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PM Modi Gets Ready For 2019

Four lessons that assembly elections have delivered to leaders who oppose Narendra Modi

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Except a handful of die-hard fans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hardly anyone could even get a sense of the cataclysmic victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Cataclysmic for a number of leaders and parties, of course. Never before has any party won as many seats in an assembly elections in the state. The mammoth and crushing victory of the BJP found resonance in nearby Uttarakhand where it has won a four-fifth majority. Reverses in Goa and Punjab will by no means dent the sheer scale of the BJP victory. What are the lessons that one can take home from these elections?

The first big lesson is that media hype is not enough to win elections. In fact, excessive media hype can be counter productive. Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal should have learnt this simple lesson today. Large swathes of English media glossed over the terrible law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh and kept projecting Akhilesh as a “development” man who was doing possibly more than Modi. The manner in which the Akhilesh-Rahul duo was covered as new age saviours of the state was, frankly, embarrassing. One journalist even flew across the Agra-Lucknow expressway (still incomplete) to gush over Akhilesh. Any journalist who had the temerity of pointing out that the BJP was heading for a victory was taunted, mocked and even abused as a Modi Bhakt. Some thing similar happened with Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab, perhaps on a bigger scale. So big was the hype that journalists and senior AAP leaders were confidently stating even before counting began as to how victories in Punjab and Goa would propel Kejriwal to pole position as a Modi rival for 2019. The AAP came a poor second in Punjab and failed to win a single seat in Goa.

The second crystal clear lesson is that if Rahul Gandhi continues to lead the Congress, it faces another electoral disaster in 2019. That it has won Punjab is, thanks more to Amarinder Singh. That it has done well in Goa is, thanks more to internal bickering in the BJP. The real Congress story has come from the five assembly seats that constitute the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. The Congress managed to lose almost all (till the evening of 11 March) seats to the BJP despite the alliance with the Samajwadi Party. Objective and unbiased journalists who have been visiting Amethi say they won’t be surprised if Rahul actually loses the Amethi seat to Smriti Irani in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Clearly, the Congress has a serious problem. It is so used to being lorded over by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that it cannot comprehend a future without them. But then, does it have any future with Rahul Gandhi at the helm?

The third stark and sobering lesson is that “vote bank” politics is delivering consistently diminishing returns. The most glaring example of this is Mayawati. Attempting a comeback this time after getting wiped out in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati brazenly and openly courted Muslims. She virtually went to the extent of warning Muslim voters that they faced grave dangers if the BJP won. She gave close to a 100 tickets to Muslim candidates. Her calculation was that the almost 20 per cent Muslim “vote bank” would combine with her 20 per cent core Dalit vote bank and hand over the state to her on a platter. But she stares at the most humiliating defeat in her political career with the BSP slumping to less than 20 seats. Mayawati doesn’t even have enough MLAs to make it to the Rajya Sabha next year!

To a smaller extent, even Arvind Kejriwal tried his luck by trying to win over “unhappy” Sikhs. The ploy has clearly backfired. The Congress tried it in Assam and was wiped out in 2016. Leaders such as Mamata Banerjee must be looking at these results with both interest and alarm.

The fourth lesson is that the number of potential challengers to Modi for 2019 is shrinking rapidly. This round of elections has at one stroke done that. Till just a few days ago, leaders like Rahul, Akhilesh, Mayawati and Kejriwal were projected by many as potential rivals to Modi. They will be laughed off if they still persist with that belief. Kejriwal remains chief minister of a glorified and rich municipality. Mayawati is fighting for survival. Akhilesh will need a few years to recover, though age is a big plus in his favour. As for Rahul, the less said the better.

There is no doubt that the BJP will be the party to beat when 2019 comes around. It will be even more formidable than what it was in 2004 when it was shocked in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi is the tallest leader in the country by a wide margin. The best that opponents can hope for is a series of strategic blunders by the BJP from now on so that 2019 throws up a hung Parliament like in 1996 when almost all political parties ganged up to stop the BJP from ruling India. But how credible will an alliance that contains egoistic and ambitious leaders such as Kejriwal, Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Akhilesh, Mamata, Pawar and even Thackeray will appear?