Recol­lect­ing the Col­lec­tive

Modi be­ing more PM than BJP's go-to man is cre­at­ing prob­lems

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - In­dra­jit Hazra

It’s al­ways lovely to hear the prime min­is­ter re­fer to him­self in the third per­son. On Satur­day, in the con­clud­ing speech at BJP’s 2019 na­tional con­ven­tion at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi, the coun­try’s favourite third per­son sin­gu­lar stated, ‘Ek hawa failti hai ki Modi ayega to sab thik ho jayega. Modi ayega to jeet jayenge. Modi ayega to baazi palat denge. Sunne mein achcha lagta hai, lekin aaj mein kehna chata hoon, Modi bhi san­gathan ki pai­day­ish hai.’ (There’s an im­pres­sion that when Modi comes, all will be okay. When Modi comes, we’ll win. When Modi comes, the tide will turn. All this sounds nice, but to­day I want to say that Modi is also a prod­uct of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.)

Com­ing as Modi’s speech did after a far more im­por­tant an­nounce­ment from the Taj Ma­hal ho­tel in Lucknow the very same day, it was as dra­matic as it was un­der­stand­able to find the PM con­tra­dict all the other speak­ers who had ‘DK Ba­rooa­hed’ ear­lier so well . If Con­gress pres­i­dent Dev Kant Ba­rooah had pro­claimed in 1976, ‘In­dia is Indira, and Indira is In­dia’, the present BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah was cer­tainly sub­tler on Fri­day when he said that Modi was the ‘world’s most pop­u­lar leader’, and that even after the re­cent ‘set­backs’ in state elec­tions, BJP work­ers should have faith in the party’s ‘ajeya’ (un­de­feat­able) brand am­bas­sador. Pulling out stops was fi­nance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley, who ex­horted party work­ers to build elec­tions around the ‘match­less’ lead­er­ship of the PM, spell­ing out that Modi’s lead­er­ship is in­deed BJP’s ‘big­gest as­set’.

Col­lec­tive Lead­er­ship

So why the sud­den at­tack of hu­mil­ity on the PM’s part? Why the un­usual lunge to­wards the col­lec­tive — ‘Bhaiyon behnon, hum na bhoolein, hamari party col­lec­tive lead­er­ship par chalti hai’ (Brothers and sis­ters, let's not for­get, our party works on col­lec­tive lead­er­ship)? The prob­lem with Modi's self-sus­pected over­reach is, para­dox­i­cally, the fact that he is now per­ceived more as Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia than BJP’s go-to rak­shak. So even while most of the elec­torate may want him as PM, BJP may no longer be as eas­ily their most favoured de­liv­ery sys­tem of gover­nance in states (as wit­nessed by re­cent assem­bly elec­tion and by­poll re­sults), or even at the Cen­tre. This no­tion is likely to have be­come ac­cen­tu­ated by the chip­ping away of the pres­i­den­tial style pitch­ing of con­tests — NaMo vs RaGa — that worked so well ear­lier. With the lat­est com­ing to­gether of ‘bua’ and ‘bhatija’ in Ut­tar Pradesh, with Con­gress not even in the fray, party pol­i­tics — rather than lead­er­ship quo­tient — looks set to pose as the real chal­lenge to BJP.

Ev­ery­one’s done the maths. It was just the mat­ter of pol­i­tics that was the sub­ject of ‘will they-won’t they?’ in UP with its bo­nanza 80 Lok Sabha seats. While the fact that Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) came sec­ond in 34 con­stituen­cies — with­out win­ning a sin­gle one — and Sa­ma­jwadi Party came sec­ond in 31 seats while win­ning 5 in 2014 (adding an­other two of Go­rakh­pur and Phulpur in the 2018 par­lia­men­tary by­polls), doesn’t mean that much — after all, some­one had to be run­ners-up when BJP vac­uum-cleaned UP in the 16th Lok Sabha elec­tions, it does mean that the May­wati and Akhilesh Ya­dav tie-up puts BJP in a tighter space that may or may not end up be­com­ing a cor­ner this spring.

This isn’t about the ter­ri­fy­ing prospect of ‘coali­tion pol­i­tics’ up­end­ing Modi’s maz­boot (strong), but by ev­ery­one’s reck­on­ing un­der-per­form­ing, gover­nance. It’s about SPBSP best­ing Amit Shah’s ‘win by any means’ credo. If Modi’s ‘mera booth, sabse ma­j­boot’ — (keep) my booth the strong­est booth — line, about each polling booth be­ing a bat­tle­front this Lok Sabha elec­tions, hadn’t al­ready been coined be­fore Satur­day evening, one would have thought from Satur­day’s an­nounce­ment in Lucknow that the slo­gan to the party cadre was be­ing made by the SP-BSP lead­er­ship to their work­ers for their joint ven­ture.

Law min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad’s com­ment on Mon­day about the SP-BSP al­liance be­ing for their sur­vival is ob­vi­ously cor­rect. BSP is, in­deed, at its ex­is­ten­tial tether while SP is fight­ing for po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance. But with next to noth­ing, one has next to noth­ing to lose. Also, survi- val is as le­git a rea­son for BSP-SP by­gones to be by­gones as any — BJP’s post-assem­bly poll re­sult choice of Yogi Adityanath as chief min­is­ter in 2017 to shunt out an in­ter­nal prob­lem be­ing one such ‘rea­son’ — for par­ties to seek out power.

Caste Co­nun­drum

With the 10% reser­va­tion for eco­nom­i­cally back­ward ‘up­per castes’ an­nounced by the cen­tral BJP gov­ern­ment ear­lier this month, BSP and SP ex­pect a back­lash at the hus­tings from dal­its and other back­ward classes (OBCs) — tra­di­tional an­tag­o­nists since the Ram Jan­mab­hoomi days. And the al­liance in­tends to be there to ‘con­trol’ this per­ceived dis­en­chant­ment against this pre-poll at­tempt to level the caste play­ing field.

In such a sce­nario, with BJP ex­pan­sion from its 2014 — or even 2017 — high far more un­likely than likely, watch out for the in­cum­bent party to get into ac­tion dur­ing ticket dis­tri­bu­tion in UP. For in the BSP-SP’s ‘38+38’ seats stake-out of UP, there will be plenty of dis­grun­tled can­di­dates from both these par­ties whom the BJP’s ‘col­lec­tive’ will pick up and em­power for the polls. And along with play­ing the po­lar­is­ing card in, at least, seats where the al­liance puts up Mus­lim and dalit can­di­dates, the ‘col­lec­tive’ may rise with Brand Modi al­ready over-ex­tended.

Let’s not dis­turb him all the time

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