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Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

A 1971 redux: Like Indira Gandhi, Modi set to defeat the Syndicate of 2019

Delivery of welfare services to rural voters and clean image his trump card

The setback in the recent State polls has led more and more people to wonder aloud whether Modi will win a second five-year term next year. Guessing the future of Modi has become the favourite pastime of Indians ever since the December 11 verdict which saw the BJP lose out to the Congress in government-formation in Madhya Pradesh and cede power in terms of seats in Rajasthan. In neither state was the BJP defeated, though the Congress did win. Chhattisgarh was the only State where the BJP suffered an emphatic loss.

Normally, most people tend to disregard the fine details and the nuances of an electoral outcome and believe that ~ jo jeeta wohi sikandar,~ further bolstered by the first-past-the-post system. As a result, Rahul Gandhi has begun to preen himself as a genuine national leader, having persuaded himself that he had once for all shed the ~Pappu~ tag. The truth, however, is that one election by itself is not enough to trigger such a drastic mental and political transformation.

Voters are smarter than the Rahul fan club would like to give them credit for. Remember how Rahul’s late father, who was initially glorified as `nai roshini~ and hope of a new India had cut a sorry figure after a stint in power exposed his cluelessness in most matters. Bofors was but only one of the several scams of his regime. Only his tragic assassination allowed a kinder view to be taken of him as a leader.

Rahul Gandhi, aside from sharing credit for defeating the incumbency-hit BJP in the three States, has nothing else on the positive side, while the debit side is teeming with a long list of misconducts with senior party leaders, including with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whom he had openly trashed in the Press Club of India. Besides , there are those countless verbal faux pas revealing a lack of application of mind and an ingrained disinterest in the business in hand. The short point is if you are given to daydream or hate Modi so much that it has numbed your thinking faculties, then Rahul is your man for prime ministership in 2019.

But the independent and politically unattached observers tend to take a different view. Consensus among them is that Modi will come back, albeit with a reduced majority. Yes, it is highly unlikely that the BJP will get a majority, as in 2014, on its own. Of the 282 seats it won then, it might drop at least fifty. Losses in the north, however, will most likely be made up partially in the east. Odisha and West Bengal, the two states where the party fared poorly last time, can yield a good number of seats for the Modi-as-PM platform.

For a fitting reference from the past, the most appropriate is the 1971 election. Regardless of her Machiavellian conduct in neutralizing her seniors in the then united Congress, after its split Indira Gandhi’s managers most cleverly made it into a fight between good and evil. The latter was signified by the old Congress veterans, debunked as `Syndicate,’ and the Jana Sangh, Lohia Socialists, Swatantra Party, etc. The voter was bamboozled by propaganda from the government- controlled media that the grand alliance was anti-people whose sole objective was to oust her from power while she wanted nothing more than to remove poverty from the land. She won a landslide. And soon proved that what she actually wanted was for son, Sanjay, to succeed her and, before that happens, to make his car at taxpayer’s expense. Anyway, that is history now.

Something akin to the above the 1971 scenario, is on the cards next year. Though Modi is in a much stronger position thanks to the genuine work he has done to deliver good governance to the poor. Be it the construction of tens of thousands of houses, delivery of cooking gas to rural and semi-rural households under the Ujjwala scheme, millions of toilets under the Swachh Bharat programme, extension of crop insurance on a large scale, free healthcare for the poor under the Ayushman Bharat programme, vastly accelerated road and highway building, etc., the government has notched up quite a lot on the development front.

But because the city-dwellers, who constitute a significant portion of the base of the BJP, have had to reckon with a new and transparent GST system, increasing digitization of financial transactions, curbs on black money, etc., the city-centric media seems to be gripped by an anti-Modi prejudice. The so-called liberal-secular elements who dominate the media have encouraged speculation, particularly after the December 11 setback, that Modi’s ouster is now a matter of few short months.

But, as we said above, if the Grand Alliance was defeated by Indira Gandhi on the heady slogan of `gharibi hatao’, Modi could get the better of the so-called `Mahagathbandhan’ on the basis of his less showy but more genuine track record in the last four and a half years. The fact that in the recent Assembly poll, voters invariably said that they would vote for Modi, though they had decided to vote against the BJP at the State-level underlines his continuing grip on the popular pulse.

If Indira Gandhi in 1971 was the most popular leader, despite the Opposition boasting of an array of leaders from Morarji Desai, S K Patil, K. Kamaraj, Biju Patnaik, Charan Singh , Atal Behari Vajpayee, et al, the gang-up of 2019 has an equally impressive collection of leaders. Because they are too numerous, and quite a few among them desperate to become prime minister, Modi is sitting pretty. He would effectively rebuff all those who have begun to write his obituary enthused by the half-win in the Assembly poll. Remember, unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi has no baggage of personal corruption or, for that matter, of a wayward son. Rejecting reality to inhabit cloud cuckoo land underpinned by nothing better than a visceral hatred of Modi can be suicidal.

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Basic income scheme coming

Here is tomorrow’s news today. Prompted by the recent poll setback, the Modi Government is fast-tracking a scheme to deliver relief to the farmers. What shape it would take is a matter of detail still being worked out but in the next couple of weeks the new package is set to be unveiled. Among the proposals under active consideration is a form of universal income scheme for people under a certain income level, or a per acre payment each crop season to farmers on the lines of the scheme already in operation in Telangana, or even a straightforward bridge payment to farmers between the actual realization from produce and its minimum support price. Any one of these will be better than the periodic loan write-offs which offer only temporary relief until the next season’s loans become unserviceable and on election time politicians rush to waive them off.

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Rich ministers, poor people

According to a report, the average wealth of new ministers in Rajasthan is Rs. 15 crores while those of Chhattisgarh, one of the poorest states in the country, Rs. 45 crores. Of course, this only pertains to their declared assets. Small wonder then they call the Congress a party of wealthy leaders in the business of poverty removal.