PM Modi Bets on ‘Shining Poor’, Rahul ‘Stoops to Conquer’
Have you seen Prime Minister Modi’s Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikaas (noble intentions, correct development) campaign?
Beautiful smiles light up creased rural faces, thanking Modi for giving them a home, top-class education, electricity, bank accounts, and smokeless gas cylinders.
Frankly, this one could be even more harmful than former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s “India Shining” videos that did him in at the 2004 hustings; here, India’s poor are shining!
Clearly, as surveys and bypoll results show, the political momentum is shifting. We can detect emerging turbulence if we parse Prime Minister Modi’s 48 months in office in three remarkably different phases:
Phase 1: 36 Months of an Uninhibited Honeymoon
Prime Minister Modi could simply do no wrong. He was everywhere – hugging Barack Obama on Rajpath, rousing Non-Resident Indians at Madison Square Garden, doing yoga, cleaning streets, serenading Xi Jinping by the Sabarmati, surgically striking Pakistan, and commanding an unstoppable election-winning machine.
Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Assam and Jammu – he was steamrolling to victory everywhere. He did suffer reverses in Delhi and Bihar, but these were brushed away as local oddities in the overwhelming euphoria.
Modi now showed the political mettle he is made of. He converted people’s suffering into a ritual cleansing, something God-fearing Indians unquestioningly believe in, that a painful sacrifice is necessary to rid the world of evil. Riding on his “anti-rich” campaign, Modi annihilated his political opposition in the Uttar Pradesh elections, fortuitously held about four months after D-day.
Phase 2: ‘Plateau of Doubt’
Phase 2: From June-December 2017, which I call the Plateau of Doubt.
Touts, bank managers, black-to-white cash converters, jewelers, unscrupulous showroom owners – just about everybody was taking a 30-50 percent cut to change the worthless notes.
It was business as usual for everybody except the devastated poor in the informal economy.
To compound the pain, an utterly foolish new law was made to ban cattle culling. Worse, upper caste vigilantes began to unleash state-acquiesced (if not sponsored) violence on these very hapless people.
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Phase 3: Modi’s Curve Dips, Rahul’s Rises
Phase 3 began from December 2017, from the Gujarat Assembly Polls, through severe bypoll losses for Modi, to now.
I know it’s intellectually fashionable to pummel Rahul Gandhi, but let me say this upfront – ever since he took direct charge of the Congress, he has taken several risky calls. Quite a bit of the credit in turning the Modi graph downwards must go to him.
- He has shown Spunk – he had the temerity to lead the Gujarat campaign up, front, and centre, challenging and nearly-vanquishing the Lion in his Den; he also greenlit the extraordinary petition to impeach the Chief Justice of India.
- He has shown Savvy – in the digital world, he was a late starter, but is now outpointing Modi; and politically, his decision to focus on the “winnable 300 LS seats” is an effective, practical strategy, rather than getting trapped in the doctrinaire “we are the 130-year-old Congress, we are a national party, so we will fight all 543 LS seats” position.
- He seems Secure – quite comfortable in his skin, empowering heavyweights like Amarinder, Sidhu, Siddaramiah, Shivakumar, Kamal Nath, Gehlot, Azad, Chandy and others to occupy the stage and take substantial decisions.
- He seems to have an easy equation with other political scions, like Akhilesh, Tejashwi, Jayant Chaudhry, and emerging stars like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and others.
- He is stooping to conquer, after the quick/decisive call in Karnataka to play second fiddle, he is showing a will to win, even if that means living with a relative setback for now.
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