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Thanks to Modi’s strong leader image, BJP sitting pretty in Assembly polls

Monday, January 09, 2017
By Virendra Kapoor

Win in UP to bolster  Modi Govt. even as it will further scatter the opposition

Regardless of the split verdict on demonetsation, the ruling party is comfortably placed to romp home with honours in the coming mini general election. Of the five States going to the polls, the stakes naturally are the highest in UP. By all accounts, the BJP is set to emerge trumps whether or not surface peace is restored in the larger Yadav parivar. That will further burnish the Prime Minister’s image as by far the most popular leader around at this juncture in the country.

It is a tribute to Modi’s multi-faceted political skills and his ability to harness the vast organizational capacities of the wider Sangh parivar for advancing his cause, that at mid-point in his five-year term he continues to retain a firm grip on the popular mood. This cannot be explained merely by toting up all that he may or may not have done as prime minister. Given the stupendous challenges of governing a large and a low-income country, it is unlikely that any leader in such a short time can fulfill the aspirations of a vast majority of the people.

Yet, if he is still the tallest leader by some distance it is because a majority of Indians perceive him to be a strong leader. After a decade of a wimpish Manmohan Singh, Modi’s assertive and firm leadership has come as a huge relief to the people. One reason for Indira Gandhi’s huge popularity, that is, until she squandered it all following her son-stroke, was that she was seen as a strong and decisive leader — the ‘only man in her cabinet,’ as an admiring foreign journal had put it. Modi is seen to be his own boss, fully in command of the government and the ruling party.

Come to think of it, even those who question demonetization readily grant that only someone like Modi could have pulled it off. He knows what he wants — and goes out and gets it. Successive surgical strikes against the terror-exporting neighbor and against black money have struck a chord with the people. It is not hard to visualize the general thrust of the ruling party’s campaign in the States going to the polls.

Particularly in UP Modi will spearhead the assault against a crumbling Yadav fortress, questioning the Samajwadis’ ability to stay united in a post-Mulalyam Singh period. As for BSP, the only other party with considerable ground support, Mayawati’s love for worldly Maya would nullify her opposition to notebandi. In fact, demonetization’s stated objective of neutralizing black money will find further resonance with the voters when the BJP leaders hammer home the point about Mayawati being caught laundering hundreds of crores in scrapped notes in just one single branch of a relatively minor bank in Delhi. Truly, Mayawati has been duly defanged by Modi’s surgical strike against black money.

Also, the Union Budget, most likely to be presented a couple of days before the start of the polling in the five States, will, no doubt, have goodies for the middle- class voters who tend to be more vocal in setting the popular, election-time narrative. Do not rule out relief to the hard-pressed salaried classes by way of a higher exemption limit, higher returns on designated savings instruments, more incentives to the rural poor and farming communities. Shrill complaints of the Opposition aside, the Modi Government is unlikely to miss a trick in order to further bolster its grip on the polity. The corporate sector too should get some relief, maybe a lower rate and lesser exemptions and write-offs.

The key vice-presidential and presidential elections are due later this year. The ruling party will have no problem electing its own candidate as vice-president since it has a majority in the electoral college. As for the next president, should the BJP bag UP, which is most likely, and do reasonably well in other States, there is no stopping putting its own man in Rashtrapati Bhawan as well once the present incumbent retires in July.

A stepmother-stepson potboiler?
An ambitious stepmother may be at the root of the on-going warfare in the Yadav parivar. Following the death of Akhilesh’s mother several years ago, Mulayam Singh married a second time. While Akhilesh’s stepbrother is content to run a chain of well-appointed gyms and to otherwise take care of his bourgeoning real estate business, the latter’s wife harbours political ambitions. Her name for contesting one of the Assembly seats in Lucknow has already been cleared by both the factions of the party. But this has not allayed the deep distrust between Akhilesh and his father, who naturally lends his ears to his stepmother and others keen to cut the UP CM to size. In short, a typical stepmother-stepson political potboiler might be unspooling in Lucknow.

Paranoid about converts
The AAP phenomenon is on the wane. No doubt about it. The coming polls might further deflate its balloon. That is how it should be. A product of TV news thanks to Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption fast, AAP is now indistinguishable from any other party. Pursuing power at any cost, its non-performance in Delhi is a poor advertisement for the voters in Punjab and Goa, where it is making a desperate attempt to upstage the established parties. Indeed, it believes that it is in reckoning for power even in Modi’s home State of Gujarat. It feels encouraged by the entry of a number of rejects and frustrated leaders of the ruling BJP.

Yet, it is so paranoid that it does not fully trust anyone. The plight of a new entrant to AAP in Gujarat, who till recently could be seen on television most fiercely defending Modi, is really pitiable. Suspecting his allegiance to his latest party, he is being denied a meaningful role in AAP. But so keen is this much travelled political journeyman that in order to prove his loyalty, he has often pleaded for trust — ‘if you would only stop suspecting that I am a BJP plant, I would get you Rs. 20-30 lakhs in donations by getting someone to file PILs against top Gujarati industrialists …’ But so far AAP has not heeded his entreaties.

Spirituality as commerce
Spirituality as commerce has been with us for quite some time. But in recent times the saffron-robed and white-robed sadhus and sants have taken to television to market their wares — as if religion and spirituality was like selling hair oil or bathing soap. Greed for the worldly wealth is their driving force, as it is of a vast majority of people. Sometime ago a high-flying guru organized a camp in the US. But the local point person was left with a huge bill while the guru himself left with the moolah. At the end of the two-hour session, a close flunkey of the guru counted the number of people present, pocketed $ 100 per head, and he and his boss vamoosed. No, not even a thank you, what to talk of reimbursing the considerable costs, including those for seating arrangements, refreshments, communications, etc. Meanwhile, we hope such foreign collections are duly remitted back through official channels.

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