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OPINION | PM Narendra Modi Drops 2019 Hints in News18 Rising India Speech

PM Narendra Modi’s decision to spend considerable time of his speech on initiatives in the East indicated the region's centrality in emerging political strategy as he prepares for the next parliamentary elections.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay |

Updated:March 19, 2018, 9:59 AM IST
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OPINION | PM Narendra Modi Drops 2019 Hints in News18 Rising India Speech
Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers the keynote address at News18 Rising India Summit on Friday. (News18 Network)
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the News18 Rising India Summit on Friday devoted a significant part of his address drawing attention to his government's ‘Act East, Act Fast’ thrust for the development of eastern India.

PM Modi’s decision to spend considerable time of his speech on initiatives in the East in the past 46 months indicated the region's centrality in emerging political strategy as he prepares for the next parliamentary elections.

Modi pre-empted possible criticism from opponents who may accuse him of using the occasion to make a political pitch. He countered this argument in advance by stating, “Those who think that we are acting in this manner (emphasising on eastern India) to gather votes, are disconnected not just from ground reality but also public sentiment.”

The Prime Minister claimed the region fell behind in the race for development because projects either did not begin or were stalled midway through execution. As a corrective measure, Modi claimed, the government revived stalled plans.

For an astute political leader to remain the clear leader of the pack, especially when the bend before the final stretch looms ahead, it is important to mark out regions from where he wishes to make gains so he could compensate possible losses in previous areas of dominance.

Additionally, the timing of such a move is crucial. On that score, the initiative to speak to the people of eastern India has to be framed in the context of the BJP's spectacular victory in Tripura and significant gains in Nagaland and Meghalaya being followed by dampeners from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The Prime Minister went on to clarify that when he was talking about the ‘Act East’ policy, he wasn’t just restricted to states in India's North East — the proverbial seven sisters plus Sikkim.

Instead, his 'emphasis on east' meant giving precedence to programmes and projects in eastern UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha too. It needs to be recalled that of the setbacks to BJP in the latest round of Lok Sabha by-elections, Gorakhpur was particularly stinging.

Moreover, the BJP’s failure to wrest Araria, despite the backing by Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), provided worrying indication of OBC consolidation behind Lalu Yadav, despite his convictions in fodder scam cases.

The region that Modi earmarked as eastern India accounts for 160 Lok Sabha seats. In 2014, the BJP on its own won 61 of these while 10 seats were won by allies. These included 18 from eastern UP, of which, the BJP won 16 and one was bagged by its ally, Apna Dal. The lone seat in the region that the saffron party failed to win was Azamgarh, bagged by Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.

By terming east UP, Bihar and Jharkhand as part of eastern India, Modi has also attempted to symbolically 'break' it away from the traditional Hindi heartland. This is the region where, barring Bihar, the BJP is set for a direct contest with either the Congress or with a united opposition.

Underscoring this strategy, Modi called for "emotional integration" of the region besides paying attention to its "demographic dividend".

At the outset, PM Modi highlighted that he visited Manipur earlier in the day to inaugurate a slew of programmes, projects and mentioned this was his 29th visit to the region. Moreover, the projects Modi stressed on, call for reiteration.

He drew attention to Assam's Gas Cracker Project inaugurated in 2016 and the ongoing revival of the sick fertilizer units at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Sindri in Jharkhand, Barauni in Bihar and Talcher in Odisha.

Modi mentioned that gas for these plants would be provided by the 2000-odd kilometre Jagdishpur-Haldia pipeline. His critics would argue that he did not talk about the fact that the scheme was approved by GAIL way back in 2009 and work begun thereafter.

The Prime Minister, with the intention of sending a message to people in Bihar and Odisha, listed efforts being made to speed up work on the Paradip Oil Refinery and establishing a central university in Motihari to mark the centenary of the Champaran Satyagraha. He also mentioned setting up of 12 new airports, AIIMS and IARI in the region.

Modi, while almost signing off this portion of his speech listed another alliteration — two I’s or "isolation to integration" for the region. This, however, laces his own hope of not getting cut off in this region by emerging electoral arithmetic and an increasingly disillusioned voter.

The worry for Modi is that of the 71 seats BJP and allies won in 2014, the party is likely to be severely tested in 60 of these. As the ground situation appears currently, the party’s tally of seats from eastern UP, Bihar and Jharkhand is likely to somewhat slip, if not woefully. Modi efforts are to offset this with enhanced performance from 63 seats in West Bengal and Odisha.

The BJP presently has eight seats in the North East and three from Bengal, Odisha. Two others seats were won by parties who subsequently supported the NDA government. The effort will be to maximise seats from 88 seats in the North East, Bengal and Odisha and hope a respectable showing here will have a cascading effect in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.

(The author is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. Views are personal)
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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