2019: Well begun but only half done for BJP

A year that began with celebration of Balakot promises to end in division and acrimony. It will provide the BJP time to reflect on the triumphs and errors.

 |  4-minute read |   30-12-2019
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On a cold, late-winter morning of February 26, 2019, Indians woke up to the news of an overnight strike by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a terrorist training facility deep inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Planned in complete secrecy and carried out with precision by the IAF, the Balakot strike fired up the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Balakot bonanza

Months earlier, the BJP had lost three key Assembly elections — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership was on test. It is impossible to empirically project how many extra seats the Balakot strike added to the BJP's Lok Sabha tally of 303.

With hindsight, the BJP's landslide Lok Sabha victory in May 2019 was a double-edged sword. Hubris set in. With party president Amit Shah taking charge as Union home minister and Nirmala Sitharaman as Union finance minister, the BJP wasted no time in advancing its political and economic agenda.

The first hiccup was the July 2019 Union Budget. It was historical in the sense that Sitharaman's Budget speech provided no figures for revenue and expenditure. As almost an afterthought, at the very end of the speech, she noted that the fiscal deficit was 3.3 per cent of GDP. The Union Budget is written by finance ministry bureaucrats. Unless the finance minister double checks the fine print with a tooth comb, the devils that lurk in the details will come back to haunt her. They dutifully did. Several unworkable Budget proposals were rolled back over the next few months even as GDP growth slowed to 4.5 per cent in the July-September 2019 quarter.

Meanwhile, the Congress was going through a meltdown. Its president, Rahul Gandhi, resigned and went into a months-long sulk. After tortuous intraparty debates on choosing a new president outside 'the Family' following a democratic intra-party election, Congress elders did exactly the opposite: They installed Sonia Gandhi as president, adding the prefix "interim" as a face-saver. The BJP now moved quickly to fulfil its pre-poll agenda — laid out in detail in its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto. On August 5, political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir — from Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti to second-rung politicians in the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, among others — were detained.

Over the next few days, Article 370 of the Constitution, granting J&K special status, and Article 35A, which restricted land ownership, jobs and other rights to citizens in the rest of India, were revoked under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. On October 31, J&K was officially bifurcated into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh. Less than a month later, the Supreme Court approved the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya following a fast-track hearing that resolved an issue lying largely dormant for over 70 years.

Maharashtra setback

Just when it seemed the BJP had become politically invincible, it stumbled. It lost a high-stakes gamble in Maharashtra after a month-long staredown with the Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray. The formation of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra was the first sign of the BJP's strategic vulnerability. Haryana provided more proof that J&K, Ayodhya and other emotive issues have limited electoral appeal, especially in statelevel polls where regional issues dominate. The BJP was compelled to ally with its fiercest opponent to retain its government in Haryana.

Undaunted by the Maharashtra debacle, the BJP used the Winter Session of Parliament to ramrod the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAA, through both Houses of Parliament.

With Shah's promise of a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) hanging like a dark cloud over the CAA, many saw the citizenship act as a filter to exclude Muslim refugees from the proposed NRC and include Hindu refugees using the CAA's persecuted minorities clause.

CAA, NRC lexicon

The Opposition seized its chance. As streets and campuses erupted in fury over the CAA's real intent, Rahul Gandhi emerged from hibernation to lead the charge against the Modi-Shah "tyranny". The BJP reeled from the blows as violent protests claimed several lives.

protests-690_123019114829.jpgAs streets and campuses erupted in fury over the CAA's real intent, Rahul Gandhi emerged from hibernation to lead the charge against the Modi-Shah 'tyranny'. (Photo: Reuters)

And yet, it achieved what it set out to do: polarise the hard-Hindu vote. Even moderate Hindus, who regard the BJP's "Hindu nationalism" as too extreme, were angered by the violence sparked mainly by Left-Islamist groups with Congress support. As 2019 draws to a close, the BJP's defeat in Jharkhand means the party has now lost five important states to the Congress and its allies in just over 12 months: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

It has hung on to Haryana by the skin of its teeth and had to subvert Opposition MLAs to win Karnataka and Goa. Its position in the seven Northeast states, following anger over CAA, is vulnerable. Elections in Delhi and Bihar loom, followed in 2021 by West Bengal and Assam - the real targets of CAA-NRC. A year that began with celebration of the Balakot strike promises to end in division and acrimony. It will provide the BJP's top leadership plenty of time to reflect on the triumphs and errors of one of the most politically charged years in memory.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: I don't exist if I am not Assamese

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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