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One point BJP, Congress agree on: Modi’s unbeatable. Frozen politics waits for big new idea

Advani’s BJP fought back after being reduced to 2 in 1984. Congress is fleeing with 52, leaving fight with Modi to activists, intellectuals, PIL warriors.

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Even in times so polarised that we fight over the colours of our cricket team’s kit, there is one thing both fans and critics of Narendra Modi agree on: That he is unbeatable. Now, and in any foreseeable future.

First, the BJP loyalists. They think their hold on power is now unshakeable for a quarter of a century. Broadly, that would make it about equal to the Congress rule between 1952-89, broken only by the short period between 1977 and 1979. This is only fair, they say, as the nationalist Right must have the same opportunity to mould India as the secular Left did after Independence.

In five years, they’ve already shown how fragile the old socio-political formulations, especially of hard secularism, are and how easy it is to take away socialism and welfarism from the old Centre-Left — only to execute it better, and convert this efficient delivery to the poor into votes. The project to change the ideological and philosophical colour of gathering academia and intelligentsia is already progressing well.

With repeated majorities, they believe, they will have the time to achieve much of their ideological objectives by 2025, early in Modi’s third term. The remodelling of India into their concept of Hindu Rashtra, they believe, can be achieved in the next six years, within the ambit of the same Constitution, basic character and all. That year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RSS.

Modi loyalists now believe they have established a social contract with India’s poor, much as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had done.

They believe they have destroyed the Congress not through Hindu nationalism, but by being better at old-Congressisms: Welfarism, a national security obsession bordering on jingoism, and an almighty personality cult. This new social contract with the poor has made Modi unbeatable, they think.

The best armies can lose wars, but they are tested for their nerve in orderly retreats as much as in heady victories. The Opposition, led by the Congress, is breaking ranks and retreating into self-destruction much like our army in 1962, commanded by cowardly generals who fled first, and bumbling politicians.

The mood is characterised by the Opposition’s sanctimonious outrage at the voters. The Congress believes ‘Modi has won but India has lost’, which the PM brought up in Parliament this week to taunt the Opposition. Allies of the Congress and others fare worse. For example, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s outburst at job-seekers: ‘You voted for Modi, ask him for jobs’ is typical of this bankruptcy. And Mayawati blaming her own ally Akhilesh Yadav for her defeat. The BSP chief’s is the most panicky politics now, followed closely by Mamata Banerjee. The Bengal CM’s call to the Congress and Left to join her in a common front against the BJP is morally bankrupt, politically nutty and psephologically unwise. It is as if Mamata has already conceded defeat in the next assembly elections. Others, from the Left to Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Mohan Reddy, KCR and M.K. Stalin, do not count.

It is tempting to buy into the Opposition’s mood — that Modi is unbeatable, particularly with his 95:5 superiority in resources, tightening control over the institutions and an increasingly supplicant media. What can you do if the voters want an elected dictatorship?

Historically, post-Rajiv Gandhi, this has been the approach of the Congress party. It gets so contemptuous of people who reject it overwhelmingly that it doesn’t even go back and ask them why. Yogendra Yadav, in his psephologist avatar, made a startling finding: That the Congress never makes a recovery in a state once its vote share has fallen below 20 per cent there.

It just gets so angry with voters’ “stupidity”, as if to say, OK guys, you don’t deserve us and we don’t need ungrateful people like you. This, the outrage of the spurned feudal, is a reasonable explanation for Rahul Gandhi not showing up in Amethi even five weeks after he lost the loyal family bastion. You can’t be so dismissive unless you’ve concluded that Modi is now unbeatable. So, the opposition to Modi is better left to ‘liberal’ activists, intellectuals and PIL warriors. The challenge of a political reversal, therefore, is diminished into the heady but collegiate idea of ‘resistance’.

Also read: Nehru-Gandhi family nostalgia is just not enough to win elections in India anymore

If both the Modi backers and opponents are right and he’s permanently unbeatable, the first casualty will be political commentators like us. There will be nothing more to say. The fact is, politics never becomes frozen or static for long. It is mostly cyclical, though the wheel can sometimes take really long to turn, as it did with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The history of democracies is filled with examples of the self-destruction of both, who declared victory or defeat too early. But there are also many of those who refuse to give up, absorb the shock and lessons of defeat and rebuild — but with patience. The best examples are both Indira’s Congress after the Emergency and then the Advani-Vajpayee BJP.

Indira Gandhi rebuilt herself within two-and-a-half years, via jail and riding an elephant to Belchi. When she saw a weakness in the Janata government, notably national security, she attacked it devastatingly and succeeded.

In 1980, the Janata Party, which included the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, disintegrated in humiliation and Indira Gandhi made a thumping return. But Vajpayee and Advani led their defeated troops into an organised retreat and regrouped into a new party, the BJP. Within four years, it suffered a bigger setback, reduced to two in Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 landslide. As did the rest of the Opposition.

But Advani and Vajpayee didn’t go into a sulk. They analysed their weaknesses and put their heads down with determination and humility. And, remember, Rajiv had won 414 seats then. Modi still has only 303.

Within three years, that same devastated opposition had reduced Rajiv to a lame duck. Rajiv’s errors helped, but the Opposition, especially the BJP, did a brilliant job inside Parliament and outside, aligning with Congress dissidents and Opposition leaders it had fought with, and worked with activists and the media to unravel Bofors and other scandals.

The real reason it raised itself to power in 1998 was that it found a big idea the Congress and Socialists couldn’t counter: Ram Mandir and new Hindutva. You can detest it, but a big idea was needed as an alternative. It’s taken 35 years, but the BJP is now as dominant as the Congress in the past.

The best way to learn lessons of politics, in victory or defeat, is from evidence from your own times. Modi may have the aura of an irresistible conquistador now but he is human. He isn’t an ‘avatar’ (or ‘autar’ as they’d say in the heartland). Within months of his 2014 landslide, Arvind Kejriwal beat him 67-3 in Delhi, only because his AAP then was a big new idea. Political change of that kind needs radical surgery. Homoeopathy won’t do.

This is the season of cricket, and I will invoke a brilliant Asaduddin Owaisi description for Modi: He walks into Parliament with the nonchalance of a Vivian Richards coming out to bat in supreme contempt of the bowlers. Then there’s the ‘solution’ England found for their Richards problem: Just set a deep, defensive field, let him keep hitting and you block his shots until he gets bored and makes a mistake. Endless patience, self-preservation, waiting for the adversary to make errors is also a strategy. The first pre-requisite, even more than intellect, is a bunch of guts and some fire in the belly.

Also read: Why the new Modi Model is the old Gujarat Model raised to the power of 3 super-bureaucrats


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  1. Rahul going and meeting the Chinese ambasdor at height of Doklam and Chinese Ministers during Kailash Yatra and not informing MEA almost amounts to being a traitor.
    Appointment of Gen Kaul as Corps Cdr 4 Corps in 62 war just because he was a Kaul was another instance of casteism and favoritaism by Nehru.
    Gen Kaul was a Army Supply Corps officer and had no operational experience of war.
    Removal of 370 , triple Talaq, Preparation for Uniform Civil Code are some of the steps to equalizing the citizens of this country.
    May the tribe of such people increase and Casteist, religious bigots such as Owaisi, Mayawati, Akhilesh , Rahul and white skin Sonia rot in hell

  2. Yes. The last para is the ONLY solution for the straggled and clueless ‘opposition’ and nothing personifies this better than the sulking Rahul who seems not to understand nor care that such sulking does not advance the cause of his shattered and humiliated party the least bit, but only succeeds in enthusing the BJP further. The only ‘guts’ Rahul ever displayed was in abusing, reviling and demeaning Modi at a ‘personal’ level. knowing well that Modi’s style will not allow him to actually ‘hit’ Rahul back in the same coin. (meanwhile Rahul was only alienating and losing voters by the lakhs everywhere) And, as for fire in the belly, even a full month and a week after the results, there is not even a “SPARK” in Rahul, let alone “any “FIRE”. Add to that the highly ridiculous charade and drama of resignations by unimportant and irrelevant office bearers, and the humiliating, submissive prostrating daily before Rahul by hordes of lower level Congressmen begging him to stay, you have a perfect picture of a shattered party and its so called ‘HIGH COMMAND’. But, will anything change? An absolute “NO” is the loud answer.

    • Biased , as per you BJP is democratic ? Can any body raise voice before the two in party ?

  3. No election in our country has evoked as much of discussion as the last election. The discussion too appears too polarised. Many glorifying and yet many mourning! I wonder what the Indian History will record about this, say after hundred years from now!
    The Indian National Congress was formed for movement of freedom struggle. Gandhi ji wanted to see it dissolved after we got freedom. The leaders did not do this …. precisely they wanted to encash the freedom struggle for years to come and remain in power.
    We did never foresee any danger to democracy when year after year India voted for Congress. We even didn’t see any danger for democracy when time and again Nehru threatened to resign to get through his say. We never saw any danger when Indira ji wrote to JP that country is more important than democracy, we never saw any danger even when it was said Indira is India. It is not to suggest at all that Nehru was not a great Prime Minister. Whosoever may say whatever, fact remains it was Nehru who laid the foundation of modern India, made India’s democracy stronger and stronger and earn an unimpeachable glory of a world Statesman even though India was so poor.
    The only point here is only one more mandate for Modi and we assert that ” voters want an elected dictatorship”. Why this assertion? Did Modi ever doubted democracy of this country? Or did he feel the mandate is for him being a dictator? And will India tolerate any onslaught on democracy? India has already given reply to this in 1977.
    The fact to underline is that Indian polity is undergoing a sea change and the change is for good. It is unfortunate that the opposition is so demoralised ….. There was no strong opposition to Nehru as well who commanded unquestionable Love of the country. But there were people who were strong opponent to Nehru. Lohia was never seen wanting opposing Nehru. So was Advani, Vajpayee, George, Rajnarayan, Indrajeet Gupta, Harkishan Singh Surjeet during successive Congress regime, though their number were too less.
    The opposition has to conserve itself, wake up and fight for India they cherish.
    Yes, it is upto BJP and Modi ji too to ensure opposition is encouraged and heard. He has said so in no uncertain terms but he must mean so and must be seen practicing so too. But ultimately the opposition is to stand up and be visible for the people. Congress has to reconstruct itself and be visible and viable to provide an alternative.
    World over there are rightists and they do come to power very often too. That way it is delayed in India. We have to see, observe, articulate, evaluate and then conclude. Let’s not jump to conclusions. Hindu Raj is nowhere in the agenda of BJP nor did they fought the elections on that. Let’s not frighten the country unnecessary. Yes, removing 370 and Uniform Civil Code is very much in the agenda. We are yet to see how the BJP take the path on these. Modi ji has asserted time and again that a broad consensus would be reached upon on important matters. The time will unfold the realities after all.
    If Modi ji is appearing unbeatable and invincible, it is solely because of the fact that there is no such committed and dedicated leader in any political party to challenge him. The 2019 mandate is not only for Modi ji, it is for the absence of any alternative to him also. It is not at all the responsibility of either BJP or Modi ji to create a leader better than himself in opposition. The call has to be taken by the parties concerned …. they have to start churning and discovering such leadership.
    And this too will take shape. History is always in the habit of filling the gaps. The Leaders are certainly going to emerge in various political parties. The parties just can’t afford to be like this and vanish from the scene. The mandate might have been too shocking for them. But it have been unimaginable for BJP too. Otherwise they would never have given that space to either Shiv Sena in Maharashtra or JD (U) in Bihar.
    The liberal social think tanks too have a wider and constructive accountability to create an atmosphere of responsible and creative discussions and discourses other than spreading gossips. If we really feel the democracy of the country will be at stake any time, we too have to stand up and create solid pressure groups. We have been seeing such movements coming up without any help or assistance of a political party. The farmer agitation and maratha agitation of Maharashtra are fine and constructive examples of that. Anna movement too is an example.
    Let us be rest assured that our democracy has strengthened a lot and it has an inherent capacity to hold and uphold itself!

    • Very well articulated. Many non-partisan citizens of India will be fully in agreement with you.

  4. The comparison between Modi and others in the present day opposition leaders is unwarranted. Modi is a grassroot politician, while most among the opposition are those who inherited politics. The following lines completely fits on the opposition leaders “The best armies can lose wars, but they are tested for their nerve in orderly retreats as much as in heady victories. The Opposition, led by the Congress, is breaking ranks and retreating into self-destruction much like our army in 1962, commanded by cowardly generals who fled first, and bumbling politicians”. Also you have rightly said that Modi is full time politician, while most of his opponents are part timers. Sonia is not a politician at all, while everybody knows that Rahul is more interested in his foreign holidays than politics. For Sharad Pawar, cricket and cooperative societies are more darling. The other political dynasties are more interested in amassing wealth and studying caste and communal arithmetic.
    One more point. Jan. Sangh or it’s lateral Avatar BJP, always aligned with its ideological opponents, when needed and gained from their weaknesses. But it seems Congress cannot do so, to align with others, due to the ego of the dynasty, who considers it’s birthright to rule over India.

  5. Congress and all its allies are branded themselves as Anti-Hindu,Anti-Indian,Anti-Army by their support to Pakistan Muslims in last 5 years.Congress under Rajeev Gandhi till 1989 was not as such.But Sonia Gandhi made Congress such.
    Indian people are nationalist patriotic and dont accept any stand against country.Hindus were divided by congress from 1947 by caste creed race and religion.But Sonia Gandhi made it possible for BJP RSS to unite them as a huge vote bank of 80% Hindus.Albeit 25% are secular and Pro-Muslim but 55% votes goes in favor of BJP.
    In 2014 BJP won by a Hindu polarization which is accepted by a committees Headed by A K ANTONY.
    Still congress couldn’t convince voters that ist intention are clear and truly Hindu favorite Rahul Gandhi tried his best to show that he is a Hindu Brahmin and temple hopper.But Voters termed that as fake..Congress under a Christian Muslim supporters group cant win election.

  6. Ohh you poor puppet of congress, Mr Shekhar Gupta, the flag bearer of liberals and scialist, you people are still not getting the point …new definition of socialist is removing poverty, poor , increase education , remove corruption ( by the way you are byproduct of such corruption led self centred governance of congress ), ease of living and finally making indis gr8 and strong again. And if this happens there is no place of people like you who manipulate information laws and people and have been thriving on the backbone of congress governments.

  7. Trust coefficient PM Narendra Modi enjoys with Indian electorate is without parallels. Even Nehru in my assessment did not enjoy such trust factor. Indian democracy was in its infancy and the citzens were too poor and illiterate to discern leaders. Forming a Government superseded everything including corruption, self promotion, sycophancy etc. For now BJP has been elected to rule India for another 5 years. It is for the opposition to chart its course if it wants to stay relevant in Indian democracy where merit alone will be considered in future. Modi has set a new bench mark which will be difficult for the likes of Rahul Gandhi to meet leave alone surpass it.

  8. Nobody had expected the outcome of the recent election, not even Modi/Amit Shah/BJP. A lot of people have tried to explain the outcome of the recent election, but none has been able to do so satisfactorily. The opposition is right, the voter is also a culprit! In their eagerness to elect Modi as the PM, the voters voted in even the unsavory character like Pragya Singh Thakur! Some 43% candidates with criminal charges filed against them have been voted in. Out of these candidates, 29% have serious criminal charges against them! Some weeks ago Fareed Zakaria said on CNN that such candidates are three times as likely to get elected! The voters seem to like the candidates with such charges against them! What good are these MPs going to do for the country? The founders in America never trusted Jonny the voter shouting obscenities from the street curb, and gave power to the electors (delegates) to set aside the popular election outcome, if need be, and elect the president themselves! They could even elect someone who had not contested in the election! Churchill had said that the best argument against democracy is a talk with a voter in the street for a few minutes! Next month Britain would have a new PM, an unsavory Boris Johnson! He is unpopular, but a column dated June 25 in New York Times says, “A Fanatical Sect Has Hijacked British Politics: Boris Johnson is poised to become prime minister thanks to a small, unrepresentative population of Brexiteer voters bent on destruction.” The author of the column blames the voters! Another column in the New York Times dated June 13 tells the voters, “Voters, Your Foreign Policy Views Stink!” Again the author, the well known columnist David Brooks, blames the voters! Now think about the Indian voter, who in their infinite wisdom elected 43% MPs with criminal charges against them! Are they blameless? You have to factor them in, not just free gas cylinders, toilets, etc. when you explain what happened in the election! Like everything, the democracy also needs reforms!

    • The outcome is easily explainable- It was an election of Modi vs all. Individual candidate didn’t matter. And Modi was seen as the cleanest and hardworking of all others- who in fact were shining examples of corruption and nepotism and approached voters with the sense of entitlement.

  9. Yes victory going into your head will lead to your downfall as Mr. Shekhar Gupta has correctly pointed out. The opposition will have to deliver on execution of it wants to come back and that has to start from the states, people are not buying Tall Promises specially from the Congress.
    Ms Tavleen Singh has written about the internal rudder Mr Modi has to prevent absolute power from going to his head and that is a really powerful rudder.
    You can read more of it here

    Narendra Modi may truly have a spiritual strength that will prevent absolute power from going to his head, but it is too risky to bet on this.

  10. People see the so called liberals, intellectuals and PIL warriors fighting against Modi as part of the opposition. It has been a common assumption now a days that these so called liberals and intellectuals don’t fight for the people i.e. they fight to defeat Modi, RSS, Hindutva, BJP and their likes. They are viewed are as representing the interests of other than the Indian voters. Their double standards have been fully exposed to people. How can a person who hates other’s belief be called liberal? How can a person who thinks superior to others can be a liberal? The label of liberal or intellectual has not been given to them by the people but they have stuck this label on to themselves. Their only impact on people in that more and more voters are now rejecting opposition in favour of Modi. Treating them liberals and intellectuals is a joke and like caging the liberalism and intellectualism.

  11. One simple fact that makes it more frightening to the Congress is that 414 in 1984 came on a very flimsy ground of ‘sympathy votes’, but BJP’s 313 in 2019 are built on their supposedly good clean governance and policies.

  12. Modi can be defeated only by someone who is a better Modi but he has to be like Modi. During past few months Shekhar Gupta has written few articles on Modi’s unbearability but his analysis has touched only the surface. He has failed to bring out the inside reasons i.e. why the voters like Modi and dislike Congress. I am 100% sure that people would like anybody with the traits of Modi. Let opposition find a leader with the following traits.
    – the leader who is 100% devoting his time to politics
    – the leader who is 100% incorruptible
    – the leader who is totally detached from family favoratism
    – the leader who can work 18 hours a day
    – the leader who works for the welfare of all
    – the leader who believes in Indian’s ancient culture
    – the leader who is proud of the achievements of ancient India
    – the leader who thinks that Hinduism is the soul of India
    – the leader who can keep India safe from internal enemies
    – the leader who believes in the strengths of Indian people
    -the leader who always talks about positive things that motivate people
    – the leader who understands the aspirations of the people
    – the leader who speaks in the language of people
    – the leader who puts his 100% interest in the work he decides to work on
    – the leader who can stand tall along with world leaders
    – the leader who has always the interest of Indian people when dealing with foreign powers
    – the leader who genuinely believe that India can be the world leader
    -…. I can add few more.
    Can Congress or other opposition parties give me a name who can come near to these traits?

    Shekhar Gupta has talked about cyclic nature of politics but he must know that people may change governments for the sake of of change but they will return back immediately after realizing the mistake. Examples of MP and Rajasthan are here. Within few moths people of these states realised that they have made the mistake.

  13. If you are looking for what could trip up Modi, it is not hard to see. Mandir construction is one land mine that could go off and crowd out the development agenda. Yet, another is RSS coming in the way of critical economic reforms. Modi was elected by creating a coalition of Hindutva advocates and aspirational Indians. Hindutva voters are far more interested in religion and culture, while aspirational Indians care more about jobs and economics. Modi has a difficult job of maintaining the support of this diverse group of voters. If he trips up, it will open the door to Congress and the opposition.

  14. Yes, “a bunch of guts and some fire in the belly” are needed. But, if all you have are a sense of entitlement, a heritage of massive corruption and a court full of professional flatterers and yesmen, there is no hope whatsoever!

    • A big new idea for India is just one SMALL and SIMPLE thing: the voters’ perception of the leader’s selflessness, of not working for personal gains for self or close family, and the ability to deliver reasonably without being patronising. No commission, no touts, no bribes for getting one’s due. This will safeguard action plans and ensure delivery of outcomes. The bottomline is roti, makkan, paani. Good education and health services are a huge bonus. Arvind Kejriwal started with such vision but ended up as as someone who came to become a hero, but took up character roles to survive (his own roti, makaan, paani, a metaphor for political survival). Modi too understands this. And the day public realises that Modi ONLY understands but cannot ensure delivery through his administrative apparatus, he will be out. It is a fact that Indian voters have never shied away from experimenting. They retaliate with their vote, and whether it is Indira or Modi, or the current clueless opposition, no one should take Indian voters for granted.

    • Just perfect. Nothing could have been better on this part of the article. As for nothing left for political commentator- it’s their own making . Had they remained objective, they wouldn’t reached this impasse. But they chose to be the courtiers of Congress. As for AK winning 67-3, he could achieve this, only because he had no past baggage and he promised all that- what people want. His huge victory margin was proof of voter’s disenchantment with the politics of the day.

  15. The Opposition will take a while to recover from the verdict. CM Mamata Banerjee is feeling the heat, senses a Question mark over 2021, bare months after she was hoping to become PM. Ms Mayawati has already crumbled, taking an irrational decision to go alone to near certain defeat in 2022. The Congress is in a shambles, the famed glue is melting like treacle. It takes a lot to prise the party from the party’s hands. However, this should not be a moment for hubris or to talk of the end of history. There was little talk of the substantive record and achievements of the past five years during the election campaign. Not a formal Report Card being presented. At what stage the idyll will end is difficult to judge. More than the Opposition, the incumbent should be humbled by the challenges that face India. They would fill a book, but start with drinking water, falling short for 600 million Indians.

  16. Brilliant analysis as always! I am a BJP supporter and have been for a long time and of course delighted with this massive win and I hope Modiji will unleash and implement a radical agenda which is way beyond making old schemes efficient.
    I also believe that there should be a strong opposition which holds the government accountable but unfortunately I don’t see anyone in the current crop of opposition leaders having the energy, will and the competence to do so

  17. I see that ‘fire’ in the belly only in Modi and Amit Shah…..they are like machines…..I get the feeling that they never stop, never rest and they always set another goal after accomplishing the current goal…..I’m inspired by their work ethic!

  18. Thanks. This is the Shekhar Gupta article, we wait for. Balanced, in your face, looking over shoulder.

    India needs a strong opposition. Not to fight with Modi but to fight with what is represented by Kailadh V, Indore.

    Maluyam, Mayawati and Lala weee defeated, we were relieved. Kejriwal was a bubble, he himself proved it. But, degeration of Mamata, it is frightening. Can Modi turn into Mamata? God forbid.

    However, I see Modi repeating his Gujarat term. 2002 to 2007 is like 2014 to 2019 – focussed to make his strong base ignoring many misadventures of his team and fringe elements. 2019 to 2024 will be like 2007 to 2012 – governance, initiatives for economic growth. Post 2024, I see him playing important global role instead of Indian role. Amen!

  19. If Modi performs in next 5 years, then no one can stop BJP for another 10 years. Modi must deliver on jobs, easy of doing business, agriculture and non corrupt responsible governance along with Kashmir and Ram Mandir. With Shah to support him, expectations are very high from this government. As regards Hindu Rashtra and other usual non sense, it is simple..if government works efficiently and in non corrupt way and law and order is under tight control, it is Hindu Rashtra or Ram Rajya. Minorities are our own citizen and they have all constitutional and legal rights. How relevant they become politically is upto them. They should join BJP and make it change, if they believe it is against them. They should be positive and look to join mainstream and mould it. BJP will be too happy if minorities join them, as it would mean a huge vote bank for it. I like Shekhar’s prediction (and fear) that if BJP continues like this for ever, people like him (left liberal pseodo secular tukde tukde gang) will be rendered useless. I hope this comes true sooner!!

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