Dear Modi Bhakts, Balakot Isn’t Kargil 2.0 Re-Election Strategy
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Many of Prime Minister Modi’s bhakts (religious-political fans) are calling the Balakot air strikes his “Kargil 2.0 Strategy”. They point towards a fantastic coincidence – just as Prime Minister Vajpayee gained nearly 10 percentage points in his approval ratings after the Kargil war in 1999, Modi has bounced back with a similar accretion after Balakot. Just as Vajpayee had shrugged off losses in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi to triumph in the national polls a few months later, they expect Modi to reconquer India in May 2019.
But I would argue that Vajpayee’s victory in 1999 cannot be attributed to Kargil. There were, in fact, four other reasons (which are missing for Modi) why Vajpayee won, and Kargil was merely an attractive tip of the iceberg.
1. Massive Sympathy After One-Vote Loss
Vajpayee was barely 13 months into his tenure – not long enough for the incumbency honeymoon to eviscerate – when he was felled in a dramatic, Shakespearean tragedy. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK withdrew support, forcing Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence. Mayawati met him in the morning and promised support. The nation heaved a sigh of relief. People wanted a “strong” leader, who had detonated nuclear weapons and stood against American sanctions, to continue.
Giridhar Gamang, the then Congress Chief Minister of Odisha (ironically now a BJP candidate for the 2019 polls), who was yet to resign from his Lok Sabha membership, exercised a hugely contentious vote to make the score 269-270, a heart-aching one-vote loss! Most shrewdly, Vajpayee knew that a sympathy wave would give him a landslide victory whenever the next polls were held.
2. India Yearned for Stability in 1999
After six prime ministers in ten years, India was yearning for stability. VP Singh (11 months), Chandrashekhar (effectively, five months), PV Narasimha Rao (five years), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (first term, 13 days), HD Deve Gowda (11 months), and Inder Gujral (effectively, nine months) – India was terrified and tired of chronic political instability from 1989 through 1998.
Finally, Vajpayee had brought a veneer of permanence in his second stint. The fact that it was so cruelly and crudely cut short incensed the people, who made a silent vow to do “justice to Vajpayee” at the next available opportunity
3. Vajpayee’s Big Political Heart
Unlike Modi, Vajpayee expanded his footprint with admiring allies. He had 69 supporting MPs from parties which are now Modi’s arch enemies. Some, like Mamata’s TMC, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD and Stalin’s DMK are likely to double, even quadruple, their tallies in 2019 compared to what they had notched up in 1999.
4. Congress’ Disastrous ‘Ekla Chalo’ Policy
In early September of 1998, Sonia Gandhi’s Congress met at Panchmarhi in MP to resolve that the Congress would shun political alliances in order to rebuild its earlier country-wide political base. Potential allies like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav cried “betrayal”. Unsurprisingly, an isolated Congress got shellacked in the polls.
So as is clear from the above analysis, four critical and substantial factors were responsible for Vajpayee’s storied victory in 1999. Kargil got undue and misleading credit in popular folklore – which, today, could be blind-siding Modi into a narrow, fragile, one-point narrative, thereby notching a tally that could fall woefully short of what he had won in 2014.
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