POLITICS

Only 2 Indians Think 2019 Is Not A Foregone Conclusion

If only the opposition tried.

29/05/2017 4:24 PM IST | Updated 29/05/2017 4:35 PM IST
Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

As the Modi government completes three years in power, the aura of invincibility around it is greater than what it was after its first year in power. The big prize of Uttar Pradesh is in the bag, the opposition is completely neutralised, even that irritant called the Aam Aadmi Party. The most sure-footed of regional satraps, such as Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, are cowering in anxiety with the BJP's declaration of war.

In UP, the BJP won 312 of 403 seats, its allies won another 13. Its performance was nearly as good as 2014, when the National Democratic Alliance won 73 of 80 seats. After such a stunning victory in the assembly elections of India's most important state, you'd think Narendra Modi and his party could take it easy.

The BJP has been on such a winning streak, winning states and municipal polls like Alexander the Great creating his empire across Asia, one battle at a time. This has led to a consensus across the political spectrum that Narendra Modi's re-election in 2019 is a foregone conclusion. Anyone who disagrees — such as the headline of this article — would be laughed at.

When the greatest of your opponents give up and say the 2019 game is over, you are bound to become a little complacent. You have the space to give your muscles some time for rest and recuperation.

But Modi and Amit Shah do not believe in rest. The number one reason they succeed is because they try. Sometimes their strategies don't work, such as in Delhi and Bihar. But unlike the opposition, they don't get demoralised and give up. They work so hard at winning elections, the contrast with a lethargic opposition is stark.

Lucknow to Lakshadweep

The BJP president has been on a 95-day cross-country tour in which he even visited Lakshadweep! The Nationalist Congress Party had won Lakshadweep in 2014, defeating the Congress candidate by a small margin. The island's small population is 96% Muslim, and Amit Shah spent 3 days looking at party organisation there.

The opposition is still licking its wounds, and Amit Shah wants to win Lakshadweep.

The NDA won 104 of 120 seats in UP and Bihar in 2014. That kind of strike rate is difficult to repeat. In the current Lok Sabha, the BJP is heavily reliant on north and central India. The BJP understandably wants to spread its investments and thus risk, from the north-east to Lakshadweep. As part of this strategy it is making aggressive inroads in West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Telangana, even Tamil Nadu. It doesn't have to win 9 or 10 seats in these states. Even 1 seat helps ease the pressure of sweeping the north.

Amit Shah has a simple strategy of winning seats that are considered unwinnable for the BJP: poach the guy who can win it. As Modi would do in Gujarat, they have a strategy to deal with the legislator's personal anti-incumbency. Change the legislator. In Delhi's municipal election, not a single sitting BJP corporator was given a ticket.

This is not to say the BJP election machine has stopped working hard in Uttar Pradesh. The party has openly declared its ambition for UP in 2019: Mission 80. It seeks to win every single Lok Sabha seat in the state. As things stand, this does not seem impossible.

But this is possible only because the BJP is aiming for it, and trying. Shah recently told BJP booth workers in UP: "The win shouldn't make you complacent. No holidays. For we have set out newer goals. Remember our mandate is not to rest on our laurels but to help change the lives of the common man." He was announcing he party's vistaar (expansion) campaign, whereby 16,000 vistaraks are to travel and spend time strengthening the party in 80,000 polling booths across the state.

No, 2019 Is Not A Foregone Conclusion

The 2019 elections are two years away, and the BJP seems to be all set to win them. If 2019 is a forgone conclusion, why work so hard?

There are only two people in India today who don't think 2019 is a foregone conclusion: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. They know that a moment of complacence in politics can be exploited by the opposition.

They know it's not easy to beat anti-incumbency, that the Indian voter can't be taken for granted. While Amit Shah is asking booth workers in UP to not take holidays, we can bet Rahul Gandhi is already planning his next Europe vacation.

2019 is not a foregone conclusion. There will be enough to question the Modi government on. There is no reason why an aggressive anti-incumbency campaign can't defeat the BJP in 2019.

The Indian voter has huge expectations from the state, and Modi raised the expectations even further in his 2014 campaign. There's unemployment, there's the shoddy implementation of Modi's programmes. Come 2019, the opposition could well get the better of Modi by asking the hoary 2004 question, Aam aadmi ko kya mila? What did the common man get? It could ask where's the digital connectivity in India's villages, or why India isn't open-defecation-free yet, and so on.

But the opposition won't succeed, because it is not even trying to. Not the lack of opportunity but the lack of effort is keeping the opposition down and out.

What would Modi be doing today of he were an opposition leader? He would have said, 'The ruling coalition wins 45% votes at best in any state. What can I do to win 55% votes?'

Instead, our opposition leaders are admitting defeat and planning holidays. It is not Narendra Modi's or Amit Shah's fault that they work so hard.

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