Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on the ascendant. Indeed, his times are good and he apparently is blessed with the Midas touch for now. If all goes well, he should cakewalk through the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, on to a second term in the coveted chair.
As things stand, Modi’s strategies are working well. The constant refrain of his critics was that with Muslims (who form a sizeable chunk of the country’s population) arrayed against him almost en bloc, how on earth can he neutralise that disadvantage.
Modi seems to have found the answer to that seemingly unobtrusively, albeit partially. It started with his support for social reforms among Muslims. What better than to make shrewd moves for the emancipation of women who have been perenially suppressed by chauvinistic Muslim men? With the winds of liberal change blowing across the world, wouldn’t Muslim women aspire to be on par with others?
The question of the blatantly oppressive and discriminatory ‘triple talaq’ came in handy. By a mere repetition of the word ‘talaq’ (divorce) thrice, a Muslim man could banish his wife to a world of neglect and repression while he himself married another woman and lived in comfort. The mullahs, who drew their sustenance from the male-dominated society, revelled in perpetuating male hegemony as they do even today.
Modi was quick to see an opportunity in this. He cautiously espoused the cause of Muslim women on triple talaq in the run-up to the UP Assembly elections when the Muslim male was hopelessly divided between the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. When results pointed to the fact that many Muslim women had voted for the BJP, Modi felt encouraged.
Modi’s next move was round the corner. Having set the SP, BSP and Congress groping over what had gone wrong in UP, he set about the task of building the hopes of the impoverished Muslim masses. He had already provided succour to the backward classes among Hindus and weaned them away from rival parties. Now, he announced that the backwards among Muslims would also be entitled to the same benefits.
It is yet too early to surmise on the result of his new move but the seeds have been sown for backward Muslims to break out of the traditional Muslim anti-BJP mould and to start looking up to Modi for economic emancipation. As it is, Muslims in general except the creamy layer that benefited from the wooing by political parties other than the BJP, are exasperated with poverty and deprivation. Many of them may well ask themselves ‘why not try out the BJP and see?’
The success of Modi’s experiment with selective Muslim wooing may well manifest itself in a windfall in the 2019 elections.
With Yogi Adityanath at the helm in UP, there is going to be tighter control over law and order which can hardly be ignored by the rank and file among the Muslims as much as by the Hindus so long as there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and religion.
Politically, the BJP started out in the current phase with the handicap that in two of the states that send out substantial number of Lok Sabha MPs — West Bengal (42) and Tamil Nadu (39) — the BJP was virtually non-existent. With West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on a belligerent path against Modi, the halo around her of being simple and running an honest government needed to be dealt with. Chit funds were proliferating in the state and their links with politicians were long suspected.
A deep investigation into their activities yielded a windfall as many senior functionaries of Trinamool Congress were found with their hands in the till. Tapping of phones did the rest as skeletons came tumbling out of cupboards. Whatever be the outcome of cases against ministers and senior party functionaries, the reputation for integrity of the TC has been ground to dust.
The other cause of worry for the BJP was Tamil Nadu. While J. Jayalalithaa was at the helm, there was a tacit understanding between her and Modi though there was an element of unpredictability that characterised Jayalalithaa. After Jayalalithaa’s untimely demise, Modi was acutely aware of Sasikala’s animosity towards him. He knew that she was up to deviousness and was diabolical to the core.
Modi sent emissaries to warn her but after a brief break, she was up to her tricks again. He found O. Panneerselvam far easier to deal with and simpler at heart. The two-pronged attack—an assault on the alleged black money hordes of Sasikala and her associates, and a relentless wooing of Panneerselvam—led the latter to suggest a merger of the two factions with Sasikala and her nephew and confidante Dinakaran being sidelined. That is where it stands today with the advantage being with Modi who sees a potential friend in the AIADMK.
In Kerala too, the BJP is steadily building up its base and the northeast which has a history of going with the ruling party at the Centre is gravitating towards the BJP inexorably.
As the Bihar elections showed, the consolidation of Opposition forces could spell trouble for the BJP. But with Arvind Kejriwal, the inveterate Modi-baiter marginalised by his poor showing in the Punjab and Goa assembly polls, and SP as well as BSP down and out after the UP elections, the field seems clear for Narendra Modi. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar could still pose a challenge but the dice is loaded in favour of Modi with the general elections just two years away.
The author is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books