Prime Minister Narendra Modi won’t fly to Kolkata to meet his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Friday at the inauguration of a special pink ball Test cricket match between the two countries.
Modi has too much on his plate right now –Parliament, Amit Shah, with his talks about a nation-wide NRC, irascible states, and the struggling economy.
Protest of the states
Modi won’t be happy with the manner in which the map of India is changing colour recently. The saffron is giving away to doubt.
Janata Dal (United) vice-president Prashant Kishor tweeted that “15 plus states with more than 55% of India’s population have non-BJP chief ministers. Wonder how many of them are consulted and are on-board for NRC in their respective states!!”
Kishor was signalling that the BJP’s ally in Bihar wasn’t happy with Home Minister Amit Shah’s comment about the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, both BJP allies, have already said they will fight the Jharkhand elections separately. Now there’s Maharashtra, where the BJP’s former ally, Shiv Sena, would rather form a government with the BJP’s opponents, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
Modi may have tried his charm on Maratha stalwart and NCP leader Sharad Pawar – the two met for 45 minutes earlier this week when Pawar invited him to a sugar factory inauguration in Pune – but it doesn’t seem to have worked.
The Shiv Sena will likely lead a government with the NCP and Congress sooner than later, with the Shiv Sena getting the chief minister’s post and the two allies a deputy chief minister’s post each.
The opposition is actually beginning to understand the message of Modi’s favourite philosopher Kautilya: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
As Congress leader Jairam Ramesh conceded in this interview, the Congress party took a long time to decide whether it should support the once-‘untouchable’ Shiv Sena.
Even with the revolt of the allies, it’s intriguing why Modi continues to give Amit Shah such a long rope to continue stoking more fire on the NRC front. Especially when it damages India’s relationship with a neighbouring country with whom India wants to be close.
Amit Shah, of course, remains unrepentant. Certainly, his latest NRC statement targets the big non-BJP ruled state, which also neighbours Bangladesh – West Bengal. Shah believes West Bengal is for the picking and the numbers certainly bear him out – in the last Lok Sabha election, the BJP increased its seats in Parliament from 2 to 18 from the state.
Still, Modi’s ability to separate issues is legendary.
When the NRC discovered 19 lakh “foreigners” in August, who had supposedly come into India from Bangladesh over the years and the whole country was agog with the divisions it would cause, Modi didn’t even raise the subject with Hasina when she visited Delhi one month later.
As Hasina told the press at the time, “Everything is fine.” Meaning, not only did Modi not talk about the matter with her, no one was expected to be deported by India back into Bangladesh.
Hasina’s international affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi also told ThePrint that he was sure there were no illegal Bangladeshis in India. He smiled as he said it, implying this was a domestic issue the BJP wanted to use politically. Again and again, Rizvi pointed out that Bangladesh was doing so well on the home front, why would its people want to come to neighbouring India whose economy was in tatters?
He added: “Modi and Hasina get along like a house on fire.”
A missed photo opportunity
If Modi and Hasina are indeed so close, why is the PM not going to Kolkata? It’s unlike him to pass up a photo-opportunity flanked by two powerful women. After all, Modi was in Santiniketan only in May 2018, as were Hasina and Mamata Banerjee, all three inaugurating the Bangladesh Bhavan at Visva-Bharati University.
Going to Kolkata, even for a few hours and just for a cricket match, would normally be up Modi’s street. He has done much more for much less.
Meanwhile, look at the powerful photos that Hasina and Mamata’s meetings will generate – Mamata calls Hasina ‘Didi’ – when they come together three times today over the space of 12 hours. After their public 2011 spat, the two women seem to be warming up nicely towards each other again.
That should worry Modi.
A busy week
It’s been barely six months into the second Modi government, and all is not well. The political tea-leaves are stirring again. The single-most important reason behind these first stirrings is the downslide in the economy and how this is beginning to seriously affect the lives of people.
This has been a most interesting week to watch Modi, but it isn’t over, not yet. What if Modi decides to upturn the apple-cart yet again?