Capital Grapevine
Capital Grapevine
Weekend Special

Capital Grapevine

Virendra Kapoor

Week a long time in politics: By-elections don’t predict 2019 outcome

TINA factor in Modi’s favour , voters bound to keep `khichdi’ at bay

Congressmen and other oppositionists rushing to get their old and frayed bandhgalas ironed for the swearing-in should take it easy. The latest round of by-elections is a well-timed warning to the Modi-Shah duo, no doubt. But no way does it mean that the two are ready to cede power and go back to `apro Gujarat’. 2019 is still a few months away. Haven’t you heard a week can be a long time in politics?

And, mind you, even if the BJP were not to do as well as it believes it will in the intervening polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, a parliamentary election is an entirely different ballgame. As they say, it isn’t over till the fat lady sings. And who it will sing for is not indicated by the outcome of the bye-polls. No way.

The main reason why the above is most likely to come true is that the voter has become quite discerning, broadly aware of the difference between a state and central government, and, above all, is conscious of the fact that in the current scenario no-one on the ballot other than Modi can lead a stable, strong and trouble-free government. Seventy years of republican democracy, its deepening thanks also to saturation media coverage, and the sheer intensity of the message blaring out incessantly from the propaganda machine of the central government and the ruling party would ensure that the party retains power, albeit with reduced numbers.

After hurriedly offering chief ministership to the party that came a poor third in the newly-constituted Karnataka Assembly, the local leadership of the second largest party created roadblocks, thus delaying ministry-expansion. That is a little peep into the humongous troubles inherent to coalition-making. And here we are not talking of two relatively mid-sized groups. What will be on offer to the voters in 2019 will be a strange and wholly new cocktail of some 20-odd regional and sub-regional, caste-and creed-based parties. You can consider the voter disdain at this strange mishmash, can’t you?

Now, voters are well aware that Khichdi is eaten by the weak and the sick. Or when nothing better is available to keep hunger at bay. Here, in 2019, a true and trusted Modi, with his popularity still largely intact, miles ahead anyway of the nearest pretender to the prime ministerial ~gaddi~, will still be available. Why, then, tell me, would they settle for a khichdi of the disgruntled caboodle, each one of its members highly ambitious and egotistical and who has nothing common with his fellows-in-distress except their burning desire to grab power. Voters are no fools. Period.

Though neither growth rate nor quality of governance has played a crucial role in determining voter behavior -- if that was so, Nehru would have lost in 1957 --- what really matters is the actual message. And, it cannot be disputed, that not only Modi’s message is good, especially when compared to all his rivals, but what is more significant is that his messaging is equally effective. You cannot beat Modi on the stump. Besides, both on growth and delivery of governance, Modi hasn’t done badly, bar the occasional noises by the loony fringe which of late has been asked to shut up. Given the vital advantage of a fighting fit RSS-BJP organization, success against a hotchpotch is near certain.

Also, should Modi introduce universal income scheme for the poorest of the poor, which cannot be ruled out, in the next few months, victory in the next poll would be signed, sealed and delivered. Funds can be marshaled by further plugging leakages from the existing schemes, abandoning some of the notoriously wasteful ones, and a resort to short-term deficit financing. Modi is one BJP leader whose main support-base is the underprivileged classes, and not only the urban-based middle class and upper castes, which was the case with the BJP leaders before him. He invariably reaches out to the poor rather than to the traditional BJP base of the middle class. That explains the much larger BJP footprint than ever before.

Oh, yes, one thing the bye-election outcome warns against is that the ruling duo of Modi and Shah should try and shed the image of arrogance and distance. Party chief Shah can be excused for not being alive to the need to always come across as courteous and understanding, and unfailingly to everyone including fellow party men. But it is Modi who urgently needs to mend fences with the BJP MPs and others in the party who nurse a grievance that he is inaccessible and unaccommodating. A sullen party going into the big electoral battles ahead can be a drag on the winning Modi-Shah combo.

Meanwhile, haven’t you noticed that the Great Leader has already given up. The way the Congress Party is playing second and third fiddle to the smaller groups be it in Karnataka or UP, Rahul Gandhi’s dream of occupying the ~gaddi~ which he was brought up to believe was his for the asking lies shattered. Now per force he is content to see the BJP vanquished even if in the process his family-owned Firm banishes from the electoral map of the country. What an able legatee of the Nehru-Gandhi family!

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Modi over-promised to May

In December last year, the lawyer of Vijay Mallya, who is fighting to prevent his extradition from London, told a British court that conditions in Indian jails were inhuman, with no proper hygiene and, in fact, were worse than in the Russian prisons.

A few days ago, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj while addressing a press conference revealed what Prime Minister Modi told his British counterpart, Theresa May, when the two met at the Commonwealth summit of heads of government. Seeking to reassure May, Modi said that Mallya will be kept in the `same’ jails in which the British had kept Gandhi and Nehru during India’s struggle for independence.

This revelation led to angry reminders, but none more so than from two regular readers of a financial daily. One of them wrote to say that Nehru was invariably imprisoned in salubrious environment in Allahabad, Naini and Ahmednagar, and was mostly the sole inmate of the special `jail.’ “… the British knew who the real freedom fighters were… they were hounded or imprisoned abroad or virtually beaten to death like Lala Lajpat Rai. Others were taken to the cellular jail in the Andamans….,” while Nehru spent time in guest houses converted into jails with the entire retinue of servants and cooks at his service.

Another reader pointed out that Modi’s reassurance to the British Prime Minister was not possible to implement because ` Gandhi was imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune while Nehru was last held in the Ahmednagar Fort where, according to none other than Nehru’s own friend and ministerial colleague, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, his room overlooked a flower garden, a place of beauty and joy.’ It is in the peace and quiet of the Ahmednagar Fort that Nehru wrote his well-known book, ~ Discovery of India.~ If the Modi Government is ready to provide the ~same~ accommodation and facilities to Mallya, the writer says, he should not waste a minute returning home. Amen.