Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
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In these 12 months, the script for the race between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi for 2019 was rewritten.

One week may or may not be a long time in politics, but a year can be. A political year, however, doesn’t necessarily follow the Gregorian rhythm, but one that is so schizophrenic, you mostly feel it once it has passed. It also changes from year to year, and not necessarily every year.

Let’s simplify. There can be years at a stretch when our politics remains fundamentally static. The three-year period between mid-May 2014 and late-2017 was like that. These years could be a political commentator’s nightmare, if only the prime minister had not taken pains to light them up with demonetisation etc.

Until the winter of 2017, most analysts would have agreed on three things: That a second term for Narendra Modi was a done deal; that Rahul Gandhi and his Congress were in terminal decline; and that, long after Indira Gandhi’s heyday, India was headed for a long spell of one-party rule, and unipolarity. After the big win of Uttar Pradesh, and the folding in of satraps in the northeast, the BJP had 21 states under its belt and had pretty much set the tone for the rest of the state elections scheduled during the Modi government’s term, and the big test in 2019.

But something had begun to change by mid-December 2017. Yes, the BJP won a remarkable sixth term in Gujarat, but the contest had been closer than anyone had anticipated. It was reflected in the anxiety that both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah displayed in their campaign.

The prime minister’s tears — in victory and relief — at the BJP parliamentary party meeting shortly thereafter, showed what a close call it had been. We had then written that this will bring about a fundamental shift in the Modi-Shah politics. That they will no longer be plugging growth and jobs but a three-point proposition of Hindutva, hard nationalism with welfarism, and corruption-busting crusading. We can look back in satisfaction that we made the right call.

It still wasn’t the most important change and, to that extent, we failed to anticipate it. On 18 December 2017, not many would have said that Indian politics would lose its unipolarity in the next 12 months. That’s exactly what has happened now.

How unipolar our politics had become was evident in that storied, sniggering exchange between Times Now anchor Navika Kumar and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. Asked what the BJP would do if it fell short of numbers in Karnataka, the ruling party’s most powerful and prominent commissar said, so what, we’ve got Amit Shah.

It was no empty boast. It was conventional wisdom that if the BJP fell short of numbers anywhere, enough of the rest will automatically gravitate to it, as the only pole to go to. Its successes in Goa and the smaller northeastern states, — where it would form a government whether or not it was the largest party (Goa, Manipur) or in a minority of two (Meghalaya) — had shown that numbers no longer mattered to it as there was no competition. Many of these northeastern BJP governments, therefore, were more like leveraged buyouts. That is the leverage Ram Madhav suggested, Amit Shah personified.

It changed first with Karnataka. While the Congress surprised its friend and foe by going against its power instinct to cede the chief ministership to a smaller ally, the seed of a new politics was planted: A growing alliance of all those who were so desperate to keep the BJP out, they would pay any price for now. This challenged the Amit Shah-style politics. His power, of course, came from resources, and that much used word these days, “agencies”.

At some point in the battle for Karnataka, the BJP’s rivals lost their lure for immediate largesse and fear of the agencies. The BJP’s inability to win despite bending every law and morality by getting the CBI to let off the Bellary brothers months before that election was a political setback with lasting implications. Modi’s inability to swing a decisive win despite anti-incumbency and humongous spends, Bellary Mafia power, combined with that formidable show of autonomy by the Supreme Court which sat overnight to prevent a hijack in Bengaluru, had taken away the aura of invincibility from Modi.

First of all, Karnataka proved that Modi and Shah were no unbeatable geniuses, and the Congress still had the guile to defeat them strategically. Further, Modi had failed to win an election where he was the favourite, the powers of resources and agencies had failed to win over MLAs, and institutions, notably the Supreme Court, were defying him. A footnote: This had followed about a year after the first institutional setback to the Modi-Shah BJP, at the Election Commission, over Ahmed Patel’s Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat. It was now becoming clear that you could take the power of the BJP on, and hope to not just survive, but even win.

It set up a different tone for the coming Hindi heartland elections. The Congress and its allies could now believe that Modi was beatable, something they wouldn’t have dreamed of before mid-December 2017. By mid-December 2018, they believed for the first time that power was within their reach. That is why we call December to December, 2017-18, as a most important political year.


Also read: Modi’s BJP is not just Congress + cow, but it is Congress + cow + Indira Gandhi


On the afternoon the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Chhattisgarh results came, we had said that Modi’s idea of creating a Congress-mukt India was over. He also acknowledged it indirectly in his now doubly-famous interview to ANI’s Smita Prakash by saying that his idea of “Congress-mukt” India wasn’t that the party was demolished and buried but where its ideology and thought ceased to exist. Then he defined his idea of that Congress thought: Casteism, dynastic politics, undemocratic and nepotism.

Now, with the rise of Rahul Gandhi, a caste-based parties’ alliance (SP-BSP) threatening the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress counter-attacking him with corruption charges, even if Modi’s definition of the Congress as a thought is correct, it is now back, much stronger than it was at any time after 2010.

This is the second pole Indian politics was missing for at least three years.

You will have to be nuts to say that Modi is now an underdog for 2019. His personal popularity, connect with his audiences and magnetism are largely intact. As we have said before, in India a strong leader with a majority has never yet been defeated by a challenger. He (or she, as with Indira Gandhi in 1977) must defeat himself.

For that three things must happen: One, that he should become so unpopular that people will vote against him, no matter who might come to power in his place. Two, that a critical mass of diverse political forces should detest him so much that they will sink their differences and ambitions and come together against him, fear being the glue. And three, that there must be someone, some force for them to gather around, not necessarily a likely prime minister. In 1977, against Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan played that role, and in 1989 against Rajiv Gandhi, it was V.P. Singh.

From being a bumbling, fading dynast a year ago, Rahul Gandhi has led his Congress into that second pole position. The game for 2019 is now on — the reason the prime minister has chosen to miss Parliament and launched his campaign already.


Also read: This election loss has 10 lessons. BJP can choose to learn them or kiss 2019 goodbye


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7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. BODY-LINE bowling seems in effective now.
    BJP now has to invent a new trick. Perhaps VALUE DELIVERY to people may be an option.
    CM Nitish kumar who unconditionally surrendered has also claimed his pound from BJP.
    TIME TO RETURN TO DRAWING BOARD WITH HANDICAPS, IMPORTANT PARTIES WILL STAY AWAY.

  2. It has been apparent for quite some time that Mr. Gupta has been disappointed with the current dispensation in power . Yet he is against the opponents of Mr. Modi. He struggles with himself quite often in this regard and he also goes back to give examples which really amount to “whataboutry”. For example \1) He refers to Congress success in Gujarat to sacrificing the ideology in case of Congress to balance their tactics.2)In cut the clutter he in essence added to the clutter by pointing out the leaders` lack of attack on an individual journalist. But he had nothing to say about the channels which, instead of the role more as an adversary of the powers that be have been apologists and have been in absurd adversarial role against the opponents of Modi. The interview with ANI seems to be an attempt to mask its nature but it was in essense as sycophantic as that of Goswami or Navika Kumar for that matter. No mention of the price that journalists have had to pay for opposing whether it is Thapa, Ghosh, Sardessai, or Bajpai.

  3. Whichever date one puts to it, the salad days are over. Actually, Delhi in Feb 2015 was the first electric shock. 67 out of 70 for AAP was unimaginable, and the inability to coexist constitutionally with a tiny rival showed that cooperative federalism was just a cliche’. Bihar in September that year was a much bigger jolt, something which Nitishbabu’s cynicism managed to undo. So even in the first three, relatively placid years, there were chinks in the armour. A somewhat somnolent media also contributed to an overarching narrative that did not fully reflect ground realities. Difficult to believe that ordinary citizens were celebrating demonetisation with Diwali sparklers. 2. More fundamentally, delivery was falling short. Consider the CMs – barring Maharashtra – who were nominated to such important responsibilities. The mismanagement of the economy. Foreign policy / national security not lighting up the night sky with magnesium flares. The grime of anti incumbency was accumulating. If Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh we’re close, full marks to doughty CMs, not found elsewhere. Politics has been seen too much as the process of fighting and winning elections, forming governments, preferably after a victory, but even in its absence. What is in it for ordinary citizens, the poor of course, also the middle class as that gent from Pondicherry asked in anguish, has been largely lost sight of. 3. 2019 will be an honest referendum of the incumbent’s performance and delivery over five years, That is how it is, always, all over the world. The rules of elective democracy did not change with one simple majority in May 2014.

  4. It would have been good, why did it happen? Yes, you have written Yogi and demonetization were major mistakes of Modi, but what’s more than that for the changing equation? Yet, Modi remains a bait for the punters though he is appearing defensive. Unusual.

  5. Revival of congress is only media creation, 1) In Gujarat even after more than 20 years rule and so many issues on hand they could barely increase 10-20 seats. 2) In Karnataka only after 5 years rule they loose their majority and had to compromise and given up CM ship to a party having half of congress seat. 3) In recent election they only won convincingly in one small state, In MP even after 15 years of BJP rule they could not win it comfortably. The problem with India is we cant afford to loose congress as a strong opposition, result of this is if there is no Gandhi at the top position in congress it will disintegrate and with the Gandhi at the top India will suffer as we can see how good Rahul is. Gandhi will not allow any younger leader like Sachin or Sindhia to take a lead role as it will bring them in limelight.

  6. As PM ppl like to see a likable and endearing gentle face.Modi comes out as just opposite to these images.Indira was authoritarian but was like kind mother like to poorest of poor reason why she bounced back.In Modi lacks human values like compassion and looks very crude for a PM at times.

  7. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)

    Manifold reasons are responsible for this change of political fortunes in a span of one year !

    Unexpected manadate of the masses in 2014 in favour of NaMo led BJP made the duo of NaMo- Amit Shah turn arrogant and
    complacent. Power went to their heads constraining them to live in the fools paradise that they are invincible and there was no challenge to their leadership for pretty long ! This encouraged and emboldened them to go in for reckless, rash and whimsical unilateral anti-people decisions !

    What to talk of learning and going in for course correction in wake of their past mistakes they did not deem it fit at all to admit mistakes ! The Delhi, Bihar Assembly Polls (2015) ,Gujarat Assembly Polls (2017), Karnataka Assembly Polls(2018) and Byelections(Lok Sabha and Assemblies) in the nation did stun BJP springing too many surprises manyatimes contrary to NaMo-Shah expectations but both did not like to come out of their ivory shell of arrogance !

    The biggest weaknesses of NaMo-Shah have been the Congress, Mrs.Sonia Gandhi- Mr.Rahul Gandhi family ! NaMo-Shah have been the best well-wishers and dedicated devotees of Congress- Mrs.Sonia Gandhi family. So passionate is their love and affection for the Congress and the family that they cannot help remembering both day and night !

    I have observed that Prime Minister Modi though is a leader of BJP but especially he is so fond of Congress and the family that both haunt him every now and then ! Even after taking over the reins of the nation in May, 2014 he never believed in himself as the Prime Minister but always behaved and conducted himself as a leader of opposition as if still in the opposition !

    Mr. Shekhar Gupta is quite up to the mark when he remarked, ” He must defeat himself.”

    History Mr.Shekhar is going to repeat itself in 2019 too because NaMo does not need enemies because he is his own worst enemy !
    When NaMo sans any doubt has decided to bury himself under his own weight then who can help him ?

    It is a foregone conclusion that Congress and Sonia family will ultimately prove to be NaMo’s POLITICAL HAMARTIA !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala (Punjab)

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