Most Indian journalists are more obsessed with the unseen near future than with the immediate present. During election season, this obsession reaches its peak. It starts with poll predictions and the electoral prospects of parties in the Lok Sabha elections. Now that the results are out, bringing Narendra Modi-led NDA to power again with a massive mandate, journalists are busy predicting the induction (and removal) of ministers and their portfolios.
I have been a participant and addict of the media’s ‘game of thrones’ for over 40 years. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, I often feel there should be a ‘Mediaholics Anonymous’.
Many journalists and commentators have now begun to see beyond 2019. There are eyeing the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and wondering what the political scene will be. In the next five years, Modi and his ministers will have a lot to do, and no failure can be blamed on the Congress anymore.
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Who will be the political actors by 2024? Narendra Modi will be 73, and according to his own diktat on age limit, he will have to retire soon after that. Manmohan Singh’s Rajya Sabha term comes to an end next month. Lal Krishna Advani will be 96. Sonia Gandhi will be 77. Sharad Pawar will be 83. Most leaders of most parties will be in the departure zone.
Even today, ironically, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not sure whether they can replace president Amit Shah. Will the new president perform as efficiently, as ruthlessly, and as strategically as Shah? Or is it better to continue with Amitbhai? The new president will have to be remotely controlled by both Shah and Modi. Will Amit Shah succeed Modi as the Prime Minister? And will he be as popular? Who else in the party can form the top caucus?
Modi and Shah are ruling India today as if they will be eternally in power —omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. There is no second line of command in the BJP beyond Modi and Shah. Modi’s governance style has made every BJP leader, minister and NDA associate dispensable. This is bound to create a leadership crisis in the near future.
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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stalwarts, including Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, have been sidelined. There is fear among their senior ranks that they will be marginalised further. During the last five years, Modi-Shah duo has supposedly built a parallel volunteer force. That must have alarmed the Sangh. Therefore, the relationship between the RSS and Modi-Shah will also affect the internal management of the party and administration by 2024.
Apart from the personalities and the Sangh, there are other urgent issues that could lead to a navigational crisis for the BJP. The economy is already in doldrums, notwithstanding the bravado and clever obfuscations of Arun Jaitley.
All of BJP’s well-wishers are expecting reforms, which have not been carried out in the first term. A large section of the corporate class is also waiting for special concessions. By and large, they are not happy with the semi-Socialist-welfarist-povertarian policies of the NDA government. But they also understood that the BJP needed populist tactics to come back to power.
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The liberal commentators had condemned the National Advisory Committee chaired by Sonia Gandhi for its ‘pro-poor’ schemes, including MGNREGA (which was ridiculed most by Narendra Modi himself). These very schemes were incorporated by the NDA government and advertised by them in election campaigns. The same critics of the NAC, who are exceptionally considerate to Modi, had not shown similar sympathy for Manmohan Singh.
But declining domestic investment, slow or reluctant foreign direct investments, exports coming down and, of course, the farmer distress coupled with vast unemployment (mainly in the rural areas) are staring the BJP in the face. This time, Modi cannot run away from them by blaming the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty — from Motilal to Rahul, via Jawaharlal, Indira and “Bhrashtachari” Rajiv.
The argument that he is carrying the burden of the last 70 years will neither impress the unemployed youth nor the aspirational middle classes. The BJP and their trolling armies were always slanderous and abusive towards the so-called intellectuals, without realising that the Modi government lacks the talent to tackle real issues. This scarcity of talent in administration and party has often made the BJP leadership (and Modi personally) a laughing stock — especially on WhatsApp groups.
The Modi government has given a “follow on” to the opposition. It is unlikely that the opposition can match the NDA score in this inning. So, Modi cannot make Rahul Gandhi a target for his failures and divert issues. He will have to face them himself. He has built his image as an ‘invincible emperor’, with his massive media management. Now Modi, as well as embedded TV anchors, will have to prove that the emperor’s new clothes fit.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.