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Modi, master of his craft, is on top of his game

By Aakar Patel
March 11, 2017 18:37 IST
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'We are in the presence of a truly great politician,' says Aakar Patel.

IMAGE: BJP workers and supporters celebrate the party's victory in the assembly elections at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, March 11, 2017. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo

What will be the impact of Saturday's election results?

It is possible to see a few things unfolding because of the enormity of what happened in Uttar Pradesh.

First, and most important, is what it means for the prime minister.

A charismatic leader has got his popularity validated through an election in which he made himself and his actions the main issue.

His victory in Uttar Pradesh will mean Narendra Modi will have no restraint from inside his party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has become like the Congress of yore. Local leaders are irrelevant.

There is a high command that wins elections and then picks someone to be chief minister.

In New Delhi there is one supreme leader and then there are subordinates.

It is like Bollywood of 30 years ago when Amitabh Bachchan was said to hold ranks 1 to 10 and the others started at 11.

The ability of Modi to deliver landslide results like UP consolidate his stature.

This in turn means that more actions like demonetisation, which was conceived without wide political consultation inside the party, must be anticipated.

This is so because Modi genuinely believes he can deliver the genius solution to our many problems.

There are two aspects to demonetisation. The first is its actual effect on individuals and the economy.

The second is how the act is sold to citizens.

We must not confuse success in the latter as the success of the former.

Charismatic, decisive and aggressive leaders can and will make mistakes.

The lack of restraint from inside the party will also result in Modi having a free hand to decide who becomes India's next President.

The total absence of dissent in the BJP, unusual for a ruling party in India, is because everyone has submitted to authority.

There is no real complaint from inside the party that the Gujaratis have monopolised power, and this is because the Gujaratis have delivered for the party.

For the Congress, the win in Punjab will keep the illusion going that it remains relevant. But a putrid stench is in the air.

The fact is that the longer the BJP dominates national politics, the more space will be created for a competing ideology.

It is clear the Congress cannot fill this space. Its brand has become toxic.

It won one state on Saturday but it surrendered its majority in two, Uttarakhand and Manipur. And these will not be easy to win back.

States across northern India that the BJP picks up, like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it has shown the capacity to retain for decades.

The more pressing problem for the Congress will be its loss of dominance in the Rajya Sabha.

The BJP will send two dozen members there from UP and these are guaranteed to be the sort of people who will not be bullied in the Upper House.

The Congress strategy of stalling and disruption will no longer work because of unfavourable numbers. It will need to do proper legislative work but its leadership isn't capable of this.

Akhilesh Yadav will be criticised for tying up with Rahul Gandhi, but it was not a bad move. He had anticipated that the election would be very difficult and he tried something different.

His family will turn on him, but to the neutral observer he did his best.

Nothing could have survived the sort of wave that swept UP again on Saturday.

Vote share figures are not yet in fully, but it is likely the BJP is on or around the 40% mark that it clocked in 2014.

We can attribute at the most about 30% of this to factors like caste arithmetic and other traditional explanations.

The other 10%, which is the difference between 200 seats and 300 can be chalked down to Modi's popularity. This is the non-Hindutva vote he picks up because of his credibility.

We are in the presence of a truly great politician, a master of his craft who is on top of his game.

Even for those who are repelled by the BJP's ideology, as I am, it should be easy to accept that.

Aakar Patel is Executive Director, Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own.

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