New Delhi: Results of assembly elections from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand left millions of Indians agape. People were also taken aback by the BJP’s audacious capture of political power in Manipur and Goa. Unsurprisingly, these developments triggered an out-and-out chorus of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral invincibility. On March 16, the party’s presiding deities, Modi and president Amit Shah, issued separate orders.
Modifying his famous words on corruption, Modi said: “Na baithoonga, na baithne doonga (Neither will I sit, nor allow anyone else to sit).” Shah’s words echoed those of a corporate honcho setting targets for vertical heads: “Get ready for the next challenge, 2019 is not far away.” Despite the overpowering electoral might of Modi and his party, there is much to do before the next parliamentary polls and will have to be supervised, if not executed directly, by the duo. In gracious terminology, the to-do list, long and varied, is nothing but a catalogue of challenges. Unless Modi ensures these are met, hopes of renewing his tenure will be dashed.
The mandate in UP is overpowering. Consequently, the task at hand is enormous. It mustn’t be forgotten that people’s faith in Modi’s capacity to address livelihood aspirations was among the most significant reasons for their voting for BJP and its allies. The challenge, however, emerges from the reality that not all of them voted for the BJP solely for this reason. No empirical data exists to establish the numbers drawn to the BJP due to development-centric aspects of its manifesto, governance-related promises and Hindutva-based issues raked up during campaign.
What will the state government prioritise? Will it form a team of legal experts to examine legislative solution and build a Ram temple at Ayodhya even while the dispute remains in limbo at the Supreme Court? Will the BJP initiate steps to declare triple talaq illegal? Will it shut down illegal slaughter houses (and mechanised abattoirs), leading to the closure of thousands of meat shops and forcing meat-sellers, mainly Muslims, to seek other avenues of work?
Would these measures result in social conflict, limiting government attention to maintaining law and order? If the government chooses to go slow on Hindutva matters, especially Ram temple, how will the BJP handle the undercurrent of restlessness among fringe forces? This is tricky because minority ‘appeasement’ was a major accusation against adversaries. If supporters turn to reproving the BJP for using same tactics, it will fall between the proverbial two stools. Consequently, the balance it strikes on this critical matter will have a huge bearing on future electoral performances.
Even on issues that flag Modi’s “code of conduct” — sabka saath, sabka vikas — the BJP has bitten more that it can chew. Take its promise on jobs: 70 lakh jobs or equal number of opportunities for self-employment in five years. The manifesto also assured reservation up to 90% for the state’s youth in the industrial sector. Modi guaranteed jobs in equal measure at the national level after becoming the PM but the target is nowhere near being met. Demonetisation-triggered slowdown and job losses are yet to witness a reversal of trend. On other significant social sector promises too — lowering maternal and infant mortality rates, improving the quality of educational facilities — the challenge is huge. The BJP has another big task at hand: improve law and order.
Goa to Manipur
The BJP faces political and administrative trials in other states too. In Goa, the challenge for the government will be to ensure it is not linked with construction, mining and tourism lobbies. The BJP, when it came to power in 2012, pledged to snap ties without great success. Consequently, people explored political options in smaller parties as this election revealed. Manohar Parrikar’s return to the state reveals that the party is aware of the challenge on hand.
Uttarakhand is an opportunity for the BJP because the state delivered a decisive mandate for the first time since its formation in 2000. Generating employment in the hill state is a decades-old problem and the BJP has to devise a time-bound plan to end migration of the male population. The delicate ecology has to be borne in mind while embarking on infrastructure development.
Corruption is endemic, and the BJP should realise that its track record is not exemplary.
Like in Uttarakhand, where many veterans crossed over from the Congress, in Manipur, attention has to be given by the central leadership in inculcating party policies and ideology in the legislature party, the bulk of which, including the CM, crossed over from Congress. The BJP promised to end the economic blockade and, with the Nagaland People’s Front, it has to prevent an outbreak of ethnic clashes.
Administrative challenges will be tackled by handpicked CMs, but the Modi-Shah duo have to decide the extent of social inclusion that would risk alienating the core constituency. Modi’s principal challenge is to stay on guard against himself: not to succumb to hubris. His charisma, bandwidth of vision, capacity to take unparalleled risks and flamboyant aspirations have brought him where he is. But he should not fall prey to impulsiveness, from shutting down advice to allowing inattention to detail to prevail. He must remain true to his words that power should be viewed as an opportunity to provide service to people. Not as a vehicle to acquire power and glory.
—As Published in ET