Across the Aisle: Modi versus Didi and other battles, writes P Chidambaram

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Updated: May 09, 2021 11:05 AM

The comforting truth is that there are stable governments in the four states with the winning side having got an absolute majority and the losing side a respectable number to sit in the State Assembly as the Opposition.

Relatives of a Covid-19 patient carry oxygen cylinder outside a government-run hospital in Jammu APRelatives of a Covid-19 patient carry oxygen cylinder outside a government-run hospital in Jammu (Photo: AP)

A week has passed since the results of the elections in four States and one Union Territory were announced. Every party has claimed some degree of vindication, if not total victory, and none more than the BJP.

The comforting truth is that there are stable governments in the four states with the winning side having got an absolute majority and the losing side a respectable number to sit in the State Assembly as the Opposition. The people are the winners. Other than the people, the unquestionable winners among the parties/fronts are the Trinamool Congress, the Left Democratic Front and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The BJP won in Assam but lost miserably in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Congress earned the right to be the principal Opposition in Assam and Kerala but was blanked out in W. Bengal.

Of all the battles, the most absorbing was Modi vs Didi. Mr Modi’s defining image was the cat-call ‘Didi, oooooooooooooooh, Didi’ that was totally unbecoming of a prime minister. He explained it by saying he was simply uttering the word Didi twice, but failed to explain the place and meaning of ooooooooooooooooh. Ms Banerjee’s defining image was her wheel chair bound campaign. The wheel chair triumphed over the cheap cat-call. No less absorbing was the battle for Kerala where the UDF lost to the LDF.

Mammals and Re-invention

My hypothesis that regional parties are closer to the people has been proved right once again. A regional party speaks the language of the people of that state more eloquently, understands their culture better, accommodates the demographic changes quicker, recognizes the changing norms of society sooner, and adapts deftly to the changes. National parties are big mammals. Like mammals, they are among the most intelligent, but change happens at a glacial pace.

The Congress makes an effort to change but, for one reason or other, it is unable to re-invent itself. ‘Re-invention’ is the only way forward. The elements of the re-invented Indian National Congress are visible to discerning observers.

The BJP is paying the price of becoming too big too soon and accepting an authoritarian leader. Nothing would please Mr Narendra Modi more than the BJP becoming the ‘one party’ that is the Communist Party of China and he becoming a Xi Jinping. What stand in the way are the Constitution and elections in the states at different times. As for the second, many people are tempted by the slogan ‘One Nation, One Election’. Mr Modi’s aim is to convert the simultaneous elections (to Parliament and State Assemblies) into a referendum on himself. As for the Constitution, he will wait patiently until he has a two-third majority in the Rajya Sabha and one-half of the States under BJP governments. However, the vast majority of the electorate has seen through his design and will never oblige him. Besides, there is the formidable Supreme Court.

The next three years will not be very different from 2021. There will be State Assembly elections in 2022 (Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat) and 2023 (Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Telangana). The election to the Lok Sabha will be in 2024. We will see Mr Modi more as a campaigner than as a prime minister.

Misery and Death

The economy has been hit by two waves of the pandemic and there is no assurance there will not be a third and/or a fourth wave. The sluggish economy is killing people. Businesses are being told to close down, jobs are lost (unemployment is at 8 per cent), and consumer price inflation is rising. Capital is fleeing India. The government has no choice but to borrow more to keep up expenditure but may not be able to reverse the tide.

The biggest lesson learned was by the middle class. They believed in Modi Hai, toh Mumkin Hai, closed the gates of their communities/colonies, clanged plates and lit diyas, worked from home, and shut their eyes to the untold suffering of the poor, especially the daily labourer and the migrant workers. Today, due to the government’s incompetence, they find themselves on the corridors of hospitals begging for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds. Every day brings news of the death of someone who is family, or a relative, or a friend, or an acquaintance, or somebody one has admired for his/her achievements. Death has never been closer to each one of us.

A Grim Future

The government has lost control over both the pandemic and the economy. Both lives and livelihoods deserve to be saved. Both require large amounts of money which is in short supply. The government has no choice but to enlarge the fiscal deficit. Mr Modi does not have the courage to do so, his finance minister is too timid to advise him, and his advisers are a failed lot. The result is an unprecedented tragedy that has wrecked millions of families.

The emperor and his men are without clothes. The world’s media has savaged them. The Indian media is beginning to stir. The people are seizing every election to vent their anger (e.g. U.P. Panchayat elections). I am bracing for another ‘lost’ year in 2021, but I shudder to think of the implications of ‘losing’ 2022 and 2023 as well.

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