2019 Elections – a Reality Check for BJP

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The discussion at every street corner today is whether BJP will secure a majority at the centre in 2019 elections. Recent by elections in different states and happenings in Karnataka have given a boost to the belief that opposition, if they unite, can seriously hamper BJP’s chances of forming a government in 2019. Frankly signals are not good for BJP and it has reasons to worry about its prospects. The question is does BJP, as a party, feel the same or will complacency rule the roost within the organisation?

BJP government successfully overcame the backlash it suffered due to some unpopular decisions it took with demonetisation and introduction of GST being the more important ones. Infrastructure, particularly road construction and power sector have taken giant strides in last three years as opposed to incremental changes that these sectors were used to for a long time. Defence preparedness has seen some activity but given the long gestation period of defence projects, the effects will be visible only after another few years. On the foreign policy front India’s image has certainly moved northwards with Mr Modi enjoying a high personal charisma and stature internationally. Official data and some international reports on macroeconomic front give credence to a sustained growth story but somewhere lack of industrial growth belies this optimism. At the micro level there are some serious misgivings that beg attention – farmers, blue collar job creation and small businesses being the more important ones in the list. Healthcare and education are other sectors that still have to show any significant change – both in terms of quality and quantity. Corruption at highest echelons of the government is certainly at its lowest for decades and there are no reasons to believe otherwise. The above report card certainly does not look bad for a government that has been in power for only four years in a complex and diversified nation like India.

What are the major issues that may hurt BJP in the run up to elections in 2019? Why is there an increasing perception across the nation that all is not well? Without a doubt Mr Modi’s personal creditability too is on the wane. For the first time after four years at the helm, there are rumours and insinuations about corruption targeted at the persona of Mr Modi, with Mr Amit Shah being the central figure. BJP’s failure to offer convincing answers has only added to their woes. Kashmir issue continues to evade answers and without a doubt the government is not sure of what it wants to do. Social media factories generating fake news are working overtime at the behest of Modi detractors to ensure that this anti BJP and anti Modi campaign does not lose steam till the next general elections. One cannot forget that social media played a major role in catapulting BJP to power in 2014 since the opposition was taken by surprise and had no answers to counter BJP’s offensive? It does appear that this time around BJP is on the back foot.

There are three issues that have been simmering for a while and are likely to hit BJP hard. These are Dalit, Farmer and Fringe. Dalits have always been part of vote bank politics just like most minority communities. However unlike minorities, Dalits lack a cohesive society since they are neither region nor religion specific and are spread across the country. The nation has failed them on both counts – socially and economically. Some of the initiatives of the current government do have the potential to change this state of things but the sins of many centuries cannot be washed away in a matter of few years. Unfortunately time is what BJP and Team Modi do not have since 2019 is already on the horizon. Dalits feel let down and are angry. Given that Dalits can be as large as 20 percent of the total voting population, BJP should indeed be looking at this issue on a war footing else it may lose most of this vote.

Next is the farmers’ issue that has challenged most governments till date and current government is no exception. BJP government is perceived as anti farmer by some and not pro farmer by others. Unfortunately in the end both mean the same. Like the Dalit issue this too is spread across the nation and ripe for exploitation by the opposition. While farmers with large holdings have no reason to complain, it is the marginal farmers with small holdings who have a genuine grouse since remuneration for the crop they grow continues to be low apart from being seasonal and mostly rain dependent. Subsidies on fertilisers, loan waivers, free power and water have been around for decades but the problem continues. Today while the farmer takes all these for granted, he is looking for much more in view of the rising aspirations in all sections of the society. The ever increasing disparity between poor and rich too adds to this problem. Agriculture, a vocation of more than 60% Indians directly or indirectly, is seen as reward less and therefore the resentment towards the establishment. The government has not come out with any new initiatives as on date and that may cost it dear.

Fringe is the last issue in the list but an important one without a doubt. Communal utterances of fringe may excite a few hard core Hindu rightists but they certainly do not send right signals to majority of Hindus and minorities in the country. Such utterances only act as a catalyst for minorities to close ranks and present a consolidated front to oppose the government. No one denies that the nation was subjected to minority appeasement for too long and it is time the 83% majority had its rightful place and say. But then it needs to be done in a manner without having to announce it through some mischievous or misguided fringe elements of the party in power. Be it the subject of cow slaughter, love jihad, common civil code, rapid population growth among minorities, or any other similar issue, it is for government of the day to ensure that changes are implemented within the realms of law without spreading insecurity among minorities. Fringe elements act as an enemy within and must be dealt with a strong hand to prevent damage to the party’s image. The genesis of Hindu Terror boggy also stems from the doings of this fringe element.

The sudden steep rise of Indian deposits in Swiss banks in 2017, way above the world average, is another matter of concern and seems to be pushing the government on back foot. The data certainly has come at an opportune time for the opposition immediately after a report that confirmed unbelievably huge cash deposits within five days of demonetisation in Ahmedabad District Co-operative Bank where Mr Amit Shah is a director. The opposition’s adding machine is showing two plus two as twenty two instead of four and BJP is hard pressed to correct their maths. These disclosures related to black money and corruption may become the Achilles heel in BJP’s quest to gain power for a second term.

Will BJP make a dramatic move in the near future before next elections to sway the voter in its favour? An announcement for construction of Ram Mandir is one such possibility. Will this work for BJP? It certainly will in parts of North, West and central India particularly in rural and semi rural areas. But it will have no appreciable effect in South or East. However the side effects of such an initiative will have all the ingredients to further communal divide across the nation apart from running down India’s image internationally. Any such move can only be counterproductive in the long run and certainly not worth the limited immediate gains that BJP may derive for 2019 elections. Will selfish party motives over ride national considerations? If the answer to this question is in the affirmative then BJP’s nationalistic credentials too may come under fire from all right thinking citizens and opposition will have a heyday.

Lack of a creditable political opposition at national level is indeed unfortunate and does not bode well in the long run. An aware voter would perhaps weigh the consequences of a coalition of half a dozen parties, mainly regional with no common agenda, versus a single strong party at the centre like BJP. If he does that then he may have only one option. Unfortunately a large percentage of voters in India are not necessarily aware even if they are politically active. The fact that this later group includes majority of Dalits and farmers will certainly add to woes of BJP. Mr Modi and Mr Shah duo has always been a few steps ahead of the opposition in recent times, can they maintain that initiative? Will they pull a rabbit out of the hat to stun the opposition in next few months? Whatever they may do, the way ahead does not look easy for BJP and next few months will certainly be very challenging for the party.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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