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Win some, lose some: 2019 for BJP was Modi-made but CAA protests turned up a surprise

Despite a massive Lok Sabha win, 2019 proved to be a mixed year for BJP, with its regional performances emerging as the biggest worry.

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I left Shimla in sub-zero temperatures the day after Christmas. Kufri was snowbound and tourists from warmer climes were thronging to the lower Himalayas thanks partly to the improved national highway. And the craze for really cold weather. Every hotel was full. An imperial hill station meant for a maximum of 45,000, now housed upwards of half-a-million souls. Not counting the armies of enthusiastic tourists wanting to “enjoy” the cold despite frequent power outages caused by a surge in demand.

Reputedly the largest hill station in the world, Shimla was also preparing for the visit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president and Home Minister, Amit Shah. He was accompanied by J.P. Nadda, working president of the party. Nadda, though a Himachali, was born and raised in Patna, where his father, N. L. Nadda, was a Vice-Chancellor. Preparations for the high-powered visit were very much in evidence. Ostensibly, the occasion was BJP leader Jairam Thakur completing two years as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister.

But, quite expectedly, Amit Shah used the occasion to slam and ridicule the Congress. “I challenge Rahul ‘baba’ to show even one clause in the (Citizenship Amendment) Act that has provision to take away citizenship of anyone,” Shah taunted. In Delhi, however, protests against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) continued. Well-known writer-activist Arundhati Roy asked citizens to rise against the state’s National Population Register (NPR) in open rebellion: “When officials visit your home for NPR and ask you your name, give them names like Ranga-Billa, Kungfu-Katta.”

Amit Shah reiterated, “Under Citizenship Amendment Act, there is no provision to take away the citizenship of anyone, not even of those belonging to the minority community.” He accused the Congress of deliberately distorting the issue: “The Congress and company are spreading rumours that the citizenship of the minorities will be taken away with the CAA.” The Act was actually about extending, and not revoking, citizenship: “This Act has a provision to give citizenship to minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Also read: Shashi Tharoor: The claims of CAA campaigner-in-chief Amit Shah fact-checked

Regionalism far from dead

When I reached Delhi, the talk of the town was BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s cruel quip that a “BJP-mukt Bharat could become a reality.” Swamy was talking not just of the loss in Jharkhand assembly election on 23 December. The alliance partners Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had won an impressive 47 seats, going comfortably past the halfway mark in the 81-member House. The BJP, on the other hand, suffering its fifth defeat in assembly elections since December 2018, only managed 25 seats. Ironically, it was the BJP that had given the call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ earlier. Now, down south in Bengaluru, it is foggy and cool. Also much calmer. No unrest against the CAA. People seem to have other priorities.

The fact is that we are not likely to see either a Congress-mukt Bharat or a BJP-mukt Bharat for quite some time to come. In fact, despite its electoral reverses, BJP remains a very strong presence. Usually it has emerged as the second largest or the chief opposition party, even in the states it has lost. What makes this significant is that the BJP’s credibility has grown. It is the only nation-wide alternative even where regional parties have shown an impressive come-back.

In Haryana, Maharashtra, and now in Jharkhand, what is crystal clear is that regionalism is far from dead. On the contrary, it is showing a revival wherever the BJP fails to deliver when entrusted with the reigns of power. The fallback option in such cases is usually the local party, no matter its dynastic or familial proclivities. Former Jharkhand CM and JMM party chief Shibu Soren’s son, Hemant, is now the CM. The BJP must have realised that it can’t win state elections only on the basis of the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the organisational skills of Amit Shah; what is needed are second- and third-rung leaders in all parts of India.

The rapid decline of the Congress, on the other hand, reminds one of a similar disbanding and dissolution of the Liberal Party in Britain. After being such a formidable force for over 200 years, they saw a swift decline, amounting almost to a decimation if not death-wish. Similarly, the Congress has been reduced to playing not even second, but third fiddle, as in Maharashtra. It would seem that they have made themselves “unelectable” in several parts of India. The leadership crisis in the Congress is even more acute than it is in the BJP. The latter, at least, has strong leaders at the centre, especially in the PM. Narendra Modi is a political phenomenon, the likes of which India has not witnessed in a very long time.

Also read: Development is now all about Modi coining new terms, not Indians’ well-being: Shashi Tharoor

Modi still a factor

Modi led from the front throughout this year. He dramatically altered Article 370, ending the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, stripping its special status, and bifurcating it into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. He also moved to include the economically weaker sections from the general category in the government’s quota system through the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill of 2014. His government also abolished triple talaq as a means to secure divorce. His finest hour was his spectacular success in the Lok Sabha election in May 2019. The BJP under his leadership won 303 seats, its highest tally ever. Not only achieving a majority on its own after some three decades, the BJP also made unprecedented inroads in West Bengal. For the first time in its history, the party won 18 of the 42 seats.

Earlier, on 26 February, Modi authorised the Indian military’s strike on terrorist targets in Balakot, deep inside Pakistani soil, after 40 CRPF soldiers were killed in Pulwama on 14 February. The pre-dawn airstrikes destroyed a terror camp and eliminated several terror operatives. Indian Air Force (IAF)’s fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistani forces but released in a dramatic, negotiated return that was fully televised.

Overall, it was a memorable year for the ruling BJP, marked by a spectacular return to power on the one hand, and several reverses on the other. Coming right at the end of the year, the widespread anger and protests against the CAA took the party by surprise, proving a challenge much harder than it had anticipated.

As to new year resolutions, Delhi and Bihar have become must-wins for the BJP in 2020 if it is to maintain its primacy in the country.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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  1. It’s funny to find some extraordinary people wriitng in a way that decreases their credibility. I have followed the author on different forums and really like his voice and his oratory skills and I think if he improves his content, he will be one of the renowned professors of India. But we all know how blind believers become nothing but followers. Despite sound knowledge and extraordinary talent, he is wasting his time defending someone/some party which is not his job at all. I hope the author finds the biasness reeking from his writing and brings his talent to good use.

  2. It is time for Indians to stop being mealy mouthed and stand up for vital national interests with a steely nerve. We must have a definitive registry of citizens so that illegal immigration can be stopped going forward. CAA is an absolute necessity – one among many such steps needed. We can debate on how it should be implemented so as not to disenfranchise legitimate citizens, but questioning its need borders on being anti-national. Change is not easy, not pretty, especially after letting the country rot for seven decades. Taking tough decisions in the interest of the nation is never easy – because there are always vested interests who benefit from the status quo. For the first time in the history of independent India, we have the political leadership that appears to be determined to take the tough decisions. I hope they will deliver on the promise, but they need the steely nerved citizenry behind them. I hope they will soon take the tough decision of cleansing the school and college books of the communist nonsense and purge the country of the Marxist court historians who are the fountainhead of most of our problems today.

    • You are indeed echoing what most of Indians want. We need to “stop being mealy mouthed and stand up for vital national interests with a steely nerve.” We need to stand for our constitution and for our people. We need to search for the truth that Census 2011 presented about illegal migrants (more than 500 districts out of 640, have less than 0.5% of illegal migrants) and need to stand against pan-India NRC which does not yield any benefit in relation to the humoungous costs that have to be incurred.

      Further, we must stand together and with “steely nerve” against the bigotry that is being spread justifying the CAA on religious grounds. We must stop being “mealy mouthed” against the police brutality that is being unleashed on citizens, who did not even participate in the protests, let alone violent protests.
      If likes of CAA can be defended at all, it can be only on the humanitarian grounds granting citizenship to all those who are persecuted by their respective countries and not by the PRESENT ACT which seeks to divide our countrymen.

      I think you are confused with “tough decisions” and “foolish or foolhardy decisions”. Jumping from the terrace is surely “tough” but never “wise” and it is nothing more than “stupidity”.
      And how is CAA a first step to filter out illegal immigrants when CAA gives some of them, although arbitrarily, citizenship status? Don’t turn the logic upside down.

  3. I was a diehard supporter of BJP, continue to be a proud Indian and a proud Hindu. Also a huge admirer of PM Modi for his unimpeachable integrity, transparent patriotism, ability to work hard and last but not least his personal charisma.But am deeply disappointed and dismayed by the direction he is now taking. His (and Amit Shah’s and Yogi’s) barely concealed dislike of Muslims is showing signs of leading to a second partition of India along emotional lines. They are entitled to their biases but not if they unravel the very fabric of our Constitution. Plurality of Indian society is the bedrock of our identity…. which is being threatened. It also made us stand out as a country on the global stage. And receive widespread admiration. To pursue a divisive agenda when the economy is tanking makes me wonder if I’ve been supporting the right leadership. The verdicts in Jharkhand and before that in other states show I am not alone. I do not want a BJP mukt bharat, but neither do I want a Congress mukt bharat. We deserve a wise, strong government and a credible Opposition. Wish, and pray the new year brings some sanity to the team I have so enthusiastically supported.

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