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.
A by-election is a bit like a school monthly test: the marks don’t count for anything during the final exam. Which is why the opposition celebrations after besting the BJP in another round of by-elections maybe premature but neither can India’s principal party afford to take victory in the 2019 general elections for granted any longer.
In 1996, soon after LK Advani resigned as an MP over his name surfacing in the ‘hawala’ diaries, we asked the original BJP ideological mascot why he had taken what many believed was an ‘extreme’ step. ‘It is a conscience call. I come from a party with a difference which is committed to probity in public life,” he claimed.
Karnataka is, arguably, India's most beautiful state. Few states can match its rich diversity: from the wondrous Karwar coastline to the verdant green hills of Coorg, from the wildlife of a Bandipur to the majesty of the Cauvery delta, Karnataka is the original God's own country. Why even Bengalureans can gaze wistfully at Cubbon Park's flora and reminisce of a Garden city that existed before the real estate sharks took it over.