(Dr Pentapati Pullarao)
Just when you think you have conquered the world, a new unexpected challenge emerges. The big empires in history learned very late that challenges will suddenly emerge anytime and topple them. When the European Kings in Hungary, Austria, and other nations were at the height of their power 800 years ago, suddenly they faced thousands of Mongol horsemen warriors in their city. The Europeans did not know that Mongol horsemen (today’s Mongolia) ride day and night and cover huge distances. Mongols suddenly appeared in Europe and smashed city after city. The great European empires were helpless before the sudden emergence of Mongols.
Similarly, when the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have been celebrating the arrival of 2020, sudden new challenges emerge. One thing is a fact. No politician or ruler can predict which challenge will destroy them. Aurangzeb never thought that by concentrating on the Deccan and Marathas, his empire would be destroyed. Aurangzeb actually died in present-day Aurangabad. Similarly, challenges have emerged in 2020 for the BJP!
1. BJP lost 9 state elections in a row: BJP has lost state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Odisha, Maharashtra and now Jharkhand. Remember Amit Shah praised Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis and Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das lavishly before the elections! They both turned out to be big flops. The great Parliament victory of May 2019 must have made Narendra Modi think that Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand will be easy victories. Instead, these 3 defeats have become a big shock!
2.The economy is also in very bad shape: Modi does not seem to understand that handling a huge economy like India needs experts. No Indian government since 1974 has had such good luck with oil prices as Narendra Modi did. Oil prices are low for the last 6 years. This has created a surplus of at least 3 lakh crores every year for the government. What did Narendra Modi do with the annual saving of Rs 3 lakh crores? People think defense and foreign affairs are difficult to handle. But the economy is the most difficult to handle and Modi has ignored this issue. The Congress Governments under Manmohan Singh were also big economic flops. But Modi’s government is no different.
3. Too many big changes in polices at one time: Since May 2019, Modi has introduced too many major constitutional changes, giving indigestion to the country. The same policies could have been introduced in a very soft and clever manner. Dumping ARTICLE 370 is alright. But there was a way to do it. The next mess was the changes in the Citizens Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. All these changes are needed in some form. But Modi should have done it in a sophisticated way. Now, opponents of Modi are taking advantage of this weak way of doing. Instead of fast, poorly thought out changes, the Modi government should have rolled out changes carefully.
4. Failure of agriculture: 50% of the country is linked to agriculture. Neither Narendra Modi or the earlier Congress government of Dr. Manmohan Singh mastered the secrets of encouraging agriculture. Except for loan waivers, these governments did nothing. Modi thought more irrigation or insurance will be enough. But they were not the solutions and hence the lagging agriculture is crippling Modi’s government.
5. Unemployment is a tricky subject. Modi talked about skill-development in his first term. But that did not solve the problems as the program was badly implemented. Modi government has been unable to understand that the rate of growth of the economy means nothing. Only if employment is generated then the growth rate is relevant. The international economic climate also has been bad for the last 3 years and this has further harmed Modi’s efforts.
6. Lack of BJP political leadership in States: The BJP captured power Delhi in 2014 because it had good leaders in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and other States. The BJP also imported leaders where it was weak. This has not happened in Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Though the BJP formed State governments in Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand after 2014, it lost elections in these 3 States in 2019, as Modi and Shah did not nurture strong leaders. The BJP is dependent on Modi’s charisma and Amit Shah’s leadership. But that is not enough for the BJP to win all over India. Of course, the BJP was very successful in the North East, Assam, Bengal, and Odisha.
7. Refusal to get talent from outside the Government: If you look at the Central government, you see Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh. There are also effective Ministers like Piyush Goyal and Nitin Gadkari. The rest of the cabinet is faceless. Aside from Modi and Rajnath Singh, there are no other ex-Chief Ministers in the government. Usually, in every government, there are at least 10 ex-Chief Ministers. Modi should also have imported administrative talent as he did political leaders. No industry or IT genius like Infosys’s Narayana Murthy or Wipro’s Ajim Premji has been included in the government. Modi meets employees of Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and other foreign companies. But he has ignored great Indian talent.
8. Losing allies and friends: Politics is the art of making friends and keeping them. Before 2014, the BJP was humble and attracted many allies and friends. But slowly, BJP started losing old friends and failed to make new friends. After the 2019 victory, the BJP did not include even 1 Minister from some small parties. This has weakened the BJP and it lost in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand because it dropped old friends and assumed an arrogant air.
9. Coming Delhi and Bihar elections :
The next challenge for the BJP will be the Delhi and Bihar elections. In Delhi, the situation does not look good to look good for the BJP. Though BJP won all the 7 Lok Sabha seats in2019, the division of votes between the Congress and AAP ( Kejriwal) helped this victory. If Congress and Kejriwal join, then the BJP will face disaster in Delhi. In Bihar, the BJP has lost by-elections recently. The defeat in neighboring Jharkhand has also sent bad signals in Bihar. BJP must avoid a defeat in Bihar and do well in Delhi.
Immediate Problems for Modi and the BJP:
1. The bad wording of the Citizens Amendment Act has created difficulties for the BJP. The Opposition has managed to confuse large sections of people that all Muslims will have to show their papers. The BJP has given an opportunity to the Opposition to create confusion and encourage agitations. The BJP passed the CAA with over-confidence. Now it cannot withdraw the law, as it would affect the prestige of Modi. Modi should amend the wording of CAA & not stand on prestige.
2. The National Register of Citizens is needed for the country to know who is in India and also increase security and prevent terrorists from slipping into India. We have millions of illegal immigrants in India and there is no count. We have many foreigners who have come into India illegally. We have to safeguard or borders. Any foreigners coming to India can get an Aaddhar Card and Voters ID immediately. But the way the BJP has announced the National Register of Citizens has again created fear amongst some sections.
3. The BJP faces a serious crisis in Assam where it bungled the National Register of Citizens. Both the BJP government in Assam and the Central government slept while the NRC was being worked out in Assam. The BJP woke up after it found that 12 Lakh Hindu Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh were left out.
4. The economy is in very bad shape. The latest Iran-USA tension might raise oil prices and that will seriously impact the Indian economy. What Modi thinks is that one the economy gets on a good footing again, people will forget the damage done to them. Modi must remember that though he introduced NoteBandi in 2016, no one has forgotten the damage and the Indian economy has been ruined by it. The economy which was supposed to be Modi’s great strength has become his biggest weakness.
5. 2020 has started off with many challenges for the BJP. Time will tell whether Modi and Shah will find new solutions to new problems. Modi and Amit Shah cannot afford a long rest after their victory in the tiring 2019 elections. New challenges require new solutions. Let us see if Modi and Shah will find them!
(* Dr Pentapati Pullarao is a noted political economist and columnist)