Modi@4: Why the Road to 2019 is Not a One-Way Street Anymore 

Last year, at this time, PM Modi was riding high, having swept the UP Assembly polls with a record number of seats.

Updated25 May 2018, 02:37 PM IST
Opinion
4 min read

The images from Bengaluru on the eve of his fourth anniversary as prime minister should worry Narendra Modi. He’s heading into an election year and there, on a flower-bedecked stage in front of the Karnataka state Assembly, Opposition leaders he thought would never come together held up their arms in a show of unity to sound the bugle for a Modi versus All battle in 2019.

The occasion was the swearing-in ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister of a JD(S)-Congress government.

It turned into a launching pad for the Opposition, as unprecedented photo-ops of rivals-turned-friends clasping each other in a bemusing display of bonhomie, took over.

However, it would be foolhardy to jump to conclusions from one grand show of camaraderie by the Opposition. But for the first time in the four years that the Modi government has been in office, it would seem that the road to 2019 is not a one-way street. If the show of Opposition unity translates into seat pacts on the ground, a contest is very much in the offing and the outcome is anyone’s guess.

Modi@4 vs Modi@3

Modi@4 is a sharp contrast to Modi@3. Last year, at this time, he was riding high, having swept the UP Assembly polls with a record number of seats.

He looked invincible and his juggernaut was set to scorch its way through the country to yield him a second term as prime minister.

However, the past year has not been kind to him. A series of electoral and political setbacks has tarnished the aura of invincibility. Growing unrest in the countryside has left gaping holes in Modi’s shining India story. And financial scandals like diamond merchant Nirav Modi’s flight from India, leaving behind a mountain of debts in a public sector bank, has left Brand Modi looking slightly frayed at the edges.

Increasingly, the narrative seems to be slipping out of Modi’s hands. Claims of fast-paced development through figures trotted out by ministers for rural electrification, gas connections and highways have begun to sound hollow in the wake of brutal rapes in Kathua and Unnao, an eye-popping farmers’ protest march through the streets of Mumbai, a flyover collapse in Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, controversial police encounters in Yogi Adityanath’s UP and continuing joblessness.

The impact of Modi’s inability to control the narrative is evident on social media where the Congress seems to be scoring again and again over Modi trolls and bhakts. 

In fact, the big development in the past one year has been the manner in which the Congress has mastered the tools of social media to fight the BJP on its own turf. This has undoubtedly helped craft a counter narrative that Modi is finding difficult to challenge in a rapidly deteriorating socio-political environment.

Slipping Majority

It is ironic that today, as election year looms, the BJP is teetering dangerously close to squandering the majority it won so handsomely in 2014. In four years, it has lost nine seats in by-polls, bringing its numbers in the Lok Sabha down to 273. And last week, two of its Karnataka MPs including BS Yeddyurappa, resigned before taking oath as MLAs in the state Assembly.

Technically, the BJP now has 271 seats in the Lower House although frantic efforts are on to cover up the loss of majority.

Modi has also lost two major allies, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Shiv Sena, which has declared that it will fight the general election on its own.

These are personal blows because both Naidu and Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray have blamed Modi for failing to keep the NDA together.

There’s trouble brewing in Bihar as well. What seemed to be a great coup when the BJP reclaimed Nitish Kumar from Lalu Yadav is rapidly turning sour. Smaller partners like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Khushwaha have teamed up with Nitish to form a ginger group which is giving the BJP a hard time.

There were a few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy picture. The BJP’s comprehensive victory in Tripura saw the Left’s last bastion fall and asserted its rise in the Northeast. 

Also, although it received a huge shock in the Assembly elections in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, the BJP managed to scrape through and stop the Congress from pulling off a major upset.

Many analysts feel that despite the setbacks, Modi’s personal appeal is still strong. But his fifth year is going to be tough for him despite his phenomenal communication skills and ability to connect directly with people.

Oil prices are shooting up and the rupee is weakening. One shock has already hit the common man in the form of recent steep hike in petrol prices.

‘Out-of-the-Box’ Thinking Needed to Regain Control

Street protests are growing and turning increasingly violent as the marginalised and the dispossessed fight the State for a better deal. Tuticorin, where 12 persons were killed in police firing during the recent protests against big corporate interests, brings back grim reminders of Nandigram which proved to be the last nail in the Left Front’s coffin in Bengal.

And Modi still hasn’t come up with a plan of action to implement his biggest 2014 election promise: Job creation.

He needs an out-of-the-box idea to regain control of the narrative before it’s too late. If Karnataka is a sign of things to come, the momentum may be shifting to the other side.

(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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Published: 25 May 2018, 01:51 PM IST
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