Walking slowly into the central hall of the 17th Lok Sabha after being sworn in as MP amidst ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants, an opposition MP lamented: "Looks like this is a 10 year mandate for the Modi government." The MP's depression was not surprising: the opposition benches wore a distinctly deserted look and many familiar faces were missing. If the Lok Sabha offers a mirror to the state of our republic, then we are entering a unipolar India, one where diversity is giving way to a saffronised polity.
Confined to AC studios for months, tv anchors are let loose into the field at election time. Parachuted into hotspots in different parts of the country, we suddenly are expected to not just report but predict election outcomes. So, which way is the 'Hawa' (wind) blowing I am repeatedly asked. Now, there are two kinds of political 'hawa': one, where a wave builds up inexorably in favour of one party, the other is described more mysteriously as an 'under-current' where a silent voter is supposedly slowly but surely drawn to one side or the other.
In the age of 24 x 7 news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the master of political theatre, his every move designed to maximize eyeballs. Which is why a simple tweet from him on Wednesday morning that he was to address the nation across media platforms at noon was enough to set news channels into a frenzy. Since it was an announcement to be made in the backdrop of a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting and within weeks of the Balakote air strikes, the general impression was that it must relate to Pakistan.
The battle has well and truly begun, the election commission has sounded the bugle for elections 2019. Elections are both a marathon cum steeplechase with many crazy jumps and hurdles along the way so making predictions at the start of the arduous race is hazardous. And yet, let me place 10 reasons why I believe Narendra Modi is the clear front runner as of now.
In February 1994, as I was preparing to leave Mumbai for Delhi, a senior professional colleague had a word of caution: “Remember, Delhi is very different to our city. It’s a cut-throat, cruel world out there which we Maharashtrians find difficult to adjust to. Be careful.” This month marks 25 years since I became a Mumbaikar in exile in the national capital and I have just about survived.
As the temperatures sharply dip in the national capital, the political heat is rising. The BJP’s defeat in three Hindi heartland states means that we enter a big general election year with a marked shift in momentum. A galvanized opposition, restive allies and murmurs of dissent within, suddenly the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duopoly no longer seems quite so impregnable.
In 2004, a few weeks before the general elections and a day after the Lucknow stampede in which 21 poor women were killed while collecting free saris, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee admitted to me in an interview that the tragedy had dented the ‘India Shining’ image being aggressively promoted by his government. “There are areas of darkness, no doubt about it, and we should be worried,” he said with a contemplative air typical of the man. It was almost as if amidst the euphoria of a near-certain re-election, the politician in the hotseat sensed his own limitations.
One of the more persistent criticisms against the Narendra Modi government has been that far too many of its ministers seem to have very little work to do and as a result end up saying/doing things that have no connection with their assigned ministry. A classic example is Giriraj Singh, minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises: rather than focus on reviving MSMEs in post-demonetisation India, Singh is best known for routinely making bizarre remarks, often asking critics of the government to be packed off to Pakistan.
A simple photo-op can sometimes reveal the entire political picture. Last month, as Rahul Gandhi hosted an iftaar party, his high table did not include a single opposition party chieftain: most of them chose to send their representatives instead while the Samajawadi party gave the event a miss altogether. The message was clear: most opposition parties do not see the Congress as a first among equals, even less so Mr Gandhi as an unquestioned magnet for opposition unity.