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.

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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.

Amit Shah is often credited as the BJP president who has converted Indian elections from routine local fights into an all-out life and death ‘war’. Little surprise then when Mr Shah was quoted as having told a gathering of BJP social media activists in Pune that they must see themselves as ‘soldiers going into battle who take no prisoners’. Mr Shah may have been only trying to motivate his flock but the sharp rhetoric reflects a new election dynamic where a tweet, a Facebook post or a WhatsApp forward are the modern-day arrows and bullets aimed at bruising political opponents.

February is arguably the nicest month weather-wise in the national capital: the icy Himalayan wind gives way to a gentler cool breeze signaling a gradual change of seasons. This time, it also marks a possible shift in political temperature ahead of a big election year.

In the aftermath of the 2014 general election debacle, I asked a senior Congressman how his party would now battle the Narendra Modi juggernaut. “Not to worry, we have time on our side,” he claimed rather confidently. The message was that with Rahul Gandhi still in his early forties, five years out of power wasn’t an issue. Now, almost three years later, the 2017 electoral verdict in Uttar Pradesh and beyond has only confirmed that time is rapidly running out for the Congress and the Opposition.

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