Hindi Heartland’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’

Hindi Heartland’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’

Virendra KapoorUpdated: Monday, December 04, 2023, 10:41 AM IST
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New Delhi: Prime Minister and senior BJP leader Narendra Modi with BJP National President J.P. Nadda arrives to attend celebrations after partys victory in elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, at BJP headquarters, in New Delhi | PTI

The clearest message emerging from the Sunday’s count of the votes polled for electing five new assemblies is this: There is no stopping Modi in 2024. Period. The voter in the Hindi heartland has spoken loud and clear, rejecting Rahul Gandhi’s childish fulminations against the Prime Minister.

Though Modi was not on the ballot in any of the states, as Ashok Gehlot complained, the BJP fought the election as if it was a Lok Sabha poll – the image of Modi looming large on the horizon of the voters’ mind. For the BJP, Modi alone carried the campaign on his shoulders while the Congress, after the success of Karnataka’s top two leaders, Siddaramaiah and Shiv Kumar, left it to the regional leaders to manage the campaign. The Gandhis, Rahul and Priyanka, were assigned the role of talking heads only.

In today’s polity, there is no one in the BJP or the en - tire Opposition who comes anywhere close to the Prime Minister in the popularity stakes. And like it or not, in any democracy, winning elections is the first and foremost test of a leader.

Not that Modi is doing badly as a manager of the economy. As the latest numbers testify, India is the only major economy set to grow at about seven per cent, and the July-September GDP growth was at 7.6 per cent. The IMF and other financial bodies have revised India’s growth upwards for the current and the next year.

The share markets, thought not always in sync with the overall political mood, are booming; convinced that Modi’s return for a record third term will provide the stability which they consider as sine qua non for growth. On Monday, reflecting the good cheer from the assembly results, the Dalal Street punters are most likely to take the Sensex to new highs.

Indeed, the business community quakes with fear at the mention of ED, IT, CBI etc., feeling that these agencies have been given a free hand by the government; yet, in unison, the business community wants to see Modi return for a third term. The paradox is not hard to comprehend. The business community’s love for stability has been further bolstered by the competent manner the government has shepherded the economy to a higher growth trajectory. ‘Khichdi’ governments are anathema to business.

Whatever the noise, the dotted I.N.D.I.A bloc has proved to be a non-starter. And is unlikely to find traction after the blow to the Congress’s hopes of revival in the Hindi heartland. It was gung-ho after winning Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, making little allowance for the shortcomings of the outgoing BJP governments in the two states.

So confident was the Congress that it would not accommodate Akhilesh Yadav’s demand for a couple of seats in Madhya Pradesh, airily dismissing that I.N.D.I.A is for the Lok Sabha poll only. Now, come Lok Sabha polls, Akhilesh will show the Congress the door when the party seeks a seat-sharing arrangement in UP.

Widely billed as a semi-final before the final in April-May next, the Congress had pinned its hopes on Kamal Nath ousting Shivraj Singh Chauhan who was in his fourth term as chief minister in Madhya Pradesh and had naturally gathered a lot of anti-incumbency around him. And the Congress was banking on the magician Ashok Gehlot to cast his spell on the Rajasthan voter, with his slew of freebies announced in the weeks before the poll.

As for Chhattisgarh, the Grand Old Party thought it was sitting pretty with Bhupesh Baghel in command and the BJP virtually marginalising the only state-level leader of consequence it had in former chief minister Raman Singh. In Telangana, the only state south of the Vindhyas electing a new assembly, the Congress party had shown promise, particularly after ousting the BJP in Karnataka.

Increasing revulsion against KCR family rule had alienated the powerful Reddys, who after initially flirting with the BJP, rushed to embrace the GOP post-Karnataka. As for Mizoram, the north-east state with a lone seat in the Lok Sabha, counting will take place on Monday. Typically, neither the national parties nor the media showed much interest. Incidentally, here the front BJP is allied with is set to retain power despite a hung verdict predicted by the exit polls. Given the huge margin of its success, the ruling duo in BJP might be tempted to replace Chauhan as chief minister. That would be a mistake. The election campaign had a downside insofar as both the national parties vied with each other in announcing freebies for the voters. Even Prime Minister Modi, after decrying what he called ‘revdis,’ could not resist the temptation to extend the free rations for 81.35 crore Indians for another five years. Remember, when it was last extended for a year ending later this month, the finance ministry had raised an objection. Now, the bill for a full five years is supposed to be over Rs 11 lakh crores. The race to distribute freebies at a stage when the economy may be primed for take-off is a retrograde move.

Voters come to take the freebies for granted, not being perennially grateful for them. For proof, look at KCR, who came up with a lot of meaningful and section-specific freebies. And in spite of these, he lost; or even Gehlot, who had announced a lot of people-friendly freebies.

Meanwhile, Supriya Sule has averred that Sunday’s outcome will have no impact on the Lok Sabha polls. it is hard to say whether she was addressing her fears that the stupendous success of BJP may further cement the ruling three-party alliance in Maharashtra, causing even further exodus from her father’s much emasculated NCP faction, or she genuinely believed that overnight, the opposition leaders in the dotted coalition would sink their differences and suppress their egos to ensure a one-toone contest against the BJP.

If anything, the Sunday outcome will embolden regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav to assert themselves, refusing to grant any quarter to Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. Indeed, the I.N.D.I.A experiment may be in jeopardy after the assembly blow to its main constituent. Regional parties will not yield an inch to Congress in the Lok Sabha poll, ensuring a premature death for the dotted alliance.

Meanwhile, it is time too not only for the Congress Party loyalists to think of a new leader in place of the old young man Rahul Gandhi, but for the BJP as well, to start grooming a second rung of leaders. Overdependence on Modi can leave the party leaderless when the time comes for Modi to call it a day.

Recall that he had, in his maiden speech in the Lok Sabha in 2014, sought but only ten years to set things right. He did set a lot of things which were wrong right, and introduced to the country a lot of right things, but he cannot go on indefinitely. He will be closer to 80 in 2029 and therefore must help the BJP put a competent second rung of leadership in place. Just as the Vajpayee-Advani duo had done before him. He was part of that second rung which came to shine the brightest of them all.

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