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When regional parties start off a no-trust move against Centre

By N Sathiya Moorthy
March 16, 2018 19:03 IST
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It is possibly the first time that a regional party with not even enough numbers to move a no-trust motion has taken the lead, and others are following it. 

The hints of a no-trust move first came from the YSR Congress, and the ruling TDP could not have stayed on when the question is another version of ‘Telugu atma gouravam’ – an issue that led N T Rama Rao to found the TDP in the 1980s, says N Sathiya Moorthy.


Image: TRS members hold placards during a protest at Parliament House in New Delhi on March 16, 2018. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo.

Driven to their senses, BJP’s strategists should be ruing their inability to climb down from their anti-Congress campaign mindset four years after the nation’s voters gave Narendra Modi a full mandate in Elections 2014.

The reasons for the BJP’s downtrend just now are obvious, but Team BJP seems to be oblivious still to what has hit them, or what is hitting them, over the past several months.

For, years after elections 2014, and closer to the next round of LS polls that are only months away, Modi & Co are talking Congress still, targeting Rahul Gandhi in memes that are drawing more derision in place of amusement among the large-section ‘non-committed’ middle-class BJP voters from 2014.

Better or worse this time round, the BJP is still talking about ‘Congress brand’ of corruption and black money just as they were campaigning on Sonia Gandhi-centred ‘foreigners issue’ years after the Indian voter had pooh-poohed their claims and hopes.

Today, going beyond Robert Vadra, the BJP is taking on Karti Chidambaram, with possible apprehensions about his father emerging as a possible prime ministerial candidate, a la Manmohan Singh, circa 2004.

That is if Rahul Gandhi shies away like his mother after victorious 2004, whatever the reason and political circumstances, and a combined Opposition looks around for a knowledgeable PM candidate with no political base to call his own.

That much became a possibility after Chidambaram Sr shied away from contesting the LS polls from native Sivaganga constituency in native Tamil Nadu, and the Congress party still got him elected to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.

Already, voters from across northern India have sent out a clear signal to the BJP, through various by-elections of the past year, that they are tired of what is coming to be seen as Modi’s ‘all-talk-no-work’ approach to electoral politics and  public administration.

This was not the ‘vikas purush’ that they had all voted for in such massive numbers. They were looking for jobs, higher family incomes, and cheaper foodstuff, more roads and electricity, as they were told Modi had achieved in ‘native Gujarat’.

Instead, what they have got is only the old-world Congress subsidies, re-packaged under new names, but without the kind of delivery mechanisms that had been in place for decades.

Aadhaar, for instance, has been the villain of the piece. So have been demonetisation and GST, the way they were packaged first, and the way they were administered later.

The inevitability of anti-incumbency of a decade and more notwithstanding, other BJP chief ministers across the ‘cow-belt’ or ‘Hindi heartland’ were not bad performers.

It is here that the ‘Modi magic’ has failed the party, and so has the much-touted ‘Shah strategy’ of BJP president Amit Shah. The simple explanation is this: when the going was good, perceived strategies paid off. When the voter has had enough and more of it, such strategies fail. Victories have authors, failures have no fathers. 

‘Anti-incumbency’ is the name of the game, and the BJP enjoyed the benefits in the North-East, especially, Tripura, where the local voters have had too much of the CPM and ageing chief minister, Manik Sarkar, despite all tall talk of simple lifestyle and simplistic approach to problem-solving.

The message from the UP-Bihar bypolls is clear, and has been known to every political observer barring the high-end BJP strategist. If the voter decides to vote out a party or government, he does not look for the target that the other has set for him to choose from -- Congress and Rahul Gandhi in his case.

Instead, once he has decided to vote out a party and government, the Indian voter looks for whoever is around, capable of defeating them. This, in turn, puts bottom-up pressure from the voters and cadres alike for unlikely allies from the past, to come and work together in and for the future, including that of their own.

It is thus that the SP and BJP did not have a choice of their own, but to come together, once the UP voter had decided to vote against the BJP. The fact, both now and in the UP assembly eElections of 2017, was that divided they let BJP win. Yet, the by-poll results also show that the ruling parties have lost more votes than the Opposition had got earlier.

Less said about the two Bihar bypolls the better. None of all those corruption cases, launched, re-launched or revived against RJD boss Lalu Yadav and his family members carried conviction with the voters. They would not have any of Modi-BJP’s promises of the unknown. Nor would they suffer ‘treachery’ of the Nitish Kumar kind, so what if Nitish might have been a better chief minister than Lalu and his wife, Rabri Devi in their times.

If Nitish had contemplated the possibility of the BJP not being able to maintain its unquestioned slot of 2014 in elections 2019, and that he could hope to become the NDA prime minister instead, now that very idea seems to be a distant dream -- at least, for now.

The message is for the BJP and Modi himself. In the Union territory of Puducherry, in the midst of the UP-Bihar bypoll campaigns, Modi told a local crowd that soon, the Congress (rival) would be in power only in the tiny UT.

Obviously, the prime minister was referring to Karnataka, not far away, where the BJP had hoped to return to power against the ruling Congress, in assembly polls, due in April-May this year.

Leave aside the Modi message being read differently in larger Tamil Nadu with its 39 LS seats in the light of the Centre’s self-contradicting positions on the touchy ‘Cauvery water issue’, his ‘audaciousness’ from campaign 2014 is now beginning to be seen by the very same sections of the urban middle class voters, possibly as a sign of ‘arrogance’, instead.

It is this kind of double-quick change in the voter that the Indian political class, especially the more successful of prime ministers and chief ministers, have failed to read when the writing is still on the wall. It happened to Indira Gandhi as PM, son Rajiv Gandhi as PM, and any number of chief ministers across the country. 

It is thus that a new element is becoming increasingly visible in the ongoing move for moving a no-trust motion against the Modi government in Parliament, the first one since it came to power. It is possibly the first time that a regional party with not even enough numbers to move a no-trust motion has taken the lead, and others are following it.

The hints of a no-trust move first came from the YSR Congress, and the ruling TDP, a partner in the BJP-NDA, could not have stayed on together when the question is another version of ‘Telugu atma gouravam’.

Modi was not around, not even as Gujarat chief minister, or even a senior BJP leader, when in the early '80s, when the late Telugu superstar N T Rama Rao, whipped up public sentiments, precisely over the issue -- and against the ruling Congress Party at the Centre and in the state. But N Chandrababu Naidu was already around, and as NTR’s politician-son-in-law.

So much so, when the BJP is talking about expanding to ‘new grounds’ as ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu post-Jayalalithaa, they do not seem to realise that the sand was all along slipping from under their own feet.

Thus, Naidu has no problem signing up with Jagan Reddy for adding the numbers required to move the no-trust vote. The Congress, the third force, in the state, is lending its national presence, whatever it adds up to.

The CPM-led Left Front and Mamata Banerjee are on the same page, not to mention the new-found friends in SP-BSP and RJD, across the Hindi heartland.

So much so, the sworn DMK ‘enemy’ of the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has publicly appealed to the latter with 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats from the State, to sign up for the no-trust vote, citing the Centre’s perceived partisanship to the poll-bound Karnataka over the decades-old ‘Cauvery water dispute’.

Only a day earlier, on March 15, State Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, took a dig, purportedly also at the BJP, for seeking to discredit the ‘Dravidian polity’s contributions’ to the growth and welfare of Tamil Nadu over the past several decades.

To them all, it is the BJP’s customary ‘political ignorance’ showing up as arrogance, even in the case of veteran national level leaders like the Vajpayee-Advani duo that cost the BJP the NDA combine of the nineties.

At the time, the ‘Dravidian partners’, in the DMK, MDMK and the PMK crossed over to the rival Congress combine, when the BJP was seen once again as being ‘insensitive’ to their traditional ‘secularism concerns’, forcing early Lok Sabha polls in 2004.

The apprehensions, real and imaginary, stated and unstated, about the BJP’s electoral agenda, and the Modi government’s unleashing of central agencies to settle political scores are seen as akin to the pre-Emergency Indira Gandhi-led Congress regime.

So much so, all those parties, national or regional, and all those leaders, real or imaginary, are ready to come together, to check what was once the Modi juggernaut. They are helped not from outside, but from inside by the BJP, the ‘Hindutva brigade’, and more so, the ‘Modi bhakts’, more especially in the government.

For his part, the prime minister too is still talking about ‘Congress corruption’. When the people had left the party behind after ‘punishing’ it for the wrongdoings of the long past, Modi seems still inclined to seek a second term to be able to ‘undo those wrongs’.

The problem in a democracy, especially of the 21st century kind, is that the people have less patience than are credited with. It is true of India, as much as any other country, only that we do it the passive, democratic way.

But then, no one expects the no-trust motion to win, the BJP having a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. But it is a message that they are sending out to the BJP, to all the non-BJP sections of the nation’s polity, and as much to the voters across the country.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

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