It is still two years away but, with 84 per cent, according to the latest The Times of India survey, saying that if elections were held now Narendra Modi will be back with the same or greater majority, for Rahul Gandhi, especially after the mortifying drubbing in the recent UP Assembly polls, the 2019 general elections may toll the bell for him. His and his party’s survival after the predicted Modi holocaust depends on whether he can break away from his present attitude, conduct and style of politicking that means a total metamorphosis.
The 2019 elections will be the last chance to redeem himself and the Dynasty he belongs to. So far, he has been a part-time politician, and treated politics as an alternative pastime, to which he paid attention when he got bored with his more enjoyable pursuits.
But with the harrowing experiences in earlier elections, and worse losing Goa and Manipur, after being in a position to form governments in the two states, due to his own lackadaisical approach, it should normally be pricking his conscience, but the ungodly in his party do not regard him as normal.
An engineering student in Madhya Pradesh has sent to the Guinness Book of World Records his proposal, all fee paid, that Rahul’s name be entered for losing 27 polls in a row. Rahul has, thus, to prove his relevance in his own party. Worse, his party now believes Gandhi’s active participation in election campaigning and media interactions has been major causes of party candidates losing elections. Most now do not want him to come to their constituencies.
There is a surfeit of jokes about him, and worse, people not only enjoy them but seem to agree that Rahul deserves the scorn and ridicule they pour on him. He was massively trolled on social networking sites for a joint press conference with Akhilesh Yadav where he forgot the total number of seats in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
His stock is so low, that even in Amethi, of five assembly seats, four were won by the BJP and one by SP. Gandhi scored zero, signifying that he has lost total trust of the people. His rejection by the people was in a way the last straw. It appears he is rootless now. If the leader is in a quandary as to from which constituency he could win, how can he get his party men elected. And the benchmark for leadership is his capability to bring into legislatures his party nominees. The assertion by Jyotiraditya Scindia that Rahul is ready now to take on Modi is a sign of exasperation rather than an attempt to cheer up dispirited activists who have no good opinion about their vice-president.
What must be terribly annoying to him is that his bete noir is from all accounts sitting pretty. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government got a big thumbs-up for its overall performance in the first three years of its tenure,” according to an online survey conducted by timesofindia.com and its sister sites.
Over a million readers participated in this poll. A total 77% of respondents said they rated the Modi government’s performance as being ‘very good’ and ‘good’. That is, in response to the poll question ‘How would you rate the performance of the Modi government?’, 48 per cent respondents voted ‘very good’ and 28 per cent voted ‘good.
About three months ago in another survey the approval rating was 61 per cent. These respondents said they were fully satisfied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This 61 per cent was by itself quite high and even that has been surpassed within less than 100 days.
Such a high popularity rating for one with three years of incumbency would surely instil fear in Modi’s opponents. And this possibly explains the confidence with which he is shaping the contours of Indian politics.
Rahul and other opposition leaders too have been perturbed by the ease with which Modi is doing what he wants to and despite their orchestrating his ‘mistakes’ like demonetisation, of promoting Hindutva ideology in government policies and plans, and thus leading to polarisation, Modi retains his popularity as is evidenced in huge turnouts at all his meetings and is still very much trusted.
Against all logic, Modi’s popularity among voters, instead of waning, continues to soar. This became evident from the record win BJP registered in UP. This quality in him is a mystery. Voters start getting bored of most governments by the third year. That thing called anti-incumbency begins to set in. In such a political climate of frustration in the opposition camp, the announcement that grand celebrations have been planned to mark the completion of three years of the Modi government perturbed most leaders.
Most were apprehensive that Modi, assisted by RSS, was planning to allure voter in states ruled by non-BJP parties by showing what marvellous things had been achieved by his government. But as some more details came to be known, the Opposition were convinced that Modi, who is always in election mode, planned to extend the mass contact beyond May 26, the day it completes three years.
The giveaway of what Modi really had in mind was the plan for high-profile campaigning to highlight its achievements since coming to power. All its ministers at the Centre and the States, MPs, MLAs, party office-bearers have been assigned specific areas to personally explain to the people how successful the government has been in implementing, and so far no reports have indicated any discrimination level. The list of schemes, details of bold economic reforms, measures initiated to empower the poor to be able to earn, skill training and numerous other steps taken. They will also stress that the promise of sab ka saath-sab ka vikas has been strictly followed.
Rahul Gandhi saw red the moment the BJP announced that the campaign blitz to inform and convince people that it has fulfilled most of its promises, he lost no time to scoff at the Modi sarkar’s claim. He alleged that the BJP was bragging and, in fact, the government has failed all round.
The Opposition parties, which have been on a losing streak lately, and have been since the record-breaking victory of the BJP in the politically most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, struggling to stay relevant, smelled that under the façade of celebrating its three-year rule, BJP was in effect starting its campaign for 2019 general elections. But they have so far done no planning to deal with the Modi juggernaut.
The lack of political insight and paucity of rudimentary knowledge of the psyche of the Indian is the bane of most leaders. Most have risen from the grassroots but being caste leaders they have a very myopic vision. They cannot look beyond caste combos and alliances. Mayawati and Mamata have depended totally on Muslim support, Lalu Yadav talks of MY (Muslim-Yadav). They and their politics is limited within the borders of their states. Mayawati tried to make BSP a national party and put up candidates in several states. Her candidates won in Delhi, Punjab and, of course, in UP. But in recent elections, her party drew a blank. Arvind Kejriwal too sparkled to deceive.
In fact, the Opposition seems to be in tatters. Samajwadi Party is embroiled in chacha-bhatija yudh, both determined to exterminate each other, and have no time left to take on Modi. Nitish has realised that with Lalu and his progeny caught up with benami and other offences, he has a chance to be a de jure chief minister, with the help of the BJP, so he will be extremely careful not to annoy Modi. One bird in hand is better than two in the bush. At least, he has CM gaddi, and he has already declared that he is not a candidate for the Modi’s job in 2019. The two others–Arvind Kejriwal and Mayawati–are hard put to keep their flock together, and that leaves Mamta Didi. The BJP has mounted a massive offensive in her backyard, and she dares not leave her fortress.
Moreover, the opposition leaders consider themselves modern-day Chanakya, they cannot look beyond their noses. Despite knowing that Modi has begun his campaign for 2019, they are engaged in utterly futile exercise of finding a common candidate for President. They can’t be so daft in maths, not to realise that they don’t have the numbers to get their nominee past that of Modi’s.
This means, Rahul, hitherto considered by his own party leaders, a blockhead and a lost case, is left in the opposition. Instinct for survival has, it seems, made him realise that alone, he neither can fight a colossus like Modi nor can he survive in the hurly-burly of Indian politics.
For the first time, Rahul has delegated responsibility. To counter BJP’s plans for its leaders to travel in groups to inform the marvellous work done by Modi sarkar, Rahul set up a committee of young leaders–RPN Singh, Randeep Surajwala, Sachin Pilot and Joytiraditya Scindia–to travel to every ‘nook and cranny’ of the country and make people aware of the failures of Modi Government and also its measures that have been divisive and harmful.
‘There is an environment of intolerance prevailing in the country. If anybody discusses it, they are termed anti-national. This government decides what the people should eat, learn and wear. It tries to push its policies based on a regimented ‘soch vichar’ (ideological approach),” he said.
Pilot said the Congress would present a better alternative model of governance before the people of the country and will expose the BJP on its “failure to fulfil the lofty promises made before coming to power”. “We will prepare a blueprint of an alternative model of governance and not by selling lies to the people”, he said. The Congress screened a video entitled “Teen saal barbaad, lipapoti sarkar” during the press conference.
The Congress leaders also raised the issue of senior functionaries of the government trying to help fugitives like Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi escape the country. Congress leader Manish Tewari went to the extent of alleging that BJP did not believe in the idea of India.
How far can these counters affect Modi?
The fact is that Modi has some ingrained assets and advantages. There are at the same time some weak flanks, which Modi will find very difficult to defend. The Maoists are killing CRPF jawans; Kashmir is getting worse than ever before; unemployment statistics are frightening,; violence against Dalits and women remains routine. In other words, little has changed.
There’s hardly anything new about Modi’s New India. Soldiers continue to be beheaded by Pakistan despite a ‘surgical strike’; the Line of Control is still on fire; Pakistan is threatening to execute an Indian. The government strategy is to diplomatically isolate Pakistan, though it seems like India is isolating itself.
What, then, explains Modi’s enviable political success? When even municipal elections are being fought in Modi’s name, it could be argued that Modi today is even more popular than he was in May 2014. The secret of Modi’s success lies in his ability to define and control the political narrative. And that needs courage. Modi thinks big and does not subscribe to conventional political wisdom. He takes high risks that may backfire, but the rewards are equally big. His trip to Lahore backfired, but risks such as demonetisation yielded high political rewards.
Modi dares dream, along with Amit Shah, to do the impossible, that the BJP can win in states where the BJP was considered unwinnable. Modi’s mantra ‘Reform, Perform, Transform and Inform’ has paid him rich dividends—established direct link with the people, and slowly won their trust. And he is such a good orator that news channels say broadcasting his speeches live gets them good ratings. It is, no doubt, Modi’s good luck that his chief opponent Rahul Gandhi is a terrible orator.
Modi boycotts and discredits media outlets who don’t sing his tune, a trick old-world politicians are unable to understand. By leveraging media outlets who are willing to be pliant to his narrative, he brings around the rest to favour him too.’ All the major channels seem to be in sync, so similar they have become. Another advantage he has to the detriment of his opponents that he is coherent enough to convey lucidly his message to the people. And the rivals might mock him for being in election mode all the time, but that helps Modi avoid adverse impact of incumbency.
The fact is that while Modi is a seasoned and mature tactician who outwits his critics and opponents, at the same time he has his vision and deep understanding of the people and their needs and has launched schemes and measures, which has endeared to all segments of people.
Rahul appears like a straggler in the polity chiselled by Modi. And unfortunateiy, he has to carry the dirty baggage left by the UPA. It was at the helm of affairs for ten long years between 2004 and 2014 and this period will go down in Indian history as a dark period characterized by several scams to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees and also serious compromises on national security owing to the vested interests of many top ministers in the government.
At best, Rahul can hope to survive the Modi twister while other more senior leaders are likely to be blown away. Anyway, interesting times are in the offing. Sparks fly and insults hurled whenever Rahul Gandhi clashes with his bete noir Narendra Modi. And signs are that a major conflict between the two already in initial stages is about to explode into a no-holds-barred fight that will end with the 2019 election.
By Vijay Dutt