Thursday, November 19, 2015

Life after Bihar for Modi Bhakts


Bhakts flummoxed as BJP leadership goes MIA

Article first published in +ABPLIVE Click here to read

If 2014 was the best of times, undoubtedly this is the worst of times for Modi "Bhakts". I define "Bhakts" - as people who had unconditionally reposed their faith in Narendra Modi to pull the country out of the woods. It's not that the more rational ones among them (an I would like to include myself among them)  - weren't apprehensive of a setback in Bihar. But they hadn't bargained for a total rout. The so called "revolt of the elders" came as an under the  radar missile - which took everyone by surprise - even as the BJP Parliamentary Board was in a huddle trying to find its feet after the drubbing. It was palpable the leadership was flummoxed and didn't know how to react.

At this crucial juncture, Prime Minister Modi hopped onto Air India One for his London and Turkey outing. The 'narrative' was left pretty much for the media to run - with top leaders withdrawing almost into a shell. It wasn't clear who was in-charge in the PM's absence both in the government and party - except for a few feeble interventions by Jaitley and low key public appearances by the now chastised Shah. If there were backroom parleys happening for damage control - there were no signs of it outside.


Opposition as stunned as BJP


Meanwhile, among news on the process of government formation in Bihar and stories about how Nitish with his come-on-the-rebound whizkid Prashant Kishore had pulled off the impossible - one could sense a new surge of energy in Congress - as was visible in Sonia Gandhi's scathing attack on Modi in her Nehru Anniversary speeches. The rest of the opposition seemed to be in an equal state of shock (albeit, a pleasant one) trying to unravel the potential ramification - of both the Bihar Verdict and BJP's internal "mutiny" - on future political configurations. In short, the Bihar outcome had stunned the entire political system of the country.

Throughout "Bhakts" remained steadfastly committed to Modi even as a large section of his core constituency had begun to either show signs of disenchantment or beginning to slide from frustration to anger  (not just those who had bought the dream of "Acche Din" - but also the middle-class and business community that had en-bloc shifted their weight towards BJP in the expectation of economic revival and development). The "believers" continued to bet on Modi - delivering despite odds and possible setbacks in elections. As the writing on the electoral bill-boards began to light-up - they still hoped against hope - it won't be a wash-out for the BJP. But, that was not to be. Till the Bihar results  - many were expediently shifting blame on some of Modi's colleagues - like Jaitley - and a reluctant bureaucracy for the government's inability to match its words with delivery. But, suddenly they find themselves at a loss on who to hold accountable - except the "Supreme Duo".


Mixed Signals


Meanwhile, mixed signals continue to emanate from different echelons of the party and the RSS. It is anybody's guess as to where the RSS stands on the "Old Guard Revolt" - just as one doesn't know if there has been any plain-speaking with Mohan Bhagwat on his ill-timed anti-reservation "bomb-shell" that was undoubtedly the tipping point of the polls. Then there is also this intriguing silence over Shatrughan Sinha and other disgruntled elements, who have been berating the leadership with impunity. One is not sure how the Sangh leadership  is viewing Amit Shah - though Nitin Gadkari - Nagpur's blue-eyed boy - has risen to his defence. The dynamics at play inside the "parivaar" are far too complex for the simple-minded "Bhakt" to fathom.


Hardik and Prashant the new kids on the block 


Reams are being written offering suggestions on how Modi needs to reboot the party and  government - if he wants at least a fighting chance for the remaining 3 and half-year of tenure without dreaming of a second term at this stage. But, for the ordinary Bhakt the calculations have gone awry. If Bihar was a disaster it is unlikely that UP and West Bengal can be any better. Everyone is skeptical about the prospects in Punjab - where BJP has to carry the dead-weight of the Badals. The pessimists are also worried about the outcome of the Gujarat Municipal Polls - with the wild-card entry of Hardik Patel in Big Boss' house.  So, Modi-Shah's plan of reducing dependence on problematic allies like Shiv-Sena will have to wait and they will have to continue to do off-line trade-offs with NDA fence-sitters like NCP and Samajwadi Party. 

Having tasted blood as it were - the Opposition, especially the Congress, will become more strident inside and outside the Parliament. With their disruptive mindset - it is unlikely they will get down to deal making on important legislations even if Modi were to descend from his high horse. If Sonia Gandhi can have her way - she would like to see Modi dislodged much earlier than 2019. We are already seeing the new darling on the block Prashant Kishore doing his own round of "Chai-pe-Charcha" with leaders of non-BJP parties including the Congress and Arun Shourie - the self-appointed representative of BJP's Club of Octogenarians.


An enigma called Modi


The answer to these conundrums can come only from one man - an enigma called Modi. So, far he has been keeping a brave front. He spiritedly campaigned in Bihar till the last day - when he would have surely known from internal  assessments that the party was heading for a defeat. In Britain and the G20 summit - he did not betray any erosion of confidence or frayed nerves in his body language - that was being keenly watched with a telescope by all. Can he turn the tables again on his opponents - the next few months running up to the Budget Session should tell. Till then - the Bhakts will have to make do with far fewer hours of sleep just like their "Dear Leader" - who reportedly sleeps for only 4 hours in a day.