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.

It can't be easy being Rahul Gandhi: he isn't just a dynast but he is a fifth generation dynast at that. It is exactly a century since Motilal Nehru took over as Congress president and much water has flown under the Anand Bhavan since then. No previous dynasty, with the possible exception of the Mughals, has presided over sustained dominance over so many generations. But now, a creaking political empire has been handed over to a man who may not have the same burning desire to perpetuate a family legacy.

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.

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.

For four years and a bit, every time there has been a major state election, the dominant narrative is to call it a ‘test’ for prime minister Narendra Modi and his Sancho Panza, Amit Shah. The truth is, barring defeats in Bihar and Delhi in 2015, and a ‘stolen’ mandate in Goa in 2017, the BJP leadership has successfully passed almost every election test ( in Punjab, it was the BJP ally, the Akali Dal, who was the big loser).

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.

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