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It’s significant that the BJP has stopped talking about a Modi sarkar

The battle of narratives continues.

As far as the Bharatiya Janata Party is concerned, the Lok Sabha election results were an endorsement of Narendra Modi’s two terms in office.


For the Opposition, the results represented a moral defeat for the BJP. After two terms in office with overall majorities, extravagant claims about returning to power with over 400 seats and dreams of a forever future, the BJP was denied a majority by the voters. It had to depend on allies to take office.


   Surprised by the electoral reverses — or so would I imagine — as well as the alacrity with which the world’s media treated the results as a rebuke to both authoritarian governance and the government’s ostensible desire to remake India in a new image, Prime Minister Modi has worked to re-assert his moral authority. To keep the idea of victory and therefore, of continuity, alive he has dropped whatever plans he may have had of a different kind of cabinet and re-appointed the same senior ministers.


   Determined to quash the speculation that he would have to give key portfolios to his allies, and consult his NDA partners each time he had to take a major decision, he has denied the allies senior posts.


   It is too early to say whether Modi has successfully reclaimed the initiative or reset the narrative. But a few things seem clear. He will spend the next few months demonstrating that he is a man of action, who is firmly in charge. New schemes will be announced. There will be a conscious attempt to win over those on the margins of society who voted against him. The still largely cooperative media will be told to highlight his foreign visits to emphasise his importance as a global statesman.


   He will be mostly successful in doing all this because his critics misunderstand what the BJP’s new allies want or what their limitations are.


   For instance, Chandrababu Naidu does not want a big stake in how the central government is run. He has one priority: Andhra Pradesh, his own state. As long as that is taken care of — financial aid, special status perhaps, grants, big central projects — he will not do anything to destabilise this government. Yes, he probably wants a Telugu Desam Party speaker in the Lok Sabha but even if he doesn’t get that, it may not be a deal-breaker.


   I have no doubt that this government will meet all his demands for Andhra. Naidu will be able to present himself to his people as the man who rescued the state from its current financial problems (which he blames on former Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy) and built a glorious new capital at Amaravati.


   Nitish Kumar is unlikely to create too many hurdles for the government. His many flip-flops have turned him into a sort of revolving man whose political credibility has ebbed away. He was lucky that his party did relatively well in Bihar in alliance with the BJP but he really has nowhere else to go. He will have difficulty getting Tejashvi Yadav or his other current opponents to accept him as chief minister and his best hope for the next assembly election in Bihar is to stick with the NDA.


   So, the view that Modi will have to check every decision with intransigent allies is misplaced. But yes, there are two important qualifications.


   The first is the situation in Maharashtra. Even if you don't morally judge the BJP’s love for breaking parties, there is no doubt that the party, in purely practical terms, has been too clever by half in Maharashtra. It filed ED cases against opponents and then forgot about it all once the accused persons joined the BJP.


"A couple of major defeats in assembly elections is all it would take for the BJP to seem less like the strongman in the NDA."

   The decision to split the Shiv Sena has actually led to an increase in public sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray. The BJP believed that Uddhav’s Shiv Sena was now dead. In fact, as the results show, it is still very much in the running.


   Rumblings from Mumbai over the last week suggest that there is unhappiness even in the breakaway BJP-aligned Shiv Sena over cabinet berths. There’s a feeling that, though it performed respectably in the Lok Sabha elections, it is still not regarded by the BJP as a serious ally, worthy of respect.


   The obvious comparison is with the breakaway Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) faction that won just one seat, much less than the Sharad Pawar-led original. It was offered a ministership anyway, which it turned down on the grounds that it was not a Cabinet berth.


   Both the NCP-Ajit Pawar faction and the Shinde Shiv Sena will face pressure from members who will threaten to go home to their mother parties. Certainly, the BJP’s decision to split the NCP and to forget about the cases filed against Ajit Pawar now seems like an act of extreme foolishness.


   None of this would matter too much except that Maharashtra has an assembly election in a few months. If the trends shown in the Lok Sabha election persist, then the BJP alliance will lose.


   If that does happen, Modi will look even less invincible. Having lost Uttar Pradesh, the BJP cannot afford to be humiliated in another populous state. Even Haryana, which admittedly, is not such a populous state, will prove to be a problem for the BJP if the Lok Sabha trends hold.


   All of this will undermine the prime minister’s shows of strength, which are based, in essence, on the perception that he is incredibly popular all over India. A couple of major defeats in assembly elections is all it would take for the BJP to seem less like the strongman in the NDA.


   There is a second factor that the BJP will have to confront in the months ahead. What kind of government does Modi really want to run?


   During the election campaign, the BJP gave the impression that it would use its third term to make fundamental changes: a uniform civil code, one nation-one election and so on. The tone of the prime minister’s campaign speeches with their talk of mangalsutra, buffaloes, infiltrators and people who have more children, suggested that a new age of Hindutva was about to be ushered in, symbolised by the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.


   If this is still the agenda, then the BJP is in trouble. The allies will not interfere in day-to-day governance. But they will not support an overt sectarian agenda or an attempt to transform the India they grew up in.


   If he is smart — and of course, the prime minister is very shrewd — Modi will give all this stuff a rest. Any confrontation with the allies will weaken his position.


   It is significant that the BJP has stopped talking about a Modi sarkar. This is, we are now told, an NDA government. The last time that description was used was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister and both, communalism and fundamental changes to the way India is run, were off the agenda.


   If Modi wants to run that kind of government — a Vajpayee-style NDA alliance — then he is fine. After all, Vajpayee managed to govern effectively even though he had fewer MPs and his allies were more demanding.


   But if the BJP wants to go back to the so-called Modi Revolution and bulldoze minority aspirations, then the alliance is in more trouble than the current calm might suggest.



Posted On: 13 Jun 2024 11:30 AM
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