Saturday 21 October 2017

Gujarat polls will test Modi’s electoral hold (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

NDA needs to ask how many believe that their days have become better since 2014.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was recently adjudged guilty of corrupt practices by the judiciary in his country, and immediately stepped down from office. Since then, Sharif, daughter Maryam and husband Safdar have been found guilty in the Panama Papers case. Interestingly, in India, the same Panama revelations appear to have generated only a much lower degree of official attention (although of course the SIT must, as usual, have had sittings on the matter). Have the prominent names from India that were disclosed in the Panama revelations, been given the benefit of the doubt? This is, after all, a country where Coal Minister Manmohan Singh was declared guiltless by the Central government despite a scam involving the allocation of coalfields that resulted in the loss of billions of dollars to the exchequer. The reasons for which the former Prime Minister (in direct charge of Coal at the time) was found innocent of any involvement in the scam have yet to be explained, despite statements. For this is in the face of statements from some of the officials involved that the former PM was fully in the frame when the impugned decisions regarding allotment of coalfields was taken. But Manmohan Singh is not as charitable towards his successor, as witness the allegation of highway robbery made by him with reference to the 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the currency in the country. Since then, a resurgent Congress Party has persisted in a barrage of allegations of wrongdoing directed against the NDA II government, and this is expected to mount to a crescendo just before the next Lok Sabha polls. And while it is true that both A. Raja as well as Dayanidhi Maran have as Cabinet Ministers been subjected to court proceedings and worse, these were initiated while Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.
During the 41 months that the NDA has been in charge, neither the CBI nor the ED nor the DRI or even the Income-Tax Department has prosecuted any UPA-era minister, despite the coalition being described by the BJP throughout 2010-14 as being the most corrupt in the world. 
These days, from within the NDA, much is being made of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul being “out on bail”. What such spokespersons omit to mention is that these proceedings are owed not to anything that the government has done, but to the unconnected actions of Subramanian Swamy. Of course, a different situation prevails where the Ram Janambhoomi is concerned, as both Swamy as well as the Modi government have been working strenuously to ensure that the courts clear the way for a temple to rise on the birthplace of Lord Ram. 
It has been claimed that the election results of the Assembly polls in UP showed that the people of India welcomed demonetisation. So does the poor performance of the NDA in Punjab and Goa show that the reverse is true, or are only UP voters representative of India? Setting aside chatter about EVMs and their vulnerabilities, a more plausible explanation for the BJP’s victory was that the Muslim community got a hyper-optimistic idea of the prospects of the SP-Congress alliance as a consequence of the saturation coverage by the media of Rahul Gandhi teaming up with Akhilesh Yadav, and thereupon switched from the BSP to the SP-Congress alliance. Had they remained with Mayawati, the way it had been predicted before the Rahul-Akhilesh handshake, the outcome of the UP polls would have been very different. Of course, the BJP gained from the perception of UP voters that Narendra Modi would ensure jobs for them, a view that was diluted in its potency in states where there were incumbent governments, as for example Goa and Punjab. Such anti-incumbency being the case, the efficiency with which BJP president Amit Shah has ensured that state after state gets ruled by the BJP, may be a mixed blessing. Should there be “wave” elections, as in the Modi wave of 2014, and simultaneous polls take place to Parliament as well as the state legislatures, it is possible that a single party may dominate the political map of the country during such polls, the way the Congress did until 1967, only to make way for a challenger the next time around. The rate of growth in India during earlier years of all-India domination by a single party was around 2%. Lately, while the number of states and seats controlled by the BJP has been growing, economic growth has slowed down. As for scandals from the past such as Bofors, voters in India are not concerned about the past as much as they are about the present and the future. The question the poll managers of the NDA need to ask is how many voters believe that their days have become better since 2014 or not, for that will decide the 2019 verdict. 
Despite AAP and Congress-led efforts at reducing the esteem voters feel for Prime Minister Modi, he is still far and away the most popular politician in the country. This is the trump card of the BJP, especially in the Gujarat Assembly polls. Should BJP hold on to its majority in that state, it would indicate that voters are still hopeful of the Prime Minister delivering on his promise of more jobs and higher incomes. Had there been double digit growth in the country, Hardik Patel would have got a job through the online job sites that he applied on, and the Patidar stir may have been less consequential for the state. Patel’s arrest made matters worse, with Anandiben Patel doing the young activist the favour of making him a hero. Earlier, Home Minister P. Chidambaram had made Anna Hazare a global celebrity by incarcerating him in 2011. Should Gujarat remain in the BJP column, it would indicate that Modi’s electoral magic is still operative, and that in 2019 as well, the BJP should get the 245-plus seats the party needs to remain in power in an increasingly politically polarised country. Should the Gujarat results prove disappointing for the BJP, it would be a warning by that state’s perceptive voters that in exchange for support, voters expect a very different scale and style of performance from Modi and his ministers during their remaining months in office, than has been the case since 26 May 2014.

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