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The crucial 100 days

By Kumar Ketkar

It is not likely that the flamboyant central minister, Nitin Gadkari has raised a Valkyrie-like flag of rebellion for the 2019 general election. Those who are disciplined in the strict RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS) shakhas never break line. They know the price they have to pay for such treacherous deviation. Either one becomes persona non grata, even with stature, like LK Advani, or goes into oblivion like Keshubhai Patel, the former chief minister of Gujarat, whom Narendra Modi succeeded in 2001.

But it is also a fact that Gadkari is questioning the wisdom of the party leadership repeatedly. Every time, of course, he promptly comes out with the clarification that he was quoted out of context. However, his statement that if the leadership takes credit for the victory in elections, it must also share the blame for the defeat did create ripples. He said this in the context of defeat in three assembly elections—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He was clearly aiming at the president of the his party —Amit Shah, the self styled Machiavelli or if you prefer the swadeshi cunning, Chanakya.

Suddenly, Gadkari has arrived in the saffron firmament as a challenger. Within the media there is already grapevine talk of Gadkari as the alternative candidate for the prime-ministership in case the BJP wins fewer than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Since all such numbers are in the realm of speculation, the central hall of the Parliament, the ‘Gangotri’ of all rumours, has begun building scenarios for May 2019.

The journalists and ex-MPs in this august hall of fame and shame argue with so much conviction that one feels the results of the elections are already out! The sitting members of Parliament maintain a quiet demeanour in the hall and listen to these argumentative Indians with a mixture of fear and resignation. They are not even sure whether they would get the party ticket to contest! But surely, BJP MPs and leaders have begun to question Modi—the messiah—too, or, again, if you prefer swadeshi, Lord Sri Krishna!
After all, a Modi bhakt has called him Sri Krishna, who, in this incarnation as Modi, has taken India to great Hindu heights.

Even while the gossipers discuss about the possible successor to the PM’s post from the BJP, there are detractors who puncture the assertive discourse. The presumption in this is the BJP will be the single largest party. Then the President will be obliged to invite it to form government.

But there are other members of this chattering community who argue that the opposition will have many more seats, with or without any ‘gatbandhan’. So the prime minister can be anybody from Mamata Banerjee to Chandrababu Naidu to Sharad Pawar, even Rahul Gandhi! Whoever had thought of HD Deve Gowda in 1996?
But not many futurists among these want to speculate as to what Modi will do if he is not the PM. They are clueless on this question. Some say, he will be the leader of the opposition, others argue that Modi will make someone else from the party the opposition leader while he himself takes on the role of the remote control! He cannot run a coalition government with any front. His “Dabangg-giri” and dictatorial style will not be acceptable to other allies and he will fail.

There are some who say that he and Shah would try to choose from the anti-Congress and anti-BJP front, a pliable PM who could be controlled by them, like say K Chandrashekhar Rao of Telangana RashtraSamiti or Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha. The BJP would give support from outside and pull the plug like SitaramKesri, then president of the Congress, did with the Deve Gowda government in 1997 or as Indira Gandhi did with Charan Singh in 1979.

The Modi-Shah-Doval team would force a mid-term election and come back (like Indira Gandhi did in 1980), arguing that the opposition cannot even form the government, forget ruling. They and their supporters are so confident of the ‘decisive leadership’ that Modi provides, that they need not fear defeat in that mid-term poll! (But there goes to the dustbin the slogan of one-nation-one-election!)

There are some apocalyptic versions too of the near future. There would be huge turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir and possibly a Kargil-like small war which could generate nationalist euphoria and Modi would get re-elected. Or there could be massive communal mayhem triggered by a second Ayodhya movement leading to Army intervention, on his request, for governing the country.

Almost all, supporters as well as critics of Modi, agree that he has been successful in polarising the electorate and could polarise it further. That would be the recipe for anarchy, and who else can it bring it under control, but the army? say the scenario creators.

These commentators say that the global opinion poll outfit, PEW, has shown in its national survey that 53 per cent Indians prefer military rule. And they feel the nation is in dire need of strong leadership. These people also defend Modi’s indifference to Parliament by saying that democracy has failed. The Parliament is more often than not adjourned and does not conduct any business anyway.

‘Politicians are despicable and parties are obstructionists’ is the cynicism shared by the educated middle classes. So the need of the hour is ‘strong, decisive leadership’. This anti-politics sentiment is most common—and it is part of their routine conversation on the dining table. “Modi is different!” they say. “He should be given another round of five years!”

Then the conversation moves to psychoanalysis! Personalities, their characteristics, and behaviour patterns become more important than political ideologies, programmes or party systems. Modi is strong, no one else. Modi takes decisions and owns them, without apologies, even if they are wrong. Modi is honest, incorruptible and has no dynastic necessity for making money! He has no family, no children and no relatives who sponge off him, is the defence provided by Modi bhakts. (They ignore the fact that he is actually married and has deserted his wife.)

This intellectually idle class does not need answers on the Rafale deal, Nirav Modi’s mysterious disappearance, the rise of Ambanis, Adanis and Ramdev Baba. They feel lynching casesand a communal atmosphere at large make up India’s permanent character, or that they are merely hyped allegations by a frustrated opposition. The debate on the Reserve Bank of India and criticism by RaghuramRajan, Arvind Subramaniam or Urjit Patel is either tendentious or Left-Liberal negativism, so it is not to be taken seriously, they feel.

So we come back to the question: What will Modi do if the party loses and falls below 200 seats or even below 150 seats?

Will he sit on the opposition benches or declare retirement or allow Gadkari or Rajnath Singh to lead the party? Will he rebuild the party? Change guard? Or will he face multiple charges and the courts, and confront all kinds of cases? Will elections take place normally and the results be accepted as routine democratic process or would there be efforts to circumvent the system?

The next 100 days are indeed crucial and cause for worry and, perhaps, hope!