The year 2017 saw most Indians, especially those living off agriculture and in rural areas, continue to face financial uncertainties and job losses caused by the Narendra Modi government’s almost dictatorial move of demonetization coupled with the imposition of GST in quick succession. Even after the two years of demonetization, those who were hit the most are yet to recover while economists from all over the world have given a clear verdict that the move was of no particular consequence and it gave a setback to livelihoods and economy. On the other side, the ruling BJP continued its Hindutva rant, which, in fact, got shriller with elections in seven states, posing a grave threat to secular polity and fear among the minority communities.
The year also saw the ruling party achieve a never-before seen spectacular victory in India’s largest state – Uttar Pradesh – while its fortunes in Prime Minister’s home state seemed headed towards a decline notwithstanding the party regaining power in Gujarat in the penultimate weeks of the bygone year.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was ostensibly in a self-congratulatory mood at the yearend, yet the worry lines were visible on the faces of its senior leader over the outcome of Gujarat elections. The party had to work hardest to make it in Gujarat – Prime Minister stooping as low in public discourse as accusing the former Prime Minister, former Army Chief and former Vice president of collaborating with enemies – to win the elections. Further diminishing the prestige of the post he holds, his finance minister Arun Jaitley, had to later clarify his statements made during campaign, in the parliament to make amends.
BJP indeed set a record of winning the election in Gujarat - a fifth time in a row - yet the party and its leadership had stooped too low and touched a new moral low.
Many analysts feel the Gujarat election victory for BJP is a bitter-sweet pill for the party as even after winning 99 (16 less than the last time) of the 182 state assembly seats, its vote share had fallen significantly. On the other hand, rival Congress, a party that BJP has vowed to annihilate, had increased its tally from 61 to 77 under the leadership of the 47-year old Rahul Gandhi. The fine details of this election should in fact worry the BJP mandarins about its fortunes in the next year’s general election. Significantly, the BJP won 43 of 55 seats in urban areas as against Congress bagging 71 of the 127 rural and semi-rural constituencies in Gujarat. The mood could spread or may be latently prevalent across India where 70 percent of population lives in villages and are dependent on agriculture for livelihood and sustenance. This could surely spell a major trouble for BJP in 2019 election.
BJP campaigning in Gujarat elections was significant in the way it helped Rahul Gandhi establish himself as a leader. Sensing the erosion of support base in a state that’s known as laboratory of Hindutva for the BJP, the Prime Minister made a record 33 visits to Gujarat for campaigning. A PM getting involved in state elections to this extent is unprecedented an unthinkable. Besides, half of the Modi cabinet was campaigning in Ahmadabad and managing the elections. This included Nirmala Sitharaman, who is yet to make her mark as the first full time woman defence minister of India; many crucial decisions on buying the wherewithal etc. keep awaiting her presence at Sena Bhawan. One wondered if any other dispensation has diverted so much work force for election than to governance.
BJP’s star campaigner Modi exploited caste, Gujarati chauvinism, and used embarrassingly blatant lies to make his party win a difficult election. However, in the process, he failed to sense that he was adding to the stature of his rival Rahul Gandhi and making sure that next election in India is between a polite Gandhi and a lie-speaking Modi.
To be fair to Modi, his magic continues to overwhelm the minds of people as was evident from the way his party used his charm to come to power in all but one state (Punjab) which went to elections this year. However, BJP virtually grabbed power in Goa and Manipur through questionable means. In both the states Congress had won more seats but it failed to make smart move of staking claim to form the government for want of clear numbers. The BJP managed with the help of some turncoats.
As the year was winding up, BJP’s spectacular victory in UP appeared to be losing sheen as the Yogi-turned chief minister Adityanath has failed to replace Hindutva agenda with good governance. The largest state of India continues to be haunted by the spectre of children’s deaths in Gorakhpur and the “love-jihad’ campaign of the saffron elements, who are ruling roost in many places. The Yogi government keeps looking the other way as life of common citizens remained mired in problems arising out of poor infrastructure and rampant corruption in government.
Though Modi had asked Hindutva brigade to use restraint, the saffron party’s core agenda keeps popping out occasionally not only making secular Indians and religious minorities feel insecure, but also threatening the secular fabric of the country. A member of the Modi cabinet - Anant Kumar Hegde, minister of state for Employment and skill development – recently created a stir by making it clear that BJP would one day amend the constitution to remove word ‘secular’ from its preamble. Though under public pressure, Hegde later clarified his remarks saying he was not against the constitution, the cat was literally out of the bag.
Modi government remained a mute spectator when the self-styled armies of lumpen elements threatened veteran film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and actor Deepika Padukone for film Padmavati in the name of “Rajput chauvinism.” The ugly episode posed a threat to creative movement in India as never before.
Modi government’s biggest failure has been on dealing with Pakistan, the neighbour with sinister design and a nuclear bomb to flaunt. While Congress had used the policy of engaging with this rogue neighbour in order to contain it, and had managed it successfully, the Modi government took many U turns on this crucial foreign policy element. Modi broke all norms by hopping to Islamabad on way from Afghanistan to attend a personal event of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Foreign policymakers were aghast on this. Later Modi government froze its relationship with Islamabad bringing the two countries to a situation where the exchange of fire and killings has almost become a norm on the Line of control in Kashmir.
(Published on 01th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)