Assam has given Narendra Modi a breather. It is now up to him to make full use of the time he has got to recover from last year’s drubbings in Delhi and Bihar, and brace for the battles in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Goa next year.
Assam was a low-hanging fruit for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by an octogenarian who couldn’t keep his house in order as the politically damaging departure of an able lieutenant, Himanta Biswa Sarma, from the Congress showed.
Uttar Pradesh will be different as the BJP will come up against the feisty Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who expects to cash in on the anti-incumbency sentiments against the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP).
In Punjab and possibly in Goa, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) will make its debut outside of Delhi with its usual hyperbole.
Again, the task will not be easy for the BJP, which tends to be thrown off balance by Arvind Kejriwal’s rhetoric skirting the thin line between insult — the prime minister is a psychopath, he once said — and defamation.
Only in Gujarat can the BJP expect to hold its own because, for one, its opponent will be a Congress licking its wounds from a series of defeats.
For another, Modi’s home state can be expected to stand by him even if his successor as chief minister, Anandiben Patel, hasn’t been a roaring success.
What the battles against the BSP, SP and AAP underline is the Congress’s absence as the BJP’s main adversary.
It is not a Congress-mukt Bharat yet, as the BJP’s provocative slogan about ridding India of the Congress proclaims.
But the political scene appears to be evolving in that direction as the mother-and-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi appears clueless about ways to revive the party.
But there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. The BJP will need at least the victories in Gujarat and Goa to justify its slogan since U.P. and Punjab are tough nuts to crack, the latter being hobbled by the misrule of the father-and-son combine of Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal.
To advance towards the objective of decimating the Congress, therefore, the BJP has to be far more politically savvy than it has been till now.
Since Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that the BJP’s victory in Assam underlines a popular rejection of the politics of obstructionism practised by the Congress, Modi will have to reach out to possible allies in order to push through the partially stalled economic reforms.
The two victorious ladies will have to be on the top of the BJP’s list in this regard. Modi is fortunate that both Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa are expected to be more confident at the beginning of their second terms and are unlikely to hesitate in the matter of striking deals with the centre.
Of the two, Mamata Banerjee’s extraordinary success can enable her to enlist the support of the BJP MLAs in West Bengal as she helps Modi to implement reforms.
The death blows she has inflicted on the Congress and the Left are expected to neutralise their carping exercise in nay-saying on the pro-market initiatives.
Jayalalithaa, too, will be an able ally since she has no ideological hang-ups about a neo-liberal economy.
It is possible that the reverses suffered by the Congress from the time of its defeats in four assembly elections in 2013 followed by the general election drubbing in 2014 and the latest losses in Assam, Kerala and West Bengal will take the wind out of the sails of the “socialists” in the party led by Sonia Gandhi.
However, it is not only the Congress which advocates this outdated thesis but also parties like the Janata Dal (United), the SP and others in the so-called Janata parivar.
Modi has to take the present opportunity, therefore, to push ahead energetically with reforms in parliament and outside so that the roadblocks on the path of economic growth are quickly removed as well as discredited.
At the same time, a palpable sign of employment-generating development will silence the “socialists” and weaken them in electoral terms since the modern generation looks for jobs and not dead dogmas.
Apart from the focus on the economy, the prime minister will have to cut the loudmouths in the saffron brotherhood to size lest their comments on the removal of the Reserve Bank governor and the building of the Ram temple are interpreted as those of Modi.
He will also have to pay greater heed to the views of industrialist Adi Godrej about the baneful effects of measures like the beef ban and prohibition on the economy.
The almost constant round of elections has its value in telling the politicians what needs to be done to keep the system on the move.
For instance, the results show, as in West Bengal, that opportunistic alliances like the one between the Left and the Congress have no future.
And, Jayalalithaa’s success has shown that in choosing between two sets of tainted parties, the voter rejects the one led by a nonagenarian.
In traditionally Left-leaning Kerala, the comrades will feel that it is not the end of the road for them as their critics believe.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])