Not growth & jobs but nationalism, Hindutva, corruption will drive Modi’s push to 2019

Illustration by Pealidezine
Illustration by PealiDezine

The BJP’s close shave in Gujarat, and not the sweep in Uttar Pradesh, will shape the party’s strategy. Growth, jobs, and achche din will be mere afterthoughts.

Which is the defining political image of the year? We have choices: Prime Minister Narendra Modi flashing the ‘V’ sign after the Gujarat results; Rahul Gandhi in a Gandhi cap unfurling the Congress flag; a new Dalit President; a triumphant Amarinder Singh; Kejriwal blaming EVMs; Yogi Adityanath, BJP’s rising star, breaking the Noida superstition to be there for the Metro’s inauguration.

If you like complexities, you can choose Nitish Kumar at Vijay Rupani’s swearing-in with other BJP and NDA chief ministers. It was in this decade that he wouldn’t allow Modi to attend his own swearing-in. You could also pick Lalu Yadav returning to jail, while his Twitter handle enjoys full chirping liberty.

My political image of the year is none of these. It is Narendra Modi breaking down while speaking to the BJP parliamentary party after the Gujarat victory. I choose it because this defining image of 2017 will also define the politics of 2018 and script the battle of 2019.

This prime minister, more than any we have seen, is capable of keeping true emotion inside his chest. His public appearances are carefully crafted and the emotion on display is carefully chosen. This outburst seemed spontaneous, or if I am allowed a near-hyperbole, a barely-controlled explosion.

The prime minister had sensed midway in the campaign that Gujarat was a fight. A few close seats going the other way, even if the BJP was still left with a majority, would have caused him enormous damage. It would have revived the Congress at transition time, made it a stronger magnet for anti-BJP parties, and shaken a new and what’s-the-best-offer ally like Nitish. Modi’s emotional burst, therefore, was an expression of relief as well as anger. This anger should define his politics going ahead.

While his party may use the alibi of a 22-year incumbency, it won’t fool him. It was Gujarat’s first election with him as the prime minister. Conventional anti-incumbency didn’t apply in this case. His party in Gujarat had let things slip in just three-and-a-half years. The state has had two chief ministers, one more ineffectual than the other. The party and the state government had failed to foresee or contain large, caste-based popular movements.

Agrarian anger had reached a level he could never afford. A new generation of popular leaders hostile and rude to him had risen in a state where traditionally even Congressmen were in awe of him. All of this had happened in his own medium-sized state enjoying a remarkable domination of national power – since both the prime minister and the BJP chief are Gujaratis – no other state of this size has had yet. If he couldn’t take Gujarat for granted in his fourth year as prime minister, and if his party couldn’t even deliver it, he was right to be angry.

A picture of Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of ThePrint

He also understands the deeper issue. Overall economic growth has persisted below levels that produce a feel-good sentiment. The unemployable young are as angry as the farmers. There is no quick-fix to a stalled economy. The one hope of kick-starting growth through interest rate cuts has reversed. In fact, bond yields have been rising for 12 weeks now, showing that the low-rate opportunity has passed us by. Even if growth returns now, it will be too late to produce enough jobs to calm this frustration. And he considers them his most important constituency.

Next year will see him addressing these concerns in emergency mode and that will shape his politics. He also knows that his challenge ultimately came from the use of new caste groups, loosening his hold on Gujarat. This part-success will be employed by his opponents everywhere now.

Politics will now be defined by the Gujarat election rather than Uttar Pradesh, which is more than three times bigger. Gujarat was all about Modi and Shah, yet ended up so closely fought. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP was against unpopular incumbents in a three-way contest. Gujarat is its home pitch.

Modi will apply conclusions from this near thing to 2019 and the 10 states going to the polls until then. The first lesson is an old one. The BJP wins when Hindus vote together and not on a big-caste basis, as against small caste/sub-caste groups which Amit Shah can socially engineer masterfully. The central tussle in our electoral politics is, can you re-stitch with faith what caste divided? Congress, with Jignesh, Alpesh and Hardik, nearly won that in Gujarat. Modi-Shah don’t want to see it again. So, expect more polarisation with Hindutva as its glue.

The triple talaq bill is the opening move. In marketing, this is called repositioning your competition. Rahul Gandhi will answer this with temple visits, but it will take some political genius to oppose the bill and escape the charge of minority appeasement. It will be Tipu in Karnataka, and more such will be found, or invented, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

While ‘Vikas’ will be the slogan, BJP now knows for sure the economy isn’t going to deliver jobs or votes in this term. The fight against corruption may still have some electoral fuel. So the discourse will shift there. There will be more raids and action on high-profile names and efforts made to fast-track some big corporate bankruptcies. Modi’s anti-corruption crusader’s image has diminished with the acquittal of the 2G accused, and now, the seeming judicial dilution of the Adarsh case. But his and his government’s reputation is still free of the corruption taint. Allegations that have recently surfaced do not stick, and the loose “Adani-Ambani sarkar” jibes get retweets but no votes. Be surprised, therefore, if you don’t see a renewed anti-corruption drive.

Corruption is a good issue, but the killer combination in electoral politics is religion and nationalism. We will see plenty of the latter. History tells us that India unites behind the incumbent in periods of crisis despite its failures or even incompetence. Recent examples are the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments getting larger majorities within months of Kargil and 26/11, respectively. Logically, you can foresee the crisis with Pakistan being ratcheted up, helped along by screaming commando-comic TV channels.

There will be a complication here, though. Nobody knows what’s on China’s mind and what moves it will make at Doklam and elsewhere as the snows melt. A crisis will be good for the incumbent as long as it can be contained and serious shooting doesn’t begin. Or a victory can be claimed in the end. This will be a challenge as the Modi government balances aggressive nationalism with India’s strategic limitations.

The three engines of BJP politics going ahead will be religion, nationalism and corruption. You will sometimes hear about growth; jobs and achche din will pop up here and there as slogans, but these will be mere afterthoughts. That’s our reading of Narendra Modi’s teary face image to define the rest of his term.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Narendra Modi is the master of all arts in eliminating his enemies and get victorious at all odds.He has earned the love affection of crores of Indian by his mastery on elimination of his enemies against all objections and oppositions from all his detractors.In Gujarat it was surely anti Incumbency,GST and Patidar against BJP and till MODI begins hie Poll campaign it was understood that strong undercurrent was against BJP.But soon after he began is poll campaign meetings all over Gujarat he won back his lost popularity in Gujarat.Although few people were against him for his neglect of Gujarat during last 3 and half years after he renounced CM post for PM Post it was obvious that BJP will not get back the mandate.But MODI is a Saint who never get over confident and never depressed.He has shown his charisma once again in Gujarat and won back the state from anarchical team of Congress ISI DAWOOD and Their slaves HAJ gang.MODI will definitely win very BIG in 2019 without his alliance with SAD and Shiv Sena.He has to delink from Akalidal in Punjab as the Party is out of sync with youth.Shiv Sena is out of its mind by its hatred against GUJARATI people.It is beyond their imagination that a Gujarati People will rule as PM>So they objects to each and every work of MODI.Regarding his love for Nationalism Patriotism , Shekhar Gupta ought not question.MODI is fiercely Nationalist and patriotic.He is democratic beyond imagination of Stooges of Sonia Gandhi who became a fascist Ruler in 2004-2014 period when she imposed Christianity and Islam on Majority Hindu Country HINDUSTAN.Her hatred for HINDUS was so deep that she promulgated an anti HINDU bill Prevention of Communal Violence Bill enacted by her NAC.Shekhar Gupta can go to any extent to praise her and demean MODI.But People of India love MODI for his HINDUTVA,NATIONALISM,PATRIOTISM CRUSADER AGAINST CORRUPTION.Modi hates demagoguery and opportunism.He can took action on all his enemies who has plundered India in ten years of their HITLER STALIN Rule but he did not done so at his own expense.AFTER 2019 He will show his true color of a benevolent dictator with Iron hands in velvet gloves and all enemies be warned for that to be prepared to suffer or fled

  2. Those laugh on teary face of Modi during Gujarat election campaign ought know the pain on his mind when he saw that few anti national GUJARATI people fall prey to MONEY bags of Dawwood ISI and Congress and goes against HIS Gujarati pride.

    • Modiji is an accomplished actor. As an alternative to politics, he can coveniently and comfortably choose that line of career. Bollywood would welcome him cheerfully.!

  3. You forget that monstrosity – the temple. The broad contours of a Ram Rajya were, umm, nothing really. It was just the pronouncement that Ram Rajya is the Best. So, Hindus will keep falling for that without questioning. They will kick up a war with Pakistan using the paranoia that inexplicably haunts the older generation. The younger crowd in India will get bored of this old man who keeps saying the same things, and gravitate instead towards Rahul Gandhi (who might say equally inane things, though he doesn’t screech as much as this one). Modi will lose 2019 because Indians will belatedly realise something they ought to have figured 15 years ago: the man just doesn’t have a grip on the basics, law & order and unglamorous, nuts n bolts, steady job generation. Also, he and his herd are truly regressive – or perception is that they are. Live by sword, die by sword: he won by perception, he ll lose by perception. It’s not even very imaginative. His story. He can become Gujarat CM again, given he was Gujarat’s PM only these last 3 years.

  4. With barely a year left, doing good work on the economy – not much discernible so far – might seem like a risk, other paths to power seem more promising, but my heart tells me that would not be a great idea.

  5. Indians have given a simple majority after thirty years. The other historical fact is that they have repeated an incumbent also only once in thirty years. UPA II came about after several years of some of the best economic growth India has ever seen. The government had fiscal space, kept raising MSP for crops, spent on Nrega, went ahead with a large farm loan waiver. The seeds of the scandals that would haunt it later had been sown, but not sprouted. Replacing the inconsequential Shivraj Patil with the technocratic competence of P Chidambaram saved it serious embarrassment on 26 / 11. L K Advani’s candidature was an added bonus. The short point is : 2019 is not in the bag. The government must be seen as having done good work, improved the lives of Indians perceptibly, for it to be rewarded with a second term.

  6. The way so called DHARM GURUSand other religious people are being used byModi/BJP,common man willlose faith very soon.Corruption is widespread asbefore.Modi has hardly anything to show as Govt.s achievement.Congress has to work hard like Gujrat.The best of Modi//BJP is over.

  7. And this is the defining article of this year. Excellent Analysis, it is. BJP may use nationalism, hindutva and corruption as election planks/ploy. The first and the third one would be planks proper, whereas the third one shall be a ploy, only a bit too wearisome and a bit too obvious for the electorate. Hope, the BJP understands it.

  8. In marketing terminology, consumers always choose – a stress free option – meaning, given multiple choices, the consumer say I know its not the best product but am more sceptical about other ones – so for now I will stick to this.

    Thats how UPA II came about and thats what BJP should aim at. Accept that a lot needs to be done – some way to go before acche din – but Modi & Team is the best option for now, lets stay the course with them.

    To summarise in political slogan terms, say ………………………… Modi kareyga Vikas, Baki all bakwaas.

  9. Your face and mind reading skill has fallen flat. If the congress stoops to dividing votes (caste divisions) by creating demons like Alpesh, Hardik and Jignesh then certainly Hindutva will define 2019 elections. What’s also to be watched will be the the media men like you who’s discourses are colored and biased in undermining interalia big successes like anti-corruption moves, TTT, Doklam etc but towing the congress line and backing a nobody like RaGa

    As a last word: maybe Sonia & RaGa know what’s on the mind of the Chinese and Pakistanis

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