‘Is Modi failing is the question which the BJP will begin to ask itself,’ says Amulya Ganguli.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi flanked by then Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, left, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil in Nashik. Photograph: Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo
It might seem odd that the wheels of political fortune appear to be turning against the Bharatiya Janata Party as the Maharashtra and Haryana results show, so soon after the party’s massive Lok Sabha victory.
Arguably, however, there were signs that the BJP had started losing ground from the beginning of the year.
Which is why RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had urged the government to bring an ordinance in order to begin the construction of the Ram temple straightaway.
His hope apparently was that such a move without waiting for the judicial verdict would stop the BJP’s slide.
But the party did not have to take such a peremptory, pre-emptive, step because the tide began to turn in its favour after the terrorist attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama in February.
After that, the surgical strikes by the Indian Air Force on the terrorist camps in Balakote in Pakistan ensured that a heavy dose of hyper-nationalism would win the day for the BJP.
But the patriotic fervour does not seem to have lasted for long.
As the election results in the two states have shown, even the abrogation of Article 370, deemed by the BJP as a master stroke for bringing in the votes, has not helped.
One reason why the mood is turning sour so far as the party is concerned is the perilous state of the economy.
As joblessness grows, no amount of cooking gas supplies and building houses with electricity and toilets will help the party.
The ‘incrementalism’ of micro-economics will be overshadowed by the perils of macro realities.
The BJP’s worries will be compounded by the realisation that as it battles the negative effects of the economic scene, parties which it thought have been politically emasculated have been raising their heads again.
The Congress is the foremost among them because of the relative ease with which the party put behind it the infighting between the interim chief’s nominee and the former president’s favourite to come within striking distance of forming a government in Haryana.
In Maharashtra, too, there is a possibility of the Congress bagging the deputy chief minister’s post if the unlikely trio of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress form a government.
These are giant steps forward for the Congress which had been virtually written off after its dismal Lok Sabha performance.
Apart from administering political shocks to the BJP, the Congress’s unexpected successes have made a fool of those who had made a beeline for the BJP in Maharashtra and elsewhere before the elections. Clearly, they hadn’t read the political tea leaves right.
The lesson for the BJP is that nationalism can only take the party some distance but not all the way.
When the people feel let down by the prolonged absence of achhe din, they will turn to even the down-and-out parties.
In India, an election is usually lost rather than won unless there is a charismatic figure to sway the voters or governance is particularly creditable.
Since the latter is rarely the case in a country beset with many problems, it is usually charisma which prevails, whether of Indira or Rajiv Gandhi or Narendra Damodardas Modi.
Is Modi failing is the question which the BJP will begin to ask itself.
Up until now, the party has played all its winning cards — nationalism, Article 370 and even the temple.
What must it do to reverse the tide?
The BJP’s task is made all the more difficult by the growing chorus of criticism which it is facing from the Western media on Kashmir and now even the temple verdict.
Leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto have described the situation in Kashmir as ‘unsustainable’.
The BJP tried to make amends by arranging a junket to Kashmir by a group of far right European MPs, but even one of them wondered why they had been allowed to visit the Union territory, but not Indian parliamentarians.
So the BJP is in something of a tight corner with regard to the electoral trends, the economy and the perception of the West on Kashmir.
Can Modi save the day?
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.