Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were riding quite high in January 2019. But the general elections loomed large and the naysayers warned of the unbeatable arithmetic of a Samajwadi Party-BSP combine in Uttar Pradesh and the handicap of incumbency, seen in the Assembly results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Up and down in 2019
As recent political developments in Maharashtra demonstrated, a day, not to speak of an entire year, can be a long time in politics. The wheel of fortune kept changing. Here are are some key winners and losers at the end of 2019. But who will be at the top in New Year 2021 is anybody’s guess.
Jodi no. 1
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were riding quite high in January 2019. But the general elections loomed large and the naysayers warned of the unbeatable arithmetic of a Samajwadi Party-BSP combine in Uttar Pradesh and the handicap of incumbency, seen in the Assembly results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. But the formidable jodi raised the level of campaign outreach to a new high, decimated the Opposition and outdid the party’s 2014 performance, with the BJP on its own crossing 300 seats. Then, with lightning speed and steely determination, not witnessed since Indira Gandhi’s times,
Shah as home minister successfully pushed through some far-reaching legislation. Parliament voted to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and amended the citizenship Act to bring in religion as a criterion on refugees. Also, the Supreme Court finally gave a ruling in the century-old Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.
But when the rise is so sharp, the fall can be equally steep. A slowing economy, rising inflation and a steady growth in the number of non-BJP-ruled states could foreshadow the future. It depends whether the economic downslide or the mood of majoritarianism propagated by the BJP prevails.
Veterans on top
In the past year, many veterans bested the younger generation in the political sweepstakes. The laid-back royal, chief minister Amarinder Singh, demonstrated that he was supreme in Punjab and not dependent on his party, which was keen to rein him in. The Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray took a big gamble and won the chief ministership of Maharashtra, but his future depends on how long he can steer his boat with three oarsmen not in sync. The savvy old-timer Kamal Nath outsmarted a predatory BJP, holding on to the CM’s chair in Madhya Pradesh. Another from the old guard who bested the youth was Sharad Pawar. During the Maharashtra campaign, most in the Opposition,including Rahul Gandhi, thought it was a lost cause. Pawar seethed silently when some of his lieutenants were targeted by the government and others crossed over to the BJP. But he fought back heroically, delivering a hefty punch for the NCP. His post-result role was more spectacular. He played the wily kingmaker, who would determine whether the BJP or Sena ruled Maharashtra. Many reckon he is now a potential leader for any anti-BJP national-level alliance.
Youth loses out
Rahul Gandhi could have taken over as prime minister and leader of the Congress party at any time between 2004 and 2014, but he procrastinated, assuming that age was on his side. Now at 49, Rahul can no longer be considered youthful. Perhaps his heart was never really in the role his mother felt was his destiny. Though he campaigned spiritedly during the Gujarat and Karnataka Assembly elections, his interest seemed to flag by the time of the general elections and his judgment of campaign strategy and choices for key party assignments was wanting. After the humiliating result, Rahul announced his resignation and departed for Vipasana sessions abroad, leaving his party adrift. The Congress old guard was quick to take control in his absence. Rahul may yet reclaim his post as party president, but an increasing number of Congresspersons view the plight of their party as similar to that of Britain’s Labour Party where Jeremy Corbyn, though a distinct handicap, refuses to quit gracefully and make way for a new leader. The Congress young blood is dispirited and at a loose end.
The government may have won temporary plaudits with its quick-fix legislation and glib semantics. But the real impact will be known only in the months to come. Increasing polarisation makes it difficult to heal the scars in the national psyche. High-handed methods to quash the continuing unrest of a disenchanted, educated youth is not a long-term solution. True statesmanship lies in taking all sections of society on board. A refusal to backtrack is not a sign of strength, but a failure to learn from the lessons of the past. History has shown that it has not generally been a happy outcome for rulers who tried to forcibly stamp out the voice of dissent, especially when a new generation is at the vanguard.