Why #NarendraModi already has 2019 in the bag

Even haters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are hard put to deny his virtually unassailable position.

Even haters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are hard put to deny his virtually unassailable position. No other politician is even near to threatening him. From the looks of it, say many analysts, the next general election is his to lose.

His latest political triumph was winning the support of a formidable rival, Nitesh Kumar, chief minister of Bihar state, last month. For many in the demoralised opposition, Kumar was the only person who could contemplate, at a pinch, taking on Modi in 2019 by leading a coalition comprising the opposition Congress Party and others.

Instead, Kumar jumped ship. Then he dumped his allies in Bihar and formed a new government with the support of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP. The result — the opposition lost the only politician with enough credibility to have cobbled together an alliance to defeat Modi. Bihar is now in the BJP fold. The feat comes just four months after the BJP won a spectacular victory in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh.

The Modi juggernaut rolls on. With Kumar joining hands with him, the talk of Modi being on course to win a second term has become louder.

“There is no doubt about his re-election as Prime Minister as there’s no one to challenge him,” Kumar said.

An OECD report in July on the trustworthiness of governments, shows 73 per cent of Indians have faith in Modi. This, despite critics singling the government out for lynchings of Muslims over beef, cow vigilantism, unsatisfactory job generation, lack of resolution to the turmoil in Kashmir and cries from liberals that the BJP is crushing dissent.

Despite it all, Modi remains popular.

If Indian politics is entering a new era of BJP dominance, it is partly — maybe largely — because ordinary Indians feel that “at least he is trying to do something”. As Alok Vinayak, who works as a cook in the Indian capital and who says he has not benefited in any way from three years of Modi government said: “I’m still hoping his energy will give India a better future. He’s trying to do the best for his country”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, talks to US President Donald Trump during at the G20 summit in Hamburg last month. Photo: AP
Adding to Modi’s popularity is the fact the Congress Party is terminal decline. Its leader Rahul Gandhi, is openly derided as a rank amateur, a part-time politician who is still wet-behind-the-ears after 11 years in politics. BJP leaders often joke about how they hope Gandhi never loses his job because he is their “best asset”.

Under Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress won just seven of the 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly. In any other party, rivals would have booted him out. But no one in the Congress Party dares to unseat a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, no matter how much of a liability.

Writing in the Indian Express, Modi critic Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, called him “an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of popular politics”.
“What should worry the opposition is that Modi has managed to outmanoeuvre them on every fault line of politics… the opposition is simply not finding an issue on which to outflank him,” he wrote.

The BJP has finally become a truly pan-Indian party, after decades of being confined to a handful of states. It runs the government in 18 out of 29 states. The Congress rules in six; regional parties rule the rest.

But what’s even more alarming for the opposition is that the BJP has expanded its social base. Earlier, it used to be able to bank on the Hindu upper castes and the middle class. Analysts say this base has now widened to include poorer Indians.

The election is only two years away. Two years is an aeon in politics.

If the ruling party falters badly, the Indian voter will be unforgiving. Farmers and small traders are grumbling about the impact of last November’s demonetisation (the government withdrew the 500 and 1000 rupee note from circulation overnight to curb corruption). And they want the Modi government to create jobs to absorb the one million youths who join the jobs market every month.
No election anywhere is a foregone conclusion, least of all in India.

But what Modi can bank on is the state of the opposition: a divided, rudderless, ragtag bunch with no coherent ideology or vision and unable to turn their opponent’s mistakes to their advantage.

One of the first opposition politicians to voice the thought that a Modi victory in 2019 was inevitable was Omar Abdullah whose National Conference party in Kashmir is an ally of the Congress.

On hearing of the thundering BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh, he tweeted: “At this rate we might as well forget 2019 and start planning/hoping for 2024”.



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Saurav Dutt

Saurav Dutt

@GuardianBooks @latimesbooks short-listed Author of 'The Butterfly Room'| Political Columnist @IBTimes @AHTribune @timesofisrael | Featured on @SkyNews @BBC @RT