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Modi Wins Up, Loses Shine In Goa, Manipur

Demonetisation has not ended horse trading in politics.

It has, however, brought closer the two, and possibly inter-connected, concepts of a Congress-Mukt Bharat and a Hindu Rashtra. The first a promise by Mr Modi, and the second a promise by a series of his mentors beginning with Mr V D Savarkar and Mr K B Hedgewar through an illustrious chain of commanders of his real alma mater in Nagpur, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Unlike other diplomas, he has never hidden this one. It has always been a battle in which no mercy is to be shown, no captives taken. No Shastra, or weapon, held to be against the norms of decency. There are to be no shackles of a code of honour, or a level playing field.

When, after the deep scouring sweep of the votes in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Modi referred to the hard work and dreams of the founders of his party of an India of their dreams, he deliberately chose not to refer to giants earlier than Mr Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Surely they too would have been happy at the triumph of their ideology, now within striking distance of writing the statues rid of all western and colonial influences. Perhaps Mr Modi did not want to reveal his hand before the chicken had been safely counted in Goa and Manipur. They have now been.

Mr. Modi has been in the Election Mode since 2013, and has delivered consistently so far, barring a minor hiccup in Bihar and Delhi. The NCT is but a glorified municipality, and Bihar’s OBC coalition remains very tendentious as Mr Nitish Kumar, the chief minister, and Mr Laloo Yadav, the powerhouse who himself is barred from contesting elections, wrestle in mock battles for the turf. At times, Mr Kumar sounds more an ally of Mr Modi than of Mr Yadav.

The BJP can bank on the Andhra parties, can coerce the corrupt Odisha Government, and will work out a proxy in Tamil Nadu. It is waging a bloody war through the RSS against the CPM government, hoping to sack it, but Kerala may well remain the one state which will be out of reach for two more cycles of the CPM-Congress binary. Not so Bengal where the once Bhadralok who supported the Congress and then the Trinamool Congress are rapidly finding admirable strength in the BJP.

At last count, the only States ruled by the Congress are the recently won Punjab, the tenuously held Karnataka which may any day be sacked, the microscopic Meghalaya and Mizoram and Himachal Pradesh where the ageing Vir Bhadra Singh will all but certainly lead the Congress to its defeat. The “dev bhoomis”, abode of the gods, have been won.

The emerging map explains somewhat, but not entirely, the frenetic speed and the gargantuan greed shown by Mr Modi and his major domo, BJP President Mr. Amit Shah, in buying up support in Goa and Manipur where they had failed to win a simple majority. It is no point blaming lethargy in the Congress, where the party president Mrs Sonia Gandhi is understood to be very ill or recuperating from her long drawn illness, and vice President Mr Rahul Gandhi is travelling to bring her home from the hospital in the United States. The party leaders notionally in charge of Manipur and Goa have never been empowered plenipotentiaries. The Congress may occasionally bloom like a daffodil or tulip, but it is currently quite patently in the comatose, or bulb stage, waiting for balmier climes.

Those climes may never come, if Mr Modi has his way, and unless the people of the country, rather than its political parties, look beyond the propaganda industry and see the larger picture.

The larger picture goes beyond the Congress-Mukt Bharat, or even a government-less Congress that is no more led by the fifth generation of the Nehru Gandhis. In Parliament, Mr Modi does no longer need the Opposition to get his candidate elected as the next President to succeed Mr Pranab Mukherjee, and a vice president once Mr Hamid Ansari retires in four months’ time.

Mr. Modi’s majoritarian constituency believes that the mandate entitles them to remain unbound in a boundless field. Already, several claims have been made by those on the fringe that the verdict in UP is a mandate for the Ram temple. Mr. Modi is perhaps wiser with experience, and could ensure that there is no repeat of events in 2014-2015 when programmes like Ghar Wapasi and post-Dadri belligerence almost derailed the agenda. Old Modi has created the opportunities for New Modi to put him in position to realise his objective. It is up to him to ensure that his agenda is not derailed by overzealousness within his ranks.

The strategy has been so simple as to be classic. The signal was given when the BJP chose not to give a single Muslim a ticket in Uttar Pradesh, where it had accused all other parties of minority appeasement. The bottom-line has been polarization, but is now assisted by state power and an administrative infrastructure that is a willing slave, but just an unwilling but upright system as it perhaps had been in some aspects during the Emergency of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, barring individuals such as Mr Jag Mohan, ironically rewarded both by the Congress and the BJP.  The softening argument of development and appeal to a young and aspirational generation as well as an upward climbing middle class gives it just that patina of legitimacy to blunt international ridicule and organisation.

Strategic experts have sounded a caution of possible international repercussions in souring relations with China to a point where there could be a flash, or a rise in radicalisation of some community groups in response to an aggressive Sangh agenda. There is little indication that this has registered fully on Mr. Modi or experts in his PMO and cabinet, drunk as they apparently are in the glory of their recent electoral victories.

The statistics of these victories are now in the common domain in all their micro detail. In her numbers-rich report in the Businessline economic newspaper, reporter Tina Edwin noted that the BJP has emerged as the only political party with pan-India footprint of significance, while simultaneously diminishing the size and reach of the Congress. A simple totalling of votes polled by the two political parties in 20 State elections, beginning with the ones held concurrently with the Lok Sabha elections, show that the BJP won 9.48 crore votes against the Congress’ 6.29 crore. That is, for every vote the Congress got, the BJP got 1.5, or 50 per cent more vote. The BJP has contested more seats on its own than the Congress in the Assembly elections. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the Amit Shah-led party had pre-poll alliances, the BJP was the dominant partner. The Congress, on the other hand, chose to be the junior partner to Laloo Prasad’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in Bihar, and Akhilesh Yadav’s SP in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had contested 1,867 seats in 19 States and 384 in Uttar Pradesh, taking the total number of seats contested to 2,251 in all the Assembly elections held from April-May 2014. The Congress contested 1,807 seats in 19 States and 105 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Goa, whose rivers flow rust red with runoffs from legal and illegal king of iron ore, where the iconic coconut palm was once reclassified from “tree” to “grass” and where illegal casinos gain legitimacy by staying afloat on gaudy and raucous barges moored on the river and estuary, the BJP showed a sleight of hand that would put the card-sharks to shame.

The Press Trust of India, known in media circles as the official reporter of the ruling dispensation, had this to say in a laudatory, congratulatory, report [one reproduces the cine verity script because any other narration would rob it of the delicate insight it provides into contemporary political play]:

“Hectic parleys for government formation in Goa began soon after the results started coming in, with Union Minister and BJP leader Nitin Gadkari getting into action on party president Amit Shah’s Insistence. The BJP, which was faced with anti-incumbency factor in the state, had managed to win just 13 seats against Congress's 17 seats in the 40-member Assembly.

Said Mr Gadkari: "When the results came, the party chief (Amit Shah) called up and asked me to meet him. I offered to come to his place rather than he visiting and we decided to meet at his residence in 30-45 minutes.”

"It was 7pm. We discussed the political situation of Goa in detail. Our strength was only 13. I told him that we do not have the support which we were expecting. He told me that we have to form the government (in Goa) and asked me to go to Goa immediately."

"At 1.30am, MGP's Sudin Dhawlikar met me. I have known him for long, and we had a discussion. He pledged support for us. Vijai Sardesai of Goa Forward Party came to meet (me) next."

"At 5am, they (MGP and GFP) put a condition that they will support BJP only if Parrikar is made the Chief Minister. I woke up Amit Shah at 5.15am and conveyed this to him. I told him that I am not able to decide and asked for his advice. He said the Prime Minister is sleeping right now. He said he will call the PM at 7am.”

At 8.30am, Shah called Gadkari saying he has spoken to the PM and others. "Everybody said that if we can form a government in Goa and if Parrikar is ready, we should do so," said the Union Shipping Minister.

Mr Parrikar resigned as Defence Minister, flew down to Panaji, gave his letter of strength to the Governor, and was sworn in. The Supreme Court did not stay the swearing in, but called for a vote of confidence. Mr. Parrikar, of course, won the vote of confidence. Both the decision of the Supreme court not to stop the horse trading, and Mr Parrikar winning the floor test, were foregone conclusions.

Ironically, Mr Parrikar had won his first term in office when he won an election in which the Catholic church had indirectly campaigned against the Congress government which was totally corrupt. Those were days before the Aam Aadmi Party. The people had no other option then but to vote the BJP. Mr Parrikar was pulled to New Delhi as Defence Minister, and his successor was about as corrupt as they come. The people threw him out, and with him most of his council of ministers. The once reviled Congress almost made it. Almost, till it ran into the Modi-Shah duo, and their henchman, Mr Gadkari. The Congress has now lost the spirit to survive, it seems to many.

PTI, of course, does not mention what promises were made to the individuals who helped the BJP reach majority. No figures have been mentioned, if indeed, new money changed hands.

Compared to this, the Manipur government grab was a simple, less dramatic operation. The State Governor, Dr Najma Heptullah faced a lesser dilemma. She justified her decision to invite BJP to form the government quoting the judgement of the Supreme court in the case of Goa.

As in Goa, so in Manipur. No figures have been mentioned how the BJP’s Mr Nongthombam Biren Singh, once a Congressman, managed to persuade Mr. Shyam Kumar, the successful Congress MLA from Andro constituency, to resign the seat and contest, bringing down the total strength Assembly to 59. The BJP, with 30, won.

Who cares if some highfalutin moral ground was lost?

Happens in war, and politics.

#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)