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Looking forward to another jumla

By Kumar Ketkar

What trick or ‘jumla’ will NarendraModi employ in his final Independence Day speech of this term from the ramparts of the Red Fort? That’s the subject of discussions in drawing rooms, clubs, pubs, restaurants and all party offices, and almost all agree that he will use this opportunity to dramatise and galvanise the 2019 election campaign.
It may not even be 2019. There are people who think that Modi will indicate or announce an early election, possibly as early as December this year. He believes in ‘shock and awe’; in fact, he enjoys theatre. He loves his own voice. He is confident that he can baffle and fool the opposition. He has created this larger-than-life image, which he trusts and loves more than real life. His ideology is narcissism, not nationalism. And most of the media buys it hook, line and sinker.
Those who feel that the ‘jumla’ this time will be a December election say he will win 350 seats. Amit Shah is said to be taking bets on that figure. Since the opposition is still not consolidated, it would be advantage BJP. But there are those who dismiss this possibility, pointing out that AtalBihari Vajpayee announced elections six months before his term was to expire in 2004, but lost power to the Congress-led UPA.
This latter set of people believe the Modi-Shah duo will not sacrifice even one day of power. On the other hand, proponents of the early election hypothesis say the BJP is losing ground every day, and before discontent (outside the party and within it) spreads further, it is better to confound the opposition and come back to power.
The intra-party resistance is led by former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and ArunShourie, according to whom, the Rafale fighter jet deal is the biggest scam in independent India. Sinha and Shourie, as well as old BJP stalwarts like Ram Jethmalani, have started denting the supposedly impregnable wall of the party, despite the embedded media’s attempts to underplay it.
Nobody can question the integrity of Sinha, or of Shourie, the former disinvestment minister and renowned anti-establishment author, journalist and columnist. Then there is that old legal eagle Jethmalani — the 95-year old former vice-president of the BJP — who says he might be in the “departure lounge” of life, but won’t take the flight until Modi is defeated.
Old guards of the ‘MargdarshakMandal’ like MurliManohar Joshi and young Turks like Varun Gandhi too have started an internal confrontation. Loyal BJP think-tanker and veteran journalist ChandanMitra has joined MamataBannerjee’sTrinamool Congress and decided to halt the Modi juggernaut in Bengal. Sudheendra Kulkarni, the former comrade-turned-strong BJP-RSS supporter, has been saying on TV channels that next Prime Minister should (and will) be Rahul Gandhi.
NDA allies too have begun to distance themselves from Modi. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party left the NDA; Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena is an estranged ally; and even Ram Vilas Paswan of the LokJanshakti Party is making some noises. The Akali Dal has loudly expressed its disillusionment with the government. And even Nitish Kumar is displaying signs of fresh political promiscuity.
The AIADMK which is ruling Tamil Nadu and seems aligned with the BJP is becoming more and more irrelevant since its supreme leader J. Jayalalithaa’s death; its rival DMK has taken a firm stand against the Modi-led BJP and is set to sweep Tamil Nadu, despite the death of its own stalwart leader M. Karunanidhi.
With H.D. DeveGowda and Naveen Patnaik not responding to the overtures of Modi and Shah, the creation of a ‘New NDA’ is jeopardised.
The south is not with the BJP, nor is the east, including Bihar. Uttar Pradesh, the electoral soul of the party’s 2014 success, is showing signs of a total rout. In Jammu and Kashmir, the trust with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party has collapsed irreversibly.
But despite this negative political atmosphere, Modi continues to retain his urban middle-class support base. There are no signs that they will change their loyalty. They defend demonetisation, and GST and its many changes. They also go to the extent of defending rapists and other criminals.
Modi will have to consolidate his support base among the middle class, and also win over fence-sitters. For this he has a two-pronged strategy — the carrot and the stick, if you will. The business community is threatened by the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities; others are given sops like extension of retirement age or implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations.
Against this backdrop, what ‘jumla’ can be offered to the voters? The offer to give 15 lakh rupees to each citizen has lost its sting. The ‘attack’ on black money and bringing back everything from Swiss banks has proved utterly vainglorious. Even the notes recovered from the people during demonetisation have not been counted fully so far.
All district collectors and city commissioners say the Smart City project has become just a theme for conferences. Farmers continue to commit suicide; doubling their income has become a mirage. And on and on and on.
Having played most of their cards, Modi-Shah and the RSS are trying to search for a new one. The early election buzz was, it seems, planted to gauge general reaction. That is why an effort is being made to polarise the voters. What is happening with Assam’s National Register of Citizens, the triple talaq bill and the periodic cries for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya are all cases in point.
Independence Day is not far away, and neither are the general elections. Soon, we will find out the real power of hype.