Modi@3: With 2019 in Sight, Await More Politics & Less Governance

Decimating the Opposition by fair or foul means is part of PM Modi’s plan ahead of 2019 polls, writes Arati Jerath.

6 min read

Few prime ministers can boast of enjoying a honeymoon with voters after three years in power. Indira Gandhi was in trouble halfway into her term after winning an astounding electoral victory in 1971 topped by a military triumph over Pakistan with the creation of Bangladesh.


Political Precedence

A students’ agitation in Gujarat set off a political turmoil in Bihar which sowed the seeds for the popular nationwide anti-Indira JP movement. The gathering storm loomed menacingly as a 20-day all India railways strike called by George Fernandes in 1974 crippled the country’s transportation lifeline and caused large-scale economic disruption.

A year later, Indira Gandhi was in danger of losing the prime minister’s post after an Allahabad High Court judgement overturned her election from Rae Bareli. Emergency followed and the rest is history.

Her son Rajiv Gandhi romped home in 1984 with the largest mandate ever, beating grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s record. Three years later, he was on the ropes as he battled the Bofors corruption scandal, a rebellion by his own finance minister VP Singh and growing religious ferment as Hindu-Muslim battle lines were drawn over the Shah Bano judgement and the chorus for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In 1989, the entire Opposition resigned from Parliament and Rajiv went on to lose the general election that year.

Also Read: As Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi Was My Kind of Indian

Decimating the Opposition by fair or foul means is part of PM Modi’s plan ahead of 2019 polls, writes Arati Jerath.
Students pelt stones on security personnel in Srinagar on 15 May 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Stark Contrast

The contrast between then and now could not be starker. Objective circumstances should have put Modi down on the same slippery slope as his predecessors. The security situation has worsened as terrorists strike at will in Jammu and Kashmir and skirmishes are reported with distressing regularity from the LoC.

Kashmir is in the grip of its gravest crisis yet with school children challenging the might of the Indian State. The economy is stuck in a rut with hardly any fresh foreign or domestic investment in manufacturing. The job market is in doldrums.

The effects of demonetisation are still unfolding. And social tensions, both caste and communal, are mounting amid rampaging vigilantism.

Decimating the Opposition by fair or foul means is part of PM Modi’s plan ahead of 2019 polls, writes Arati Jerath.
Congress workers stage a demonstration against demonetisation in Bengaluru on 19 January 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Ruthless Efficiency

Yet, unlike the Gandhis before him, Modi@3 is possibly a larger political colossus than he was when he assumed office in 2014 as head of the first single party majority government in 30 years.

After a brief hiccup in 2015, Modi has re-established himself as a giant election juggernaut, mowing down opponents with ruthless efficiency.

The BJP’s stunning victory in the UP Assembly polls proved that he, together with his Man Friday, Amit Shah, can fell with ease not just a weak and leaderless Congress but regional behemoths like the SP and the BSP as well.


Modi Juggernaut Stuns Opposition

  • Not all is well in the third year of Modi regime – unrest in Kashmir, scarcity of jobs, religious tension, lack of investment in manufacturing sector.
  • Yet with the BJP’s victory in UP, Modi has established himself as a political colossus who has decimated even the regional satraps.
  • With demonetisation, Modi has successfully managed to capture people’s imagination with a pro-poor narrative.
  • Anti-corruption politics also aims to tap into a certain constituency that has been overlooked in the Mandal era.
  • In the next two years, one won’t be surprised if investigating agencies are unleashed to keep the Opposition in check.

Game Changer

As Modi enters the fourth and penultimate year of his term, he is riding the crest of an unprecedented popularity wave, dumbfounding critics and Opposition parties alike. How has he managed to keep the honeymoon alive? And can the romance last till the 2019 parliamentary election to give him a second term he so desperately wants?

The game-changers were two key decisions last year: Surgical strikes across the LoC and demonetisation.

Using a heady mix of muscular nationalism and anti-corruption pro-poor motifs, Modi has successfully spun a populist narrative to control the national discourse. Opposition parties have been left floundering for a response, and by failing to come up with a counter-narrative, they are ceding political space to him every day.

New Constituency of Voters

Over the past few months, Modi has repositioned his politics seamlessly and shifted the goalposts without the Opposition realising it. This is the man who used his Gujarat model of governance to pitch himself in 2014 as a pro-reform, corporate-friendly modern leader who would create jobs and bring prosperity.

Midway through his term, Modi seems to have realised that his 2014 image will not win him a second term. Delivery on promises has been slow and disenchantment was beginning to set in.

He needed a new narrative and he has found it post-demonetisation as an unrelenting anti-corruption crusader and messiah of the poor and the socially deprived classes (read OBCs).

Incredibly, it worked. He may have thrown the economy under the bus by sucking out 86 percent of cash but people bought into his story that it was a small price to pay to clean up a corrupt system.

The move consolidated a new voter constituency that Modi has been cultivating since the 2014 polls – of smaller OBC groups, chafing at the hegemony of select dominant OBCs who rose through Mandal politics.

Modi has astutely understood that there are enough post-Mandal groups ready for a new aspirational politics that mainstream parties have failed to tap into.

Also Read: 6 Months Post Demonetisation, RBI Withholds Details of Note Ban


Strategy Ahead

There are still two years before the general election and as they say, even a week is a long time in politics. Can Modi continue to enthral and entice with his hyper populist narrative? Some elements of his strategy for the next two years are visible.

One is to demolish the Opposition by fair or foul means. There are no excuses for corruption and Opposition leaders who are being raided by the CBI today have many skeletons in their cupboard. Modi is exploiting this vulnerability for political gains.

The Gandhis, Robert Vadra, Chidambaram and his son, Lalu Yadav, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress leaders, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD leaders, Jayalalithaa’s legatees and DMK leaders are just some of those under the scanner of government investigative and tax agencies.

Many of the cases have been festering for some years but things are moving quickly now, raising the spectre of several top Opposition leaders finding themselves in jail before the 2019 election.

Also Read: ED Registers Money Laundering Case Against Karti Chidambaram

Decimating the Opposition by fair or foul means is part of PM Modi’s plan ahead of 2019 polls, writes Arati Jerath.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a roadshow in Surat on 16 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Politics Over Governance

The other strategy is to create a larger-than-life aura around Modi as the ultimate nationalist, messiah and saviour. After the success of his three-day roadshows in Varanasi during the UP poll campaign, they have been incorporated into Modi’s armoury as a major tool for personal outreach and voter connect.

Since Varanasi, he has done three more roadshows – in Surat, Bhubaneshwar and Shimla. Each one has been a technological marvel, specially designed as a grand showcasing of Modi.

It is evident that the next two years will be dominated by politics rather than governance issues. Modi’s challenge is to keep his narrative dominant and maintain his grip over the national discourse.

So far, he looks set to remain in pole position for 2019 because of the disarray in the Opposition. But desperation is mounting in the Opposition camp. Can it beat Modi at his own game by changing the narrative?

Also Read: After 3 Years of Modi, Possibility of a Second Innings Looms Large


(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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