Friday, September 24, 2021

Waning appeal

The forthcoming Lok Sabha polls are becoming more interesting with every passing day amidst surprise developments, pre-poll alliances and projection of personalities. The impressive resurgence of the Congress and the creation of major alliances with key regional players has made the going rough for BJP and offering a challenge too difficult to grapple with. The Pulwama attack on the CRPF and the swift retaliation by the Indian Air Force might have changed the equation somewhat in favour of the BJP, but will it be enough for the party to sail through the ensuing election? In this political soap opera with its twists and turns, for Modi and Amit Shah, the troubled waters they sit in are much deeper than just that. The Priyanka factor, which may or may not eventually prove to be a successful gamble by the Congress, apart, the duo appears to be also rattled by the political developments in their own party fold. A nagging question is whether there is more to the criticism of Modi by his ministerial colleague and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari than just adventurism of an outspoken person. In the last few months, Gadkari has chosen occasions to take potshots at Modi with his open declarations against Modi’s pet project of demonetization as well as his carefully, craftily and ambiguously worded statements including the most recent one about “those who cannot fulfil promises will get a beating”, a remark that BJP spokespersons are labouring to prove was meant for the Congress, which has been out of power in the last 5 years, and not for Modi-Shah duo. Gadkari is no maverick. Having been a staunch Nagpur boy and risen from the shakha, he has for long been the blue-eyed boy of the RSS. A decade ago he was propped up on the national scene at the behest of RSS to head its political off-shoot BJP, while by-passing many senior claimants. Ever since he has gradually inched his way forward and upwards in the party and this gradual grooming may have been designed to provide a suitable alternative to Narendra Modi, whose year of image make-over was 2014. Is Gadkari the plan B of the RSS in run up to the elections to be used as a similar totem either before the polls, if the RSS assessment finds the Modi appeal sagging like a whipped horse, or after, in case the BJP scrapes through with impressive number of seats but falls short of a majority? Modi’s waning appeal has enhanced the anxieties of the RSS-BJP. Within BJP and the government, by centralizing all authority in their own hands, Modi and Amit Shah have created a long list of sulking leaders who’d be only too eager to put their weight behind someone else. However, a section within the BJP may be worried about the projection of the divided house that Gadkari’s cryptic criticism may portend. This inner party dynamics coincides with the off late effort of the RSS to tone down the Hindutva rhetoric, revealing a probable plan of both appealing the Hindu right-wing constituency as well as capture the opposition space created by the vacuum of mis-governance and cow vigilantism. There appears to be more method in RSS’ attempt not to keep all its eggs in one basket. How this fares at the battle of hustings is too premature to guess but sudden image make-overs cannot always fool the electorate. The 1977 and 2014 elections are testimony to sudden twists and turns in the game of thrones, effected through calculated alliances and image projections. 2019 elections is likely to witness all such tested games in the rule book and perhaps much more. Whichever way it progresses, only one thing is clear, the BJP is poised to receive a setback and Modi is likely to be decimated at both the national scene and also within the party. The only clear inference that can be drawn from this is that his brand of politics in a country as diverse and complex like India is an abject failure.