25 Oct 2017

Why BJP and Congress need to discard banter on nationalism and get on with the present

Why BJP and Congress need to discard banter on nationalism and get on with the present

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by triggering polemics of “vikasvaad(development)” versus “vanshvaad (dynasty)”, has revived the contentious debate on meritocracy versus dynastic privileges in public life. The likely elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president is symptomatic of the party’s tacit worldview that has reduced the idea of India and its institutions to a “demo-narchy”, a monarchy within a democracy.

Dynasty

However, having decimated dynasty, the BJP, by rewinding to the fatigued “vanshvaad-shahzadaa” refrain of 2013, reflects a nervousness of sorts, deflecting from Modi’s broken trysts on ache din, as economic restiveness augurs winds of change for the ruling party. There is now an unmistakable oomph amongst Congress circles in the mirage they mistake for revival with every campus win. It must seem as divine intervention for Rahul whose ascendancy runs parallel to a tale of “How the Congress lost India to Modi”.

The Congress smells blood, yet is not battle-ready enough to go for the kill. It lacks the organisational strength to combat the world’s largest political party, match BJP chief Amit Shah’s formidable election machinery, as also RSS foot-soldiers’ social outreach. Rahul’s oratorical and linguistic skills in Hindi need to match the Modi charisma; he also needs to get smarter speech writers and backroom boys to handle his social media strategy. Besides, Rahul’s untested ability to negotiate coalition cohesiveness is a shortcoming in qualifying for being the consensual Opposition face for the 2019 general elections.

Photo: Press Trust of India

After the slugfest in the Capital between the pessimists of the “India-is-tanking” brigade versus the Modi government, the Kurukshetra in the battle of perceptions soon shifts to Modi’s home turf, Gujarat, where only a win close to 150 out of 182 seats would seem a convincing validation of Modinomics, just as the UP win was a referendum on demonetisation. In a two-party state where the Congress has not won in 32 years, Rahul’s first test is if he succeeds in converting Patidar, Dalit, OBC and trader anger to votes.

Paradoxically, it’s advantage BJP, as reflected through the CSDS poll, winning 40 out of 56 municipal elections in Gujarat and, nationally, Pew findings pointing to “85 per cent Indians trust government and 27 per cent want a strong leader”. By inference, who is this “strong leader”? But in stroking historic anger of the Nehru-Gandhi apartheid towards Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in order to assuage Gujarati “asmita”, by playing the victim card, Modi’s messaging confuses if he is still the victor.

Elections

Ahead of the 2019 elections, Team Modi would want the GDP growth to cross the seven per cent mark that hopefully creates more jobs. Should recovery be sub-optimal, Plan B is to probably revert to Hindutva and the cultural nationalism plank, increased spending on welfare measures, and a please-all budget next year.

Also, it may look to nail at least one big fish like Robert Vadra or Vijay Mallya, to show it means business in punishing so-called offenders. Last, if the Ramjanmabhoomi issue is not amicably resolved through the apex court and parallel back-room manoeuvrings, the BJP would hope to reap emotional dividends by erecting a gigantic statue of Lord Ram as a consolation prize.

Options

Every state election from here on is like a qualifying primary in the run up to 2019. Voters now weigh their options between the two mainstream contenders, least concerned with a competitive cultural war between the Congress and the BJP in a “your icon versus my icon” debate.

Both need to discard the banter on nationalism and get on with the present, as people need jobs, schools and hospitals in lieu of the colossal spend on statues or lectures on “itihaas (history)”. Donald Trump’s nationalism of “America First” appealed because it addressed real-time concerns on jobs. India is a country of entrepreneurs, and Modi must revive his initial business friendly, “vikas purush” image and “let people make money so government makes more money” through taxes.

Whoever wins over the youth will rule India. And through vikas and jobs, not by reverting to vansh and history, as youth comprise 65 per cent of the electorate. Rahul still has miles to walk before he can truly challenge Modi, who still has the TINA advantage despite the diminishing sheen. The PM stands at the pinnacle of making history should he use his mandate well by course-correcting the economic faultlines, instead of historic digressions.

Source-Daily O

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