Has Modi lost his way in the political labyrinth?
Does Modi have the wherewithal to get out of the downward spiral? Will Lalu, the all-important Lalu factor, try to remote control Nitish, which could upset the alliance, and could trigger political realignments and change across the political spectrum?
BJP’s trump card Modi has been disgracefully rejected by the same voters who had given him a majority of parliamentary seats only 18 months ago. And while Modi was rejected, JD(U), which was completely ignored in 2014 was voted in by large numbers. The BJP’s tally of 96 in the outgoing Assembly had been dragged down to 53. No wonder this has given hope to the pantheon of his opponents that he will be voted out in 2019.
This was to be expected. The favourite of the last year was thrown out and the one who had been rejected earlier brought back with much fanfare. If this trend infects other states, Modi would have to do an intensive introspection to go through a complete metamorphosis — change not only in his political strategy but also in his own style and conduct. It won’t be easy.
Modi has a strain of obstinacy and that will reflect in his determination to win a second term. How he goes about is to be seen. But if he sticks to the present chief Amit Shah, he is doomed. Shah might be a brilliant organiser but in elections one has to convince voters to support his party. This is beyond Shah, as we saw both in Delhi and Bihar. Basically, Shah is a Gujarati leader and apparently he does not understand the psyche of voter, outside his state.
If Modi wants to turn the risingtide against him, he has to find local leaders, especially for the election in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. It seems Akhilesh Yadav is already in election mode, he has floated schemes, some of which are already facilitating people in villages. Many other projects will be completed by 2017, before the election. What has Modi to show? The Jan Dhan Yojana has been a spectacular success. But how many voters who need kapda, naukri, medical facilities, education and security will be induced by an otherwise excellent scheme like Jan Dhan, which does not provide them what they acutely need.
What kind of strategy was it that while Mudra Bank, another excellent scheme, was initiated in Varanasi, neither Modi nor shah thought of introducing it in Bihar before the election code became effective. The other thing is that, however, much Modi or Amit Shah might get briefed about local issues and problems of people in particular regions but their understanding, coming as they do from Gujarat, can never equal to that of a local or state leader. This is where BJP suffered. Bihari ya Bahari slogan alienated many heavyweights and voters. BJP’s counter could have been better than the half-baked responses offered.
`Modi’s other handicap, which one feels he does not consider important, is either the lack of credible leaders in states or their exclusion in Modi’s plans. He cannot and should not expect to succeed in elections unless he has local satraps to help. Pandit Nehru would visit particular cities or suburbs for campaigning and thereafter local leaders, on direction of state bosses—those days state leaders like GB Pant, SK Sinha, Kamraj, BG Kher, all of whom could lead the country would campaign intensively. They knew voters in their areas by their names; they knew their needs, likes and dislikes. It is their advice the voters would often listen to. While the Grand Alliance parties had such local workers, the BJP did not or never bothered to plan such strategy. The scenario is rather bleak, at the moment. The enemies within have now opened a front against him. Modi thus would have two fronts to deal with—the euphoric and united opposition and the old lot within the party who are now determined to strike blows on a down and out Modi. They know he has in him to rise again and that they have to try to not let him gather his forces. The war within will be more dangerous than the attempts of an euphoric opposition to gather as many anti-Modi elements as possible.
One thing is sure, even if Modi is finally able to shake off his adversaries his plan for reforms would be severely delayed. And that could fatally damage his political prospects.
And now that Nitish has triumphed against Modi on the same scale as he was vanquished by Modi 18 months ago in the Lok Sabha polls, he has become a giant killer in the political arena. And more importantly the leader of forces opposing Modi. He would be expected to gather all the opposing parties when the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh goes to polls in 2017. Nitish has all the odds in his favour, the question that is being asked is: can he do to Modi what VP Singh did to Rajiv Gandhi? Rajiv had three-fourth majority, yet he was cut to one-term Prime Minister by VP Singh. Modi similarly holds the record of achieving, for the first time, majority for his party in the Lok Sabha. Can then Nitish oust Modi at the next husting in 2019? If the present situation continues, then Nitish could make Modi also a one-term wonder.
But there is a crucial difference between the political understanding of Rajiv Gandhi and that of VP Singh. Singh was an astute political strategist and unlike Rajiv was rooted to the ground. After VP had resigned as Defence Minister and announced that he would leave the Congress Party, Rajiv’s close friends and advisers realised that Singh, once a loose cannon, could inflict heavy political damage. So they persuaded Singh to meet Rajiv to try for rapport.
At the meeting, on being asked, Singh laid down his term, that Congressmen stop abusing him and that he should be allowed to speak against corruption. Rajiv reportedly said it would be difficult to curb all party members as they were livid with him. Rajiv added that even if Singh walked with him, Congress men would abuse him. Singh retorted, Rajivji you don’t understand their psyche, on seeing me with you, they will touch my feet. So the meeting ended amicably, but no rapport could be achieved.
It was war all the way then, thereafter, no meeting ever took place between Rajiv and Singh. Both went into top gear to defame and decry each other. A document was shown to allege that VP Singh, was not of sound mind. VP Singh on the other hand attacked Rajiv on the alleged bribe of Rs 64 crore in Bofors deal. He also dragged Amitabh Bachchan into this scandal.
The Rajiv camp dragged VP Singh’s son Ajay alleging that the latter had an offshore account at St. Kits. Newspapers published the account numbers and the deposits in the said account. It all turned out to be a total fraud, in which the bank itself was fooled. In this war of attrition and profanity, VP Singh emerged a victor and became people’s leader. It is these people who made him the Prime Minister, while Rajiv, who had 443 MPs, was relegated to be the leader of the opposition, worse Bofors scandal continued to hang around Rajiv’s neck as an albatross.
Nothing like this drama of scoundrels will happen between Modi and Nitish. Both are seeped into Indian values and know what India is. They are at the moment sworn political enemies. While Modi will do his best for a second term, Nitish will try his best to see that it dosen’t happen. But while Modi despite the pinpricks from the oldies has nothing to worry for three and a half years, Nitish will be looking behind his shoulders to see what what Lalu is up to. It is rumoured that all the anti-social elements that had gone underground are surfacing once again. Hopefully with Nitish trying to improve his credentials to be able to challenge Modi, he will keep all such elements under close surveillance. Lalu himself would not like fissures to develop in the Grand Alliance because with that he himself would matter little at the national level. But both Nitish and Lalu would be on the lookout of an alliance, which brings them greater political dividend. Because there are other contenders for the top gaddi like Jayalalitha, Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar.
In 2019, what kind of combinations would develop is very difficult to predict now. But the Congress factor may become very relevant by that time. Having 27 seats out of 41 which were given to the Congress, Rahul Gandhi in his victory speech did not rave and rant against Modi or RSS, instead in a very short sentence, he mentioned some very relevant points and spoke very soberly. If this is an indication that he is maturing into a serious political leader, he has enough time to make his party fighting fit by 2019. Like the old times it is a Congress to which all other contenders of today, including Nitish, would be taking a cue from a reborn Rahul.
But Nitish has an advantage, he has profound knowledge of Indian political history having being also a minister at the centre and holding the charge of railway ministry, which is an all India subject. Nitish Kumar as Singh’s understudy not only learnt those tricks but also imbibed its underlying message: in politics there are no enemies and no friends.
As it is in the case of Nitish and Modi, the two would have to meet each other for chief minister of a state has to deal with the prime minister for various reasons. But these will not be for any political objective. However, a situation might develop when the two could be forced to bury the hatchet. How, when and why? Unlike Rajiv and Singh, Modi and Nitish are in different political party but both are rooted to the ground and Nitish knows the psyche of the voter of today for whom development has become more important than the caste.
The crucial difference is that while Modi is not dependent on anyone for the office he holds, Nitish is at the mercy of Lalu Yadav — a man who is puffed up today with envious success, which has transformed him from being a jail bird to a king-maker. It is being rumoured now that the anti-social elements, who had created lawlessness during 15 years of Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi’s rule, are surfacing again and sooner than later they will start their ‘dhanda’.
Nitish will not let them have the run of the state as he will like to contest Modi in 2019 with a clean slate. So what happens, will fissures develop between Lalu and Nitish or Lalu, who would like Nitish to go to the Centre, would not let his former goons become active? Lalu will like an unoccupied CM gaddi on which he would like to put one of his two sons.
So I feel that there will be no goonda raj, there will be no fissures in the alliance and that is not good news for Modi. But will this Grand Alliance become grander with additions of more anti-Modi forces? It is difficult to believe that more parties will join the Nitish-Lalu alliance for UP polls. This alliance will hardly be effective anywhere except in Bihar. So it is difficult to imagine Mulayam Singh joining an alliance, he resigned from even for Bihar election.
In all probability, the alliance will be confined to Bihar. The general election will be fought on different issues. And if by then Modi, chastened by the whipping Bihari voters gave him, could complete some schemes he will be back in the contest. But the winning of 27 out of 40 allotted to it, Rahul’s Congress is likely to limp back to the central stage. His victory speech was, for the first time, was short and sober and his conduct was also not belligerent. It seems Rahul is after all maturing. If he does, Modi will have one more contender—Unless Rahul lets Nitish to be in the lead. So far he has given such an indication. Also Lalu is bound to return to his cell, and how much bite the RJD will have sans him can be imagined—almost nil. In that case, a weakened Nitish and Modi under attack of the oldies in his party could seek comfort in each others company. The old saying, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics, will come true, once again.
The fact thus is that the 2019 contest is wide open. The earthquake caused by Bihar election will be forgotten. After all, 2019 is almost three-and-a-half year away. Nitish has profound knowledge of history, Modi will have to learn it to not let history of Rajiv repeat itself.
The bhul bhulaiya in the Bada Imambara is a maze of turns into spaces from which no one come out of, unless one, it is said, keeps turning right. Modi, lost in the political maze, will have to keep doing right to come out of its complexity.
By Vijay Dutt