The results from the by-elections do not look pretty for the BJP. These come on top of its disastrous showing in the Uttrakhand by-elections last month. Of course, the BJP spin masters will try to explain away these results: local issues, low election turnout, Modi did not campaign, etc. etc. There is some truth here but I hope PM Modi understands the message the electorate is sending him.
Is the the Modi magic on the wane, as Uddahav Thackeray gleefully suggests? Is the over-promise of “acche din anne wale hain” coming back to haunt the BJP? One might argue that the clearing up the mess left by the UPA will take time. Yet, the Indian electorate may not have the patience. They ask: have the prices of key commodities come down? What specific steps have been taken to improve the quality of life of the average citizen? The BJP needs to quickly deliver on issues which the average person can relate to.
There is also a communication problem. PM Modi seems aloof and not connecting with people (August 15 day speech being a notable exception). Public engagement cannot be limited to tweeting. Bill Clinton’s dictum of a “permanent campaign” might be useful here. The PM needs to be on the road and tell people directly about his achievements, policies, and vision. The citizens elected him to be the PM, not the Cabinet Secretary.
To elaborate on the above point, PM Modi is coming across as a micro-manager. His priority seems to be to exercise direct control over the bureaucracy instead of working through his cabinet colleagues. He is emerging as the first with no equals. I am surprised that he has not expanded his cabinet. Important states remain unrepresented. A single individual holds both Finance and Defense; are the MPs of the BJP so incompetent? Or, does he not trust his own party?
One might argue that BJP’s impressive LS performance can be attributed to the fact that the opposition vote was divided. BJP spin doctors will suggest that the cohabitation of Nitish and Lalu is temporary. While this is true, one should look at the vote share as well. In the 10 assembly segments for which the by-elections were held, the vote share of the NDA dropped from 45.3% in the LS elections to 37.3% in the bye-elections, a drop of eight percentage points. At the same time, the vote share of the RJD, JD(U) and Congress increased from 40.3% in the LS elections to 44.9% in the bye-elections. If future politics is going to be defined by anti-BJPism instead of anti-Congressism, the BJP is in trouble. While I doubt the Bihar co-habitation experiment can be replicated in UP between SP and BSP, it might be possible is several other states and the BJP needs to think carefully about the emerging scenario.
Now some good news for the BJP. They are not the only ones at the receiving end. AAP candidates lost their deposits in both assembly bye-elections in Punjab after their impressive performance in LS elections. Take the case of Patiala. The AAP won this seat in the LS elections. But the Assembly constituency for which the bye-election was held, the votes it polled dropped from 34,000 to 6,000 — although Arvind Kejriwal actively campaigned for the AAP candidates for both these seats (and Modi did not campaign in Bihar). The lesson is that the electorate cannot be taken for granted by the BJP, the AAP or any other party. This is good news for democracy!
I predict that Rajnath Singh will be sent to UP as the next CM. From the TV footage I see, he seems quite unhappy. By removing Varun Gandhi from the post of BJP General Sectary, who is in Rajnath Singh’s camp, Modi sent a clear message. Rajnath Singh as UP CM will be a win-win for both. Rajnath Singh will have his own fiefdom from where he can plot his next move. For Modi, there will be one less competitor at the Center to be paranoid about. If my predictions were to come true, I just hope Modi does not award Arun Jaitley with a third ministry!
Why is the government allowing the controversy over Sai Baba to fester? The remarks of Dwarka Shankaracharya, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, are distasteful and provocative. Here is my prediction. This controversy will present PM Modi the opportunity to display his secular credentials. In any case, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati is not a BJP supporter. I suspect the controversy will fester a bit more (note the utterings at the recently concluded Dharam Sansad) and then there will be a crackdown (recall the removal of illegal roadside shrines in Gandhinagar). This will be politically brilliant!