It has now been firmly established that Narendra Modi is both a very lucky and brave person. By 2014 the 10-year rule of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party had been so mired in corruption that Indians would have settled for anyone except the grand old party. Modi saw the moment, led from the front and recorded an emphatic victory for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As he campaigned across the length and breadth of the country, Modi promised a lot, including what has come to be known as the mother of all ‘jumlas’ (false promises), of depositing Rs1.5mn in every Indian’s bank account from the money illegally stashed away in foreign shores, allegedly by Congress politicians and their crony capitalists.
In reality he was wasting his breath. No such promises were required. The Congress had made sure of a virtual walkover for Modi or anyone else the BJP would have cared to put up as prime ministerial candidate.
Regardless, Modi’s promise of equity for all, especially in matters of economy, did strike a resonant note. Truth to tell, Modi has been tirelessly at it for the past 45 months, ‘jumlas’ notwithstanding. Nobody can blame him for want of trying.
Yes, some of his more important initiatives – demonetisation of high value currency notes for one – have been controversial. But no policy maker anywhere, leave alone in a diverse country like India, can vouch the success of his/her enterprise of such nature. But fear of failure should be the last thing holding a prime minister or head of government back and Modi is surely not one to succumb to it.
Luck also played its part for Modi when, after two consecutive rain-deficient seasons, the heavens opened up over India for three successive monsoons. Bumper crops that resulted may have put farmers in distress because prices of farm produce plunged but that can only be seen as a problem of plenty. The other significant luck that favoured Modi was international energy prices that had headed south for three years straight doing India’s balance of payments a world of good.
But, if what goes up must come down, the opposite must also be true, most importantly in the case of oil prices which have been on the upswing for the past few months. Finance ministry mandarins say they have factored in oil at $75 a barrel in all their plans, so the present price levels are fine with them. But since we are all gearing up for the big election date in 2019, there is enough time for oil to breach that threshold. Hence at least on the oil front Modi’s luck may be hanging by a fragile thread.
But that’s fine, for Modi has a bigger slice of luck going for him in the form of domestic political opposition.
Ideologically Modi invokes very sharply contradicting reactions. There are those who would die for him and there are those who would want him dead. It is often said that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. This may not be altogether true in Modi’s case. A large section of his enemies have no other interest than to see his downfall. For instance, Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar, now cooling his heels in a Jharkhand jail, had openly declared that he would do anything to defeat Modi.
But the problem with the opposition is similar to the one of belling the cat. No single party or person is strong enough or charismatic enough to take Modi on, yet everyone wants him out.
As the only party with pan-India presence and also having been there and done that several times before, the Congress Party feels it should be the natural leader of any opposition coalition. By extension, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is its choice for prime minister in 2019. Rahul’s mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has herself endorsed her son’s pre-eminence when she said Rahul is her boss.
Although many leaders in the party would privately confess their doubts about Rahul Gandhi’s mental and intellectual sagacity to become India’s prime minister, they know he is their only choice because without that famous surname to prop them up the party will cease to exist pretty quickly.
A similar question of survival is also staring at the communists who at one time had ambitions of becoming a predominant political force in the country but are now reduced to regional status with just two states under their rule. It is, therefore, natural for the communists to find common cause with the Congress against Modi and the BJP, at least at the national level.
The left parties, despite differences within themselves, were well represented in the recent meeting of opposition parties called by Sonia Gandhi who told the gathering that “we all have to come together leaving aside differences.”
But that is easier said than done as the meeting, that had representatives from 17 parties, itself showed. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who has a fairly good equation with Sonia, thinks Rahul is too immature and therefore would not want to do anything with him. She did not attend citing “prior commitments” although Sonia had made sure all parties were kept informed well in advance.
Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien, who represented his party, said there was no one more capable to lead the fight against Modi than Banerjee herself. Rahul Gandhi does not qualify.
Banerjee received further boost to her stature when Hardik Patil, the young Gujarati leader of sections of Patidars, told reporters after meeting her in Kolkata: “I feel Mamata Banerjee should be the face of this united opposition.” That must have hurt the Gandhis to no end because Rahul and Hardik had come together to fight the BJP in the Gujarat assembly elections and the Congress Party must have hoped for continued support from the Patidar leader.
The stock of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Uttar Pradesh may be low at the moment but that did not prevent party supremo Mayawati from ploughing that lonely furrow in the hope her time will come. She not only gave the meeting a miss but ordered her party lieutenants not to co-operate with the Congress-led opposition. And then she went ahead and forged a tie-up with the Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister Deve Gowda for the upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka where the Congress is in a bitter struggle to retain power against a relentless BJP onslaught.
Before we get to the parliamentary elections next year, there are eight state assembly elections scheduled for this year and early 2019. The BJP may win some of these but are also more than likely to lose some. Rajasthan, for instance, is as good as gone because Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has failed to deliver even as the state unit of the Congress Party under Sachin Pilot has galvanised into a formidable force. (Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar, too, will face similar fate but that is likely to happen only after the parliamentary polls.)
These may be setbacks for the BJP as a party but the opposition seems bent upon making sure that Modi’s own future is safe in 2019. Modi cannot be faulted if he wonders why with enemies like these he would ever need friends!
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