More power to BJP

VERDICT OF 2016

Sometimes, it is easier to understand the implications of an epoch-making verdict by asking what if the converse had happened. What if Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP had lost in Assam, the DMK-Congress alliance had won in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC had been seriously dented in West Bengal and the Left had not returned to power in Kerala?

Any analyst would have answered in just one line: a slowly approaching doom for the ruling party at the Centre and a phenomenal rise of the opposition index against Modi, especially now after the drubbing in Delhi and Bihar.

There would have also been an inescapable conclusion about the final “arrival” of Rahul Gandhi as the “deliverer” of the Congress. The end of Jayalalithaa’s political career, a smooth transition of baton from DMK chief M Karunanidhi to his son Stalin, a marked deflation of Mamata’s West Bengal and a worrying growth of the BJP at the cost of the Left in Kerala, would have added to the picture.

In sharp contrast to the scene above, what has actually happened only goes to show that the big takeaways of the 2016 verdict are not just decisive mandates in all states; but also that the BJP remains a powerful influence and the next round of battle to dislodge Modi or the BJP in 2019 is anything but easy. This is especially so for those who have been in a quandary since the 2014 mandate. The BJP has taken a big leap towards the aim of growing its base across the country with its footprint in Assam, that sends 14 MPs to Parliament.

Secondly, the Congress – under its present dispensation and style of functioning – is a liability for other partners like the DMK in TN; and the expediency of an alliance between the Congress and the Left – at the cost of an old friendship between Sonia Gandhi and Mamata – is no answer to the ills in WB. These are too costly a political blunder even if a few seats have been added to the kitty.

At the same, the verdict also means that the BJP’s immediate challenge will not come from the Congress, but from the Left and regional parties. If the 2014 verdict forced the opposition to unite to defeat the BJP in Bihar, the Assam and WB defeats may force the Congress and regional parties to rework a truly common strategy for Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat, which go to polls in 2017. It may not be anymore about an ambitious Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who wants to the next PM. Even a lone wolf like AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal will realise that Modi cannot be wished away with just a verbal volley of attacks.

Coming to the BJP itself, the verdict of 2016 is a great breather for its leaders just as it is a big blow to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership and politics. Even as they savour the sweet success of Assam, they should be able to fully utilise the opportunity of the moment to usher in some real changes that the country craves for. A negative verdict would have tarnished the standing of the party beyond repair while raising questions on Modi’s USP as a vote catcher.

Modi magic intact

On the plus side, the prime minister still enjoys a lot of hope and trust as the leader of the BJP, and his government’s best bet is still his stewardship. If the BJP sees growth beyond the Vindhyas, Modi takes the credit. Amit Shah, too, stands to benefit from the party’s renewed confidence in him, for the BJP president’s role as a strategist had taken a hit after the poll debacles in Delhi and Bihar and the Uttarakhand political farce.

In Assam, Modi was not “overused” as in Bihar. State-level leaders such as Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma bore the brunt of the campaign. More importantly, the ideological hot-heads were contained and prevented from making open appeals for religious polarisation in Assam. Therefore, they may have to be permanently reined in elsewhere too for maximising the fruits of labour of the Central government.

As it completes two years in office, the BJP may see the need to be more effective in correcting certain distortions that sap its energy. The party could let the government be available for greater purpose of the nation’s governance. Moderation holds the answer. So does the BJP’s mantra of “development for all” that worked wonders during the 2014 elections. Assam’s BJP chief ministerial candidate Sonowal indicated as much when he said the new government’s priority will be to protect the interests of the “greater Assamese society.”

Despite a strong anti-incumbency wave, but thanks to a fragmented nature of vote, Jayalalithaa has won the support from the electorate. TN is still not willing to trust the DMK, even if Stalin’s campaign sought to rebuild the party’s image. Even the alternative, promised by the Captain Vijayakanth-led Third Front PWF, has vanished into thin air. However, Jayalalithaa needs to do more. For the first time in 32 years, TN has chosen to give a consecutive term to a party. Perhaps, she will try to go beyond the politics of freebies and make a mark with the quality of governance.

The verdict is an opportunity for Mamata as well. She is the only incumbent who has increased her party’s tally compared to the previous poll. She owes it to herself to end the cycle of unprecedented political violence unleashed on all opponents, which she may consider as a legacy of the Left’s rule (1977-2012).

Even if the working relationship with the Shiv Sena remains a pain because of high stakes in the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections next year, a lot is going to depend on how Modi re-engages with new potential allies – Jayalalithaa and Mamata – to push through important legislations, like the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which are on the government’s economic agenda. The remaining three years of the government before the next Lok Sabha polls cannot be squandered in street politics. That is the bigger message of the verdict of 2016.

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