, you can rest assured other beneficiaries of the 2014 Modi Wave, especially in rural areas, will share those fears. Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha have already revolted against the Modi-Shah regime. They may find more fellow travllers in the days ahead, especially if the economy continues to be sluggish.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister is believed to have got emotional at the BJP parliamentary party meeting held to celebrate victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. It was a short respite, because the very next day, the 2G spectrum scam case judgement was delivered in a CBI special court and, to the surprise of just about everybody, the judge acquitted all the accused. Congress and DMK leaders were naturally overjoyed, though they overplayed their hand by demanding an apology from the BJP and claiming there was no scam altogether. I would advise them to refresh their memories by looking back at what happened on January 10, 2008, when applicants were given 45 minutes' notice to procure bank drafts for license application fees in the sum of hundreds of crores. How so many of them were able to complete this feat and meet the deadline is a mystery that still eludes most bankers to this day. If the Congress thinks they deserve an apology for such shenanigans, of which they were too many to count during its decade in power, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

Nevertheless, the court verdict was a major political setback for the PM, the 2G scam having been front and centre in his 2014 campaign pitch. The fact that his government's former Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, went on every news channel to whole-heartedly welcome the verdict only made it appear that much worse. Modi voters, especially swing voters, would be justified in wondering why they voted for the BJP if Shri Modi were going to oversee the acquittal of those accused in the highest-profile scam of the UPA tenure. And today we hear that Congress leader Ashok Chavan who had to resign as Maharashtra Chief Minister in 2010 because of the Adarsh housing scam has also been cleared of wrongdoing by the Bombay High Court. A friend of mine quipped that Rahul Gandhi should have started his run of temple visits earlier, if this is the good luck that is shining on the Congress as a result!

As we head into 2018, the PM is still the dominant leader of the land, though incumbency is starting to take its toll, with his main challenger Rahul Gandhi off to a good start but still with a lot of ground to make up. Important state elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh lie ahead and will set the political mood before the next general election. It is impossible to predict what the next year will hold, but if the last few days have taught us anything, it is that there is much truth in that old political adage: a week is a long time in politics.

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(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and a member of the Aam Aadmi Party.)

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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