Is Opposition coming into a position to challenge Modi?
The BJP government may be slightly shopworn but is very much in command, and a lot depends on the Opposition.
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The Narendra Modi government is like a phoenix. It has several faces, multiple stances and a virtually committed cadre, thanks to the Sangh Parivar.
But Modi’s biggest bhakts are the media, especially the electronic media. There seems to be relatively little criticism about this among the citizenry, not to speak of the political class. The middle class either highly supports the Modi policies, or chooses not to take on an occasional policy which it does not like.
The advertising agencies are making a killing. Initially from middle strata delight about the emperor’s new clothes to his purported panache when mixing with the high and mighty. Part of his political past which was much more questionable (like the Gujarat riots of 2002 in which some 2,000 people died, mostly Muslims) has been consigned to the political dustbin.
Modi, therefore, has overcome serious hurdles, thanks to the increasingly active saffron machine. While he is the unquestionable and peerless mascot of the Sangh Parivar, his man Friday Amit Shah has played a major role in organisation, alliances, campaigns against the secular Opposition, further buttressing the Modi persona. Why aren’t the secular Opposition presenting more of a contest? Firstly, the Opposition is divided. For example, in Delhi both the Congress and the BJP have opposed the rise of the Aam Admi Party.
The Congress, for some time, sidelined their redoubtable leader and former chief minister Sheila Dikshit. The rot is deep.
The Left is unable to come to terms with the AAP politics, as they have not done the AAP kind of mass work for years.
However, the CPI(M) did align with the breakaway Swaraj Abhiyan, but with little effect in the last Delhi Assembly elections. This despite the fact that major AAP leaders like Yogendra Yadav, Anand Kumar and advocate Prashant Bhushan were in the split away party. The BJP has had its breakaways, but also powerful parties joining it. For example, Nitish Kumar jumped on to the winning horse, and became part of the NDA.
Nothing succeeds like success. But there have been serious shortcomings in Modi’s campaigns and governance.
Demonetisation was “a historical blunder.” Announced on the midnight of November 8, 2016, it became the prime minister’s rallying cry. Modi railed against his predecessors of the past 70 years. They were responsible for the mounting corruption, lost incomes and all other economic ills. The fact that this 70-year-period included Sangh stalwarts like Syama Prasad Mookerjee, (the founder of the Jana Sangh in 1951), Deendayal Upadhyay, MS “Guru” Gowalkar, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, among many, was passed off or considered adequate for such a speech.
In the Uttar Pradesh elections, Modi hammered through his advantage by promising to have black money unearthed by demonetisation, put into the accounts of the electorate. This was, of course, an electoral inducement. But the Election Commission was unfazed.
The demonetisation of 86 per cent of the currency was a disaster. The Rs 2,000 bill intended to increase the total value of the currency, was as the highest value note even more acceptable in the black market economy. The secular Opposition fought its battle in Uttar Pradesh, but the Congress’s inordinate demand for 105 Assembly seats was the death knell of the coalition.
It is not the that demonetisation was not controversial, but the Opposition failed to consult senior advocates and economists to impact the common man. But the massive impact is still there. There is no bridge currency note between the Rs 500 currency note and the Rs 2,000 note. It is also clear that since 99 per cent of the currency had been returned, there was no treasury of black money outstanding.
According to Article 300A on the Right to Property, “No person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law.” Where was the "authority of law"?
Then GST. Once again Modi’s core group failed. There were too many slabs, too much paper work. In short, too much clerical work. The GST scheme is being jiggled with, but there are limits. The promise to reduce fuel costs by Rs 2 per litre in the GST was dropped because of rising oil import costs. The traders are not euphoric about GST, to put it mildly.
The crackdown in Delhi and other cities on illegal construction was the last straw. Most shopkeepers believed that the Union and state governments were stocking up funds for the coming 2019 elections, or elections in municipalities and states in other areas.
So what is the future? Despite all difficulties, the Modi government may be slightly shopworn, but it is very much in command. A lot depends on the Opposition.
The question is, is the Opposition coming into a position to challenge Modi?
The fact that the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are more confident after the Gujarat result, is evidence that the Opposition is gaining ground. But is has a fairly long way to go. This is the challenge before the Indian electorate.