Just concluded visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was undoubtedly very successful as it brought two Asian democracies and two biggest economies strategically closer to counter the growing might and influence of China. India-Japan 12th annual summit, held in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi defied protocol to receive the visiting guest at the airport and rolled out the proverbial red carpet to take the traditionally good relationship between two countries to a new level.
Modi and Abe along with the visiting first lady undertook a trip from airport to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in an8 km long roadshow in an open jeep. Possibly this kind of display in a state capital was unprecedented. Curiously demands satisfying reasons for such an exercise. Observers are saying that politically shrewd Modi has tried to project foreign policy success to domestic use in his home state where assembly elections are due to be held in next three months.
Use of foreign policy to win elections is not new and this may possibly the case. Electoral outcome of the assembly elections is very crucial for the BJP and personally to the Prime Minister. Rising inflation, growing unemployment and heightening resentment among the traders, commonpeople and small businesspersons because of demonetization and introduction of GST are eroding Modi’s personal appeal and are putting a serious question mark on the invincibility of election machine of BJP President Amit Shah.
Though elections are, also be held in Himachal Pradesh in December this year where a Congress government is suffering from anti-incumbency, battle in the home state of Modi-Shah is politically far more critical because a defeat here would mean a heavy jolt to the credibility of the two supreme leaders of the BJP.
The BJP has been in power since 1998 and Modi was the chief minister of the state from October 2001to May 2014. Long years of power and absence of Modi at the helm have created a fatigue as well as anti-incumbency against the Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s government that has been in saddle since August 2016.
In this background, displaying of the Japanese Prime Minister and laying the foundation stone of the proposed bullet train project needs to be seen and understood. Normally, no good work is undertaken during the inauspicious ‘Shradh’ days, the face that Modi decided to lay the foundation stone of a major Bullet train project betrays the desperation on the part of the BJP’s top leadership.
What seems to have added to the frustration of the Modi-Shah combine are the results of the student union elections where the Congress’ NSUI and the Left-back student units have been on a winning spree. While the NSUI won two of the top posts in Delhi University Student Union election and the an alliance of the Left parties’ student organizations won all the posts at JNU, victories of non-BJP student organizations including the NSUI in states of Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Punjab are a clear indication of the waning appeal of the BJP and Modi among the youth of the country.
Another indicator is discernable in various statements and reactions of the BJP ministers and leaders on the address of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s address to the students and faculty of University of California, Berkeley in the US.
While Gandhi’s candid comment on the dynastic politics in India was a bold admission of the prevailing reality in India, the BJP top brass including the ministers like Smriti Irani, Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Jitendra Singh and host of the ruling party leaders and spokespersons went hammer and tong on the statement attacking the young leader.
Even country’s Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, despite occupying a constitutional post, could not suppress his anger and made an indirect comment saying: “There is discussion about dynasty. Dynasty and democracy cannot go together. Very simple, It weakens our system”, he stated at a book launch function.
The BJP was convinced that 44-year old Gandhi was no challenge as his mother Sonia Gandhi was presumed to be no force until 2004 Lok Sabha polls but she led the Congress-led UPA alliance to victory. Now that the Congress leader is being discussed in foreign capitals receiving attention and has begun to gain traction even in social media where he was earlier ridiculed as “Pappu”, attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi scion have become fierce.
It is too early to say whether country’s oldest party is on a revival path or not that could pose a formidable challenge to the BJP that is ruling at the Centre as well as in 18 states. However, the Congress could pose a serious challenge cannot be entirely ruled out. In Gujarat, the BJP is in direct fight with the Congress. After the exit of former state chief minister Shankarsingh Vaghela from Congress ranks, factionalism in the party has come down. Senior Congress leader Ahmad Patel is chief strategist of the party in Gujarat.
In a cliff hanger contest, Patel won his seat in the Rajya Sabha elections in August this year despite best efforts of the BJP chief to defeat him. Patel’s victory has enthused the party machinery in the state. The Congress had fared well in the Panchayat elections in the state that were held in 2016.
In 2015, there were widespread agitation by the Patidars in the state. The BJP government had come down heavily on the leaders of the agitation and over dozen of the leaders of the powerful Patel community were arrested and prosecuted by the state machinery. Now that election time is coming, Patels may decide to desert the BJP. In the light of above factors, the coming assembly elections are poised for a keen contest and a defeat of the BJP may prove to be the end of the Modi-Shah phenomenon.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.