The debate is set to intensify in 2019
Since the election results in early December that saw the BJP lose power in three states -- two where it was battling a 15-year incumbency and one where the power flips every five years -- the analysis has fallen into two distinct categories: Why Modi will lose in 2019 vs why Modi will win in 2019.
The first half of 2019 will see this debate intensify. Since his arrival on the national stage, the prime minister has become the axis on which Indian electoral politics revolves -- often university election losses are conflated by critics as a referendum on his popularity.
When Modi stormed to power in 2014, even his supporters were left dumbstruck by the mandate. In the early hours of the victory, they struggled to find a reason. I was with a few volunteers of Modi’s campaign soon after the results were declared and they expressed relief, and some of it was personal.
For the last few years and especially since 2013, they had aggressively taken on the Congress, shaping the narrative on social media of the ordinary man vs the powerful family -- the Gandhis.
Now they said they need not worry about retaliation. All these volunteers were middle-class Indians with full-time jobs; some had taken a sabbatical of up to six months to work on the campaign. They now spoke of returning to work and to their families, having camped in Delhi for the past few months from places as far apart as the northeastern state of Assam and the southern state of Karnataka.
I was impressed at the time by their selflessness, and as they had stated on that heady afternoon, they returned to their jobs, without any spoils of political victory. Thousands of such volunteers and the anti-Congress sentiment of the time owing to allegations of scams and corruption had galvanized the 2014 campaign.
During their term in office, the Modi government has remained “scam free,” although the opposition and specifically Congress has tried to rake up the Rafale deal as a case of crony capitalism and alleged corruption.
However, the Supreme Court in a ruling earlier this month dismissed a petition for an investigation into the fighter jet deal, dousing the fire. Indians are used to corruption in politics, and repetition is often enough to “prove” allegations.
The accusations, though unproven, were gaining traction before the apex court ruling and the expected political tornado failed to hit the ground. The BJP held as many as 70 press conferences in one day to communicate the verdict.
It was a much-needed reprieve, in the last two years, big-ticket economic offenders who availed of loans during the previous regime have escaped the country, calling into question the Modi government’s promise of being tough on corruption and black money.
In the next few months, it is anticipated that there will be high profile extraditions of these absconders, an imminent return is that of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who lost his plea with the UK courts challenging his extradition.
Christian Michel, a middle-man in the Augusta Westland Deal (Chopper Scam) of the UPA era, has already been brought in from Dubai. Recently, the media reported that Michel had admitted to having access to proceedings of high-powered meetings during the Congress government.
In all likelihood, these revelations will keep coming in, and the ruling party will keep alleged UPA corruption front and centre in the run-up to the general elections. But will it be old news?
In the last 54 months, there have been no arrests or discernible action on the accusations levied during the 2014 campaign. To establish its claim, the BJP has but a few months to prove its charges of corruption with action. In which case it will be a rough season, allegations of political vendetta and an intensely personal battle will emerge.
Another churning is that of the Ram Mandir issue; with another Supreme Court hearing scheduled for early January. The BJP who has been a strong votary for the building of the temple, has been more cautious as calls for the construction of the temple have started amplifying.
Disgruntled allies, like the Shiv Sena who are losing ground to the BJP in their stronghold of Maharashtra, are looking to “own” the issue and have publicly criticized the government.
Their chief dashed to Ayodhya earlier this month and a biopic on the firebrand Hindutva leader and founder of the party Balasaheb Thakeray replete with dialogues on the dispute is scheduled for release at a politically appropriate time.
Even the Congress whose party men fought a case questioning the existence of Rama, now claims the temple will be built under a Congress prime minister.
To my amusement, I heard the Communist Party chief say in a conference that Lord Rama lived in everyone’s heart. When even the communists (facing an existential crisis of their own) are caught taking the Lord’s name, you know the Mandir will be a big issue for General Election 2019.
Advaita Kala is an Indian author, screenwriter, and columnist.