The general mood is still upbeat about Modi & his govt
It is fascinating to observe how effortlessly the seasons change in the world of the chattering classes. By seasons, I don’t mean the inevitable transition from the monsoons to the brief Indian autumn when it is a series of uninterrupted festivities culminating in Diwali. I am referring to the political mood.
The brief Indian Spring was the occasion when a section of the chattering classes — by which I mean the small, but disproportionately influential, Left-liberal elite — readied itself for a momentous change. They convinced themselves, egged on by the English language media, that Narendra Modi would get his comeuppance in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. I recall the glee in secular circles after the first two phases of that election, when the bush telegraph proclaimed that the BJP had been well and truly trounced. When Modi went on an intensive campaign in the Varanasi region, it was suggested that this was a desperate, last minute bid to salvage the situation.
How the voters of UP actually voted came clear on counting day. I need not elaborate on the outcome, except to note that the BJP’s strike rate was the highest in the first two phases and in the last phase (when Varanasi voted) — a clear pointer that there is a wide gulf between reality and echo chamber chatter.
The summer and the monsoons were spent agonizing over the choice of Mahant Adityanath as the Chief Minister of UP and protesting against horrible lynchings and the inexplicable murder of an activist-journalist in Bengaluru. However, it was the evidence of an economic slowdown, occasioned by the enlargement of the tax net by the Goods and Services Tax, that has led to the secular dil mange more. It was concluded that evidence of colossal mismanagement of the economy was now before the people and it would be a matter of months before the countdown to Modi’s final departure from Race Course Road began.
It is being presumed, that this time the first blow will be struck by Gujarat, where there have been significant anti GST protests by traders who are among the BJP’s core support base. There is also the simultaneous belief that, having acquitted himself well before students in US Ivy League universities — not least by aggressively asserting that dynastic rule is an Indian characteristic — Rahul Gandhi is wonderfully placed to restore the ‘progressive’ agenda to Indian politics. In the past six weeks, the number of endorsements of Rahul from people who have used every occasion to pour aesthetic scorn on the Prime Minister have multiplied. The Left-liberal elite has buried earlier misgivings of the Congress’ heir-apparent and rallied around him as their only hope to rid the country of Modi.
The chatter that the tide has turned is now all-pervasive. It is being pointed out that the Delhi University students have hit the BJP where it hurts by rejecting some ABVP candidates; a small town BJP Councillor has been thrashed by angry Dalits protesting against demolitions; women students in Benares Hindu University have reclaimed their personal liberties by engineering the ouster of a ‘saffron’ Vice-Chancellor; the Congress has retained a municipal ward in a Jaipur by-election; the State president of BJP’s West Bengal unit was heckled by a section of Gorkha activists during a visit to Darjeeling; and the PM had to personally intervene, first by an aggressive speech and subsequently by convening a crisis management team, to attend to a looming economic ‘crisis’, with an eye on the Gujarat election.
Chatter, as we saw during the UP elections, can quite easily be manufactured. There is no doubt that the Congress has injected new life into its social media campaign. It is even out- performing the BJP, which hitherto had a complete monopoly over messaging. The party’s efforts have been complemented by a section of the ‘new’ media which has so far battled incessantly to create an anti-Modi mood.
There are a few conclusions to be drawn from the autumnal tremors. First, it is clear that the BJP machinery took its eye off the social media ball and fell back in the messaging game. It failed to anticipate the shift of gear from the ‘Not in my name’ phase to the economy-in-doldrums chatter. It reacted late. Second, there was a late reaction to inevitable problems created by the hiccups of balancing a long-term, transformation agenda with short-term dislocations. Finally, in the matter of organizing spirited fightback against a well entrenched elite, particularly during non-election seasons, the BJP is disproportionately reliant on the PM to rally its larger, non-party support base.
For the Government, however, there has been no real long-term damage. The fine-tuning of the GST was overdue and has at least lifted the spirits of the kary akartas. equally, Amit Shah’s participation in the protests against the Red terror in Kannur was important in galvanizing BJP cadres in places where the party still has a long way to go before it can make a mark. And the message that the PM is permanently responsive is a message that reinforces the sense of sincerity he exudes.
In the end the battle is, however, ethical. Modi has a two-fold agenda: To bring India into the 21st century as a major player and to remove the venal past. The first is a long-term project that will need tough decisions and relentless commitment. The second, however, warrants immediate attention. Those who chose Modi with such high expectations must be persuaded that the regime does really want to clear the cobwebs of past misdemeanors. The Government must take exemplary action to punish some of the key figures of India’s venal past. So far it has proceeded too slowly, providing the space for them to plan their comeback and revenge.
(Courtesy The Pioneer )