Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is the Modi-Shah juggernaut losing steam?

Let’s start closer to (my) home –Kolkata.

Since Amit Shah’s Burdwan Rally on January  20th there is visible slow down in BJP’s aggression in West Bengal.  The announcement of big names crossing over from Trinamool and Congress to BJP has  been put on indefinite hold.  Even accepting – the government in Delhi has no control over the affairs of the CBI – the investigation seems to have cooled off a little with the release of one MP and the “non-arrest” of  Mukul Roy. It is quite likely that Madan Mitra, the other minister in custody, will also be soon out on bail – taking the heat off Mamata Banerjee.  The BJP has also been studiously cautious in associating with Roy or responding to his overtures.

Although the TMC MP’s have been belligerent in Parliament, BJP’s response to their shenanigans  have been somewhat muted with at least one instance of Modi trying to reach out to the Trinamool MPs during his reply to the debate on the President’s Address in Rajya Sabha.  The Mamata – Modi meeting that followed – despite the stiff body-language  caught on camera – was also significant. It’s possible that –  strategy has been recalibrated keeping in mind the challenges of the Budget Session – with several key legislations on the anvil.  But, it also can’t be ruled out that the moderation is also an outcome of a more realistic assessment of BJP’s immediate prospects in West Bengal after the recent Lok-Sabha and Assembly By-polls  (further corroborated by Opinion Polls for the forthcoming Kolkata Municipality Elections – where BJP is finding it difficult to even mobilise candidates). Now one hears PM  Modi may be visiting Kolkata soon to follow through on his meeting with Mamata Banerjee in Delhi.

In next door Bihar – one observes a similar slackening of tempo. First, the Manjhi experiment went horribly wrong. Although the Nitish – Lalu flirtation has fallen just short of consummation – it has brought both of them back to the centre-stage commanding greater share of voice and TRP.  At the same time – BJP leaders like Sushil Modi seem to have gone into hibernation. Other than an occasional sound-byte from  Shahnawaz Hussain  (Ravi Shankar Prasad usually speaks on  other issues – in any case his mass base in the state is questionable), Rajiv Rudy or Giriraj Singh – rest of BJP stalwarts from Bihar are deafeningly silent and happy to listen to Sharad Yadav holding forth on the relative physical attributes of women on  either side of the Vindhyas.

While it is undeniable that the Delhi rout was a major jolt for  Modi-Shah leadership – mercifully AAP’s own internecine war has shifted the focus from it and hopefully the initial embarrassment in Jammu and Kashmir has been – at least for the time being  – contained.  The news from old BJP ruled states like Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are not much to write home about – with both Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan under the shadow of scams (PDS and Recruitment) in their respective states.  The newly formed ministries in Jharkhand and Maharshtra are still settling down with their own set of challenges.  With Naveen Patnaik still going strong  Odisha remains largely out of bound for BJP at the moment.

It is conceivable that Modi-Shah have tactically decided to save the powder for another day while fighting more important battles in Parliament.  But, the overwhelming impression is their juggernaut has been stalled on its track.  While Modi can definitely chose his battles in a 5 year race – to win the war he would need to get the economy moving quickly.

PS: Since the article was published - the Government managed to get the crucial Coal and Mining Reforms Bills passed in the Rajya Sabha with the support of most major political parties - except Congress, the Left (CPIM + CPI) with the JDU and RJD staging a walk-out. However, the fate of the Land Acquisition Bill still hangs in balance.

Article first published in Swarajya Magazine (click here for original link)