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Narendra Modi: View: Why ‘PM’ Modi is becoming a problem for BJP


It’s always lovely to hear the prime minister refer to himself in the third person. On Saturday, in the concluding speech at BJP’s 2019 national convention at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi, the country’s favourite third person singular stated, ‘Ek hawa failti hai ki Modi ayega to sab thik ho jayega. Modi ayega to jeet jayenge. Modi ayega to baazi palat denge. Sunne mein achcha lagta hai, lekin aaj mein kehna chata hoon, Modi bhi sangathan ki paidayish hai.’ (There’s an impression that when Modi comes, all will be okay. When Modi comes, we’ll win. When Modi comes, the tide will turn. All this sounds nice, but today I want to say that Modi is also a product of the organisation.)

Coming as Modi’s speech did after a far more important announcement from the Taj Mahal hotel in Lucknow the very same day, it was as dramatic as it was understandable to find the PM contradict all the other speakers who had ‘DK Barooahed’ earlier so well .

If Congress president Dev Kant Barooah had proclaimed in 1976, ‘India is Indira, and Indira is India’, the present BJP president Amit Shah was certainly subtler on Friday when he said that Modi was the ‘world’s most popular leader’, and that even after the recent ‘setbacks’ in state elections, BJP workers should have faith in the party’s ‘ajeya’ (undefeatable) brand ambassador.

Pulling out stops was finance minister Arun Jaitley, who exhorted party workers to build elections around the ‘matchless’ leadership of the PM, spelling out that Modi’s leadership is indeed BJP’s ‘biggest asset’.

Collective Leadership
So why the sudden attack of humility on the PM’s part? Why the unusual lunge towards the collective — ‘Bhaiyon behnon, hum na bhoolein, hamari party collective leadership par chalti hai’ (Brothers and sisters, let’s not forget, our party works on collective leadership)?

The problem with Modi’s self-suspected overreach is, paradoxically, the fact that he is now perceived more as Prime Minister of India than BJP’s go-to rakshak. So even while most of the electorate may want him as PM, BJP may no longer be as easily their most favoured delivery system of governance in states (as witnessed by recent assembly election and bypoll results), or even at the Centre.

This notion is likely to have become accentuated by the chipping away of the presidential style pitching of contests — NaMo vs RaGa — that worked so well earlier. With the latest coming together of ‘bua’ and ‘bhatija’ in Uttar Pradesh, with Congress not even in the fray, party politics — rather than leadership quotient — looks set to pose as the real challenge to BJP.

Everyone’s done the maths. It was just the matter of politics that was the subject of ‘will they-won’t they?’ in UP with its bonanza 80 Lok Sabha seats. While the fact that Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came second in 34 constituencies — without winning a single one — and Samajwadi Party came second in 31 seats while winning 5 in 2014 (adding another two of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in the 2018 parliamentary bypolls), doesn’t mean that much — after all, someone had to be runners-up when BJP vacuum-cleaned UP in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, it does mean that the Maywati and Akhilesh Yadav tie-up puts BJP in a tighter space that may or may not end up becoming a corner this spring.

This isn’t about the terrifying prospect of ‘coalition politics’ upending Modi’s mazboot (strong), but by everyone’s reckoning under-performing, governance. It’s about SP-BSP besting Amit Shah’s ‘win by any means’ credo. If Modi’s ‘mera booth, sabse majboot’ — (keep) my booth the strongest booth — line, about each polling booth being a battlefront this Lok Sabha elections, hadn’t already been coined before Saturday evening, one would have thought from Saturday’s announcement in Lucknow that the slogan to the party cadre was being made by the SP-BSP leadership to their workers for their joint venture.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s comment on Monday about the SP-BSP alliance being for their survival is obviously correct. BSP is, indeed, at its existential tether while SP is fighting for political relevance. But with next to nothing, one has next to nothing to lose.

Also, survival is as legit a reason for BSP-SP bygones to be bygones as any — BJP’s post-assembly poll result choice of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister in 2017 to shunt out an internal problem being one such ‘reason’ — for parties to seek out power.

Caste Conundrum
With the 10% reservation for economically backward ‘upper castes’ announced by the central BJP government earlier this month, BSP and SP expect a backlash at the hustings from dalits and other backward classes (OBCs) — traditional antagonists since the Ram Janmabhoomi days. And the alliance intends to be there to ‘control’ this perceived disenchantment against this pre-poll attempt to level the caste playing field.

In such a scenario, with BJP expansion from its 2014 — or even 2017 —high far more unlikely than likely, watch out for the incumbent party to get into action during ticket distribution in UP. For in the BSP-SP’s ‘38+38’ seats stake-out of UP, there will be plenty of disgruntled candidates from both these parties whom the BJP’s ‘collective’ will pick up and empower for the polls. And along with playing the polarising card in, at least, seats where the alliance puts up Muslim and dalit candidates, the ‘collective’ may rise with Brand Modi already over-extended.





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