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Divided, demoralized and leaderless Opposition unable to stop Modi juggernaut

Monday, March 20, 2017
By Virendra Kapoor

Now only Modi’s own performance can deny his wish for a second five-year term

Soon after becoming prime minister in 2014, Modi had wanted “ten years to take  the country into the 21st century.” By all accounts,  he is on course to realize his wish. Regardless of what the Opposition  might do between now and the next Lok Sabha poll in 2019, one thing is fairly clear: it will be a huge miracle if it can deny  Modi a second five-year term. The Modi-led BJP is set to dominate the national polity in the foreseeable future. Period.

Let us explain.  Before the stunning outcome in UP, it was reasonable to argue that in 2019, Modi could still return to power, albeit with a reduced majority. Political pundits were almost unanimous in concluding that  even if the BJP were to drop a hundred-odd seats, it would still be in a commanding position to form government. Its tally of say, 182 seats, would be enough to attract other smaller groups to take it to the half-way mark of 272 in the 17th Lok Sabha.

However,  given the disarray in the Congress Party, and, consequently,  the complete absence of hope of a credible alternative, it would be a huge surprise if the party leaped into three figures from the current 44 in the next Lok Sabha.  Besides, with the Congress failing to untie itself from Rahul Baba’s little finger, it might be hard for it to locate partners willing to bolster his claim to prime ministership. Other regional groups might still do well in their States but none would individually have more than 40-odd seats to be able to stake claim for leadership of the non-BJP block. The complete absence of a challenger  with a  pan-Indian following would continue to be another vital asset for Modi.

The above  composition of the next Lok Sabha  was a strong probability before March 11, not after that. Of course, the unforeseen can alter the current scenario  but, as of now, Modi is most likely to repeat the 2014 feat.  For, the unprecedented result in Uttar Pradesh is proof that the Lok Sabha win was no fluke. He has  endeared himself to the UP voter like no other leader before him. Mere caste and community aggregations do not explain this kind of a wash-out of the Opposition. It was the personal popularity of the Prime Minister which in the end smote away all non-NDA parties.

With the BJP Government in place in Lucknow, it is quite possible for the party to retain a huge chunk of  the  73 seats it won in 2014. Elsewhere too, after the March 11 blitz the regional chieftains will feel suitably chastened as to desire the security of pre-poll seat-sharing alliances with the BJP  ahead of the next Lok Sabha poll. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the AIADMK , in the absence of a strong leader like Jayalalithaa, would find it profitable to seek safety against poaching by DMK by entering into an alliance with the BJP. Or, even the DMK might want to hold Modi’s hand, especially if the old patriarch Karunanidhi is rendered inactive and Stalin feels threatened  by the recalcitrance of  half-brother Alagiri.

The point being that a strong and popular leader like Modi, who has no one to challenge him at the national level, is sitting pretty to choose newer partners while the old ones are doubly  keen, post-UP poll, to continue the mutually beneficial alliance. Cleverly, Modi has reached out to the very sections which had not long ago constituted the core support-base of the Congress Party, that is, the poor farm hands, artisans, daily wagers, industrial workers, the huge unemployed army  et al. While the traditional Jana Sangh-BJP base of Brahmin, Bania and the urban middle class had nowhere else to go, it was by roping in the far more numerous masses that Modi stitched up a winning alliance of the haves and the have-nots at the polling booth.

However, another way to understand Modi’s apparent invincibility is by taking a look at the Opposition. Let us begin with Naveen Patnaik. Into his third term, he is losing some of the steam, as the recent panchayat polls reveal. The clear gainer was the BJP. He will be happy to support Modi in New Delhi, especially if the BJP were to revive the alliance at the State level for the next Assembly poll. No one from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, as of now, bids fair to offer a credible challenge to Modi. After the UP shout-out,  Mamata Banerjee has suitably toned down her anti-Modi rhetoric, now actually talking of cooperation with the Centre, though she remains strong enough to retain power in Bengal as and when the next Assembly poll is held.

Mayawati before March 11 was a viable sectional leader, though without much presence outside UP. After March 11, her capacity  to play solo even in UP has come into question. That leaves Nitish Kumar. The Bihar Chief Minister was probably the only non-BJP leader not to have abused Modi for demonentisation. He was proved right. But he cuts a sorry figure on the national scene, given  the rising existentialist problems for the Bihar alliance  stemming from Laloo Yadav’s increasingly demanding brood.

Indeed, the real challenge to Modi does not come from the Opposition. No. It  stems from the  performance of his government. Should he allow the popular perception to grow that there is little or no improvement at the ground level, there is bound to be a severe blowback. However, a consummate  24x7 politician with no known or hidden diversions, Modi is too smart not to deliver quite a few tangibles for the masses for them to return him to power for yet another five-year term. As for Rahul Baba, well, he  can plan  a long break  from the failing family business, especially when, unlike quite a few others in the Opposition who still have pockets of regional influence,  Rahul’s grip on the hitherto family fiefdoms of  Amethi and Rai Barelli has  slipped precariously.        

PC a holy cow for media
P Chidambaram’s very name is enough to put the media on guard. The former UPA Minister has acquired a reputation for going after journalists should they dare to report anything unflattering. On the other hand,  Chidambaram’s long-time tormentor Subramanian Swamy, thanks to his constant spewing of scurrilous charges against all and sundry has become an untouchable for the mainstream media.  As a result, very often the BJP MP’s  serious charges of malfeasance  against the former Finance Minister go unreported.

But conscientious journalists owe it to themselves to report without let-up or fear what are after all serious charges of wrong-doing. The other day at a press conference in the capital Swamy alleged that Chidambaram has hidden foreign assets  and provided the addresses of two pricey properties in Cambridge, UK. These, he alleged, were jointly owned by his wife Nalini and his son Karti’s wife Srinidhi.

He asserted that the money   came from various companies floated by Karti to receive bribes for favourable decisions by Chidambaram’s ministries. Swamy also referred to commissions paid to Karti by a Russian bank which had dealings with a public sector bank.

Aside from a lone English daily, the media blacked out the press conference,  though Swamy maintained that the charges were based on  documents unearthed by the IT Department and the ED during raids on Karti’s illicit empire.

Diaries of disrepute
Diaries are the curse of our times. Since the hawala diaries in the early 90s, a number of scandals can be directly sourced to the accursed diaries. One such providing salacious fodder about unmentionable doings in high judicial places is the Pul diary. The former chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh before his death is said to have jotted down  certain things which even if remotely true would constitute a huge blot on our judicial system.

But the sheer enormity of the events mentioned therein persuade us that these were the outpourings of a feverish mind undergoing  a sudden loss of power after somehow  realizing his life’s ambition was shattered beyond redemption. A normal person would find it hard to believe all that Pul is reported to have said about top lawyers and judges.

But another scurrilous charge against high judicial personages stems from the reported readiness of a wheeler-dealer lawyer. Now held under the stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act, he is said to be keen to bare it all provided he is given amnesty. Among the VIPs whose black money he laundered, he has suggested, were a number of senior judicial  authorities. True or false, the rumour has set many a tongue  wagging in the higher judicial precincts.

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