A crucial year ahead for PM Modi - GulfToday

A crucial year ahead for PM Modi

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Narendra-Modi

Narendra Modi. File

Since becoming the Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has helped the Bharatiya Janata Party to extend its footprint across India. Today the BJP is India’s largest political party, holding power at the Centre and in a dozen states. The Congress, which had spearheaded the freedom movement and dominated the political scene in the early years of Independence, is a distant second. It holds power only in four states.

Regional parties, some of them breakaway groups of national parties, hold power in more than a dozen states and Union Territories.

Jammu and Kashmir was deprived of its special status under the Constitution and split into two Union Territories in August 2019. Neither of the UTs has an elected government.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections Modi had led the BJP back to power with an increased vote share. However, Modi and the BJP failed miserably in their daring bid to seize power in the eastern state of West Bengal and the southern state of Kerala.

Although the BJP could not dislodge Chief Minister Mamata Banerji’s Trinamool Congress from power, it was able to raise its strength in the Bengal Assembly from a mere three seats to 77 and emerge as the main opposition.

The Congress and the CPI-M, which had wielded power before the TMC came on the scene, did not get a single seat.

In Kerala, the BJP lost the lone seat it had in the previous Assembly. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which too went to the polls this year, the BJP fought the election as an ally of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a regional party, which was seeking a third term. The AIADMK lost power to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, but the BJP was able to improve its position slightly.

Some observers saw these Assembly election results as an early sign of ebbing of the Modi wave. But the Prime Minister could live down the reverses as these states were known to be not quite hospitable to Hindutva anyway.    

Next year six states go to the polls. They are Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Manipur.  

All of them except Punjab are currently under BJP rule. Punjab has a Congress government.

These elections are very important for Modi. He is now in the middle of his second five-year term as the Prime Minister. The outcome of the Assembly elections in these states will indicate whether the much-touted Modi magic can give the BJP a hattrick victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In August next year India will complete 75 years as a free nation. The Modi establishment has drawn up plans to organise huge celebrations on the occasion. For all practical purposes they will mark the launch of Modi’s 2024 campaign.

But the BJI will be entering the poll arena with the burden of double incumbency.

It has, of course, a bag full of claims about its successful welfare programmes and development projects. But it remains to be seen if they are sufficient to overcome the negative impact of the government’s inept of handling of several issues.

The quick, total lockdown imposed by the government to check the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted industrial activity and led to an unprecedented contraction of the economy.  Analysts have forecast economic recovery beginning this year. But it is not clear if the process has begun.

Modi had begun his second term with the enactment of a series of controversial laws which provoked widespread protests. Some of them, as, for instance, the Constitutional amendment which introduced religion as a factor in the grant of citizenship, have their roots in the communal ideology the BJP has promoted in the name of Hindu nationalism. Some, like the farm sector reform measures, which let corporates take up agricultural marketing, are part of the unfinished task of globalisation of the economy.

Those who were protesting against the new citizenship law withdrew from the streets when the government imposed the pandemic lockdown. They may not return to the protest sites but are sure to turn up at the booths when elections are held.

Despite the lockdown, farmers’ protests have continued for a year, initially in their villages and later also at the gates of Delhi.

The farmers’ unions are now organising rallies in the BJP-ruled states where Assembly elections are due early next year. Last week UP police arrested Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, after his car allegedly mowed down four farmers during a rally at Lakhimpur Kheri. The father claimed he and his son were not there when the incident occurred. But police found from mobile tower records that Ashish was in the vicinity.

Opposition parties are demanding Ajay Mishra’s resignation, alleging he was a party to the conspiracy which led to the gruesome incident.

One factor that goes in Modi’s favour is the Opposition’s inability to place a credible alternative before the electorate.

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