OPINION | 2017 in Politics: PM Narendra Modi Remains Unquestioned as '8% Congress' Turns Right of Centre
The most significant new trend of the year is probably the Congress’ slide to the ‘right’ on the political spectrum. Sonia Gandhi’s presidentship was marked by a jump to the left of centre and Rahul kicked off his term with a rightward shift.
File photo of PM Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Narendra Modi won the Game of Thrones yet again in 2017, but his ‘singhasan’ is much like the one in the epic fantasy show, forged from blades that prick the occupant when he relaxes — to remind him that winning isn’t everything and certainly not the only thing.
The year saw a progressive shrinkage of the UPA footprint in tandem with the gigantic territorial expansion of the NDA. To put it into perspective, the year ended with more than two-thirds of India’s population under NDA rule and less than 8 percent under the UPA.
On the cusp of 2018, there is no way of getting across India — vertically, horizontally or diagonally — without stepping into NDA-ruled territory. Coming back strongly from a defeat in Punjab in February, the NDA wrested Uttar Pradesh and three more states from the Opposition, retained two others and seduced Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the UPA’s most critical ally. Its nominees also took control of Rashtrapati Bhawan and the chairmanship of the Rajya Sabha.
Why then, does it feel like it’s been an indifferent year for the ruling BJP and a rather good one for the Congress?
A Pyrrhic victory in Gujarat substantially diminished the feel-good sentiment in the BJP. To make matters worse, the judicial verdict in the 2G scam acquitting all the accused signalled that the war on corruption might well be over.
But even before that, the abject failure to deliver on promises to the farm sector, the growing perception of ‘tax terrorism’, the relentless growth of Non-Performing Assets (to Rs 8.4 lakh crore, the bulk accounted for by Public Sector Banks), deceleration of economic growth in the June quarter to a three-year low of 5.7 percent and slowing of private consumption as a result of demonetisation, eroded confidence in the Narendra Modi government.
On July 1, the Goods and Services Tax became operational. The impact was immediate and the reaction of medium and small enterprises summed up in an invoice carrying the legend: “Hamari bhool, kamal ka phool”. The government responded with ameliorative measures, which partially eased the burden on exporters and small and medium businesses.
Second quarter reports indicated an uptick, but by that time, the damage was done and in public perception, the NDA had underperformed on the economic front. Even now, most economists feel it’s too early to gauge whether the economy will turn the corner in 2018.
The farm sector’s angst was not addressed with the result that 2017 may well go down in history as the year of farmers’ agitations. It is no secret that the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has strongly and categorically condemned the agricultural policies of the Modi government. Protests exploded all through 2017 in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Significantly, all the protests were spontaneous, following no discernible pattern. In MP, the agitation was violent and five farmers died in police firing. In Rajasthan’s Sikar district, farmers protested peacefully. The common feature was their grievances, which highlighted the spectacular failure of the government’s flagship schemes for the agricultural sector.
The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana failed to insure farmers against crop loss and the e-National Agriculture Market (eNAM) failed to assure them of remunerative prices for agricultural produce. In other words, regardless of whether he gets a bad crop or a bumper one, the farmer suffers! They had no recourse but to agitate for waiver of crop loans and government procurement at support prices.
In urban areas, the lack of visible progress in Swachch Bharat, Namami Gange, Smart Cities, Digital India, etc shaped the perception that the government excelled in slogans and launching new schemes but fell flat when it came to implementation.
Having said that, Modi’s purity of purpose remains unquestioned, and he is still the most popular and credible leader in national politics.
His control over the BJP, too, has intensified if anything, when it became clear that the party owed its victory in Gujarat to his charismatic campaigning.
The most significant new trend of the year is probably the Congress’ slide to the ‘right’ on the political spectrum. Sonia Gandhi’s presidentship was marked by a jump to the left of centre and Rahul kicked off his term with a rightward shift. In other words, the grand old party appears inclined to reclaim the centrist space, which — as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointed out earlier this year — it had ceded to the BJP (and regional parties).
Rahul’s overt display of religiosity, while keeping the minority community at arm’s length, in the course of the Gujarat campaign, may well be carried over to Karnataka, which goes to polls in May 2018. Perhaps fears of a polarized electorate have prompted Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to declare himself a good Hindu, with ‘Ram’ in his name to boot!
It was Congress leader A K Anthony who pointed out — in 2014 — that the party’s vaunted ‘secular’ credentials were in doubt owing to perceived ‘minoritism’. He was ignored. Then, in a speech shortly before the Gujarat campaign, Jaitley went a step further and observed that the Congress was seen as playing cheerleader to an ultra-Left-Islamist ideological combine. Rahul, it would seem, finally got the message.
Will the BJP push further to the right as a result? It can safely be said that the Ram Temple is very much on the agenda. Other than that, how the ‘rath’ rolls in 2018, through the north-east, Karnataka and the Hindi heartland of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, is anybody’s guess.
For PM Modi, 2018 is a window of opportunity to address the concerns of the farm sector, small and medium businesses and unemployed youth and assure his admirers that ‘2G’ will not derail his campaign against black money, Aadhaar data will not be abused and banks will not swallow depositors’ money without a trace. Despite a string of electoral successes, there’s no room for error, adventurism or complacency in the coming year. That could well be the central lesson from the political almanac of 2017.
— (The writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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