Modi weans away ‘challenger’ Nitish

SS DhawanUpdated: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 04:43 AM IST
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PM Modi is too astute a politician to leave anything to chance in the 2019 general election. Acutely aware that the countdown has started on his tenure, which can reap little now by way of good governance, has coped Nitish Kumar, neutralising the only other ‘challenger’ on the political landscape.

An equally pliable and desperate Nitish has allowed himself to be weaned away so that he can piggy ride on the NDA in the 2019 election; but a man of all seasons, ‘Trojan’ horse Nitish can be trusted to catapult onto the national stage at a time of his choosing. Given that the ‘pretender-messiah’ has no qualms in abandoning the Bihar electorate – which had embraced him with gusto – Nitish could still spring a surprise on the political merry-go-round.

But weaning away smaller players from their existing formulations will not help the BJP unless the Congress is ‘ostracised’. So, what was in 2014 a tirade against the ‘nikkami maa-bete ki sarkar’ has now become a campaign to rubbish the Gandhis as fountainhead of corruption. Ironically, like the Congress party, over the years, the Modi-led BJP has begun to nurse the notion that it has the inalienable right to rule the country and that it is the sole harbinger of good governance.

But once one sleep walks into this ‘good governance’ trap, one is also lulled into believing that a single party’s political domination will alone ensure the incumbent (Modi) a high success rate in successive elections. The BJP, therefore, loses no opportunity to drum it into the masses that the Congress can now be written off as a political party, which will self-destruct sooner or later. The entire ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ prognosis hangs by this highly toxic thread of political hegemony that the BJP is seeking to establish.

However, such a fantasy is possible only if the already diminished Congress suffers some kind of national erosion. That explains the high decibel “malign Gandhis” undertaking which has been again outsourced to party mavericks like Subramanian Swamy who is now flogging the comatose Bofors horse after raking up the alleged legal infringements in the National Herald. Apparently, the tirade now goes beyond lampooning the infirmities of Rahul Gandhi. And as the political halo around Modi dims, the enthusiasm and the audacious presumption with which the BJP spokespersons fritter away their energies on national TV in targeting the Gandhis will surely touch a crescendo.

Modi also realises that the incompatibility between the demands of the Sangh Parivar and the agenda of development is eroding the credibility of the regime and in 2019 the BJP cannot afford to put all eggs in one basket. Also, with his own magic on the wane, the party cannot depend on only him to deliver the goodies. With that has come a change in emphasis and the acceptance that a local face will be needed to connect with the electorate in states where the caste calculus and local factors are paramount.

With that a great debate has ensued as to who will oppose the BJP in the 2019 elections. No one expects the Congress to tip the scales on its own. But a partial turnaround for the 2014 losers — the Congress, the Left and the DMK — would have far reaching consequences. Of course, there are too many imponderables: The Congress and the Left are on the same side of the fence in West Bengal even as they are at each other’s throat in Kerala. Next, Mamata could be part of the Opposition matrix — the other ‘challenger’ on the horizon — the state-specific hostility with the Congress and the Left notwithstanding.

But these are early days and the Amit-Modi combine has just begun its political acquisitions — weaning away winnable parties from their existing formulations. There will be more surprises and people like Tarun Gogoi need watching. There may be a simple explanation for PM Modi’s political smugness: it is perhaps anchored in a stubborn belief that he can transform the fundamentals of our politics. Largely emboldened by the resounding mandate in Uttar Pradesh, Modi is perhaps even looking at majoritarian single party rule for at least another two decades at the Centre!

Or at least the absence of a potent parliamentary opposition that would eventually lead to the collapse of the two-party system. So that the PM can rule without distraction and he is answerable on the issues of governance only to the RSS or the minions in his party. Theoretically speaking, India would of course remain a textbook democracy with multi-party elections but within this single party matrix. The pecking order at the Centre will be such that the smaller parties – mostly regional satraps – will be constrained to share the mandate with the only dominant party on the landscape – the BJP. Also, given their regional footprint, they would neither be able to challenge the BJP, nor come together to pose a formidable threat. Nor would they ever hope to weave an alternative national narrative – as JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar found out to his dismay.

In any case, the co-option of the smaller players will ensure that an “ostracised” Congress cannot even win a municipality without political crutches; this will effectively confine it to national catchment areas like Puducherry, on the periphery of the political divide. The Congress, too, had the good fortune of being the dominant party after Independence when it steered our nascent nation and fledgling democracy. Those were difficult times but it accepted the myriad challenges. But the Congress, instead of redeeming itself and filling the nation with hope, keeps behaving like a political zombie. Politics is all about conflict but the party seems to dodge it as if it were a bull on the rampage. Rather, it needs to embrace it with the fatalist romance of a nihilist, as Nehru would have done.

The author is the former editors at Free Press Journal

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