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Looking beyond oath taking at Patna

  By Vijay Darda | 23-11-2015

In true celebrations of democratic victory, oath taking ceremonies are now grand public affairs beyond the high formality of reciting vows to follow the Constitution, and discharging the responsibilities of office. Prime minister Narendra Modi sent out a clear message to all the SAARC countries that he was prepared to reach out to them. The move to invite all SAARC leaders was hailed as a master stroke. Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has partnered with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress to achieve a tremendous feat in the recently concluded state elections. They have defied a collective 25-year anti-incumbency and stopped the Modi-Shah juggernaut. It is a decisive victory of massive proportions. Its pull has been so strong that even a moribund Congress has been resuscitated to look like a triumphant victor with a 70 per cent strike rate. From 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha in 2014, the NDA has been reduced to 58 out of 243 in the assembly elections this November. The scale of success achieved by the grand alliance has pleasantly shocked even its most optimistic supporters.

The Lalu-Nitish-Congress combine has given hope to those who have been depressed by the massive shows of strength by the BJP all through 2014. The depression that began with Modi’s stunning 282 strong victory in the Lok Sabha had been continuing with sweeping successes in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir. There was a blip in this march to success in Delhi as the BJP got routed, but the fact that the Delhi state assembly is just a glorified municipal council dimmed its political significance. Bihar was seen as the real test of the new mantra of anti-BJPism in the political lexicon. The Bihar polls have shown the possibilities that open up with an anti-BJP alliance coming together to challenge the electoral might of prime minister Narendra Modi and his trusted partner in arms Amit Shah.

So, there was no surprise when Nitish Kumar’s fifth oath taking ceremony had anti-BJP leaders from across the country sharing the stage and exchanging political nothings at a high tea thereafter. The images that beamed out of the event told their own tale. Lalu Yadav got a hug from Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi whispered something into a smiling West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s ear. Even former prime minister Deve Gowda held Lalu Prasad’s hand high up in the air. The other members of the erstwhile UPA clan – NCP chairperson Sharad Pawar, and NC chief Farooq Abdullah were also present. There was the DMK’s Stalin, and not to miss there was the presence of the BJP’s allies Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal as well. There was a token presence from the BJP, and the Leftists also attended the occasion. In view of the forthcoming elections in Assam, there was a reach out to Badruddin Ajmal of the Assam United Democratic Front. The ‘traitors” to the anti-BJP cause the Samajwadi Party understandably stayed away. There were no formal declarations about any groupings, but then the leaders have stated talking and this is just the beginning.

The ‘ganging’ up of the rest against the main ruling party at the centre is an old phenomena in Indian politics going back to the early 60s. It dates back to the Lohia years, and it entails that all internal differences are forgotten to challenge the incumbent at Delhi. In those days, it was the Congress that had to face this challenge, now it is the BJP that has to counter this phenomena. But surely, all across the country the political parties are likely to take lots of lessons from the Bihar elections while planning their strategies against a politically aggressive BJP.

It also appears that not just the strategies from Bihar, but even the 37-year old strategist Prashant Kishor would also be a part of their future election campaigns. It is relevant to recall that Prashant master-minded the 2014 “chai per charcha” campaign for the then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. It was only after he had become redundant for the Modi-Shah combine that Prashant shifted to the Nitish camp and is now a sought-after campaign strategist. We could hear more about him as elections take place in other states.

The question that will keep cropping up in the future is whether the BJP is strong enough to counter the combined onslaught of a unified opposition in state after state? After its massive and decisive win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, as part of the consolidation process it is quite legitimate to expect that the party would go all out to win state after state, and in the process also deploy its main catcher the prime minister as the campaigner in chief. Then it is just a matter of strategy as to whether in the process the party picks up a strong local leader or simply banks on the prime minister’s persona to deliver the results. But there can be no doubt about the desire to capture the states.

It is also equally relevant that these state elections, irrespective of their regional nuances are also a reflection on the functioning of the central government. To deny this is to ignore the obvious and challenge the logical. When the prime minister is the main campaigner, there is no other way of looking at the results, except as a referendum on his performance in office. Indeed, if the Modi government had been firing on all cylinders on the economy front and the results had been delivered on the major poll promises, then alliance or no alliance, the BJP would have put up a better show in Bihar. In that sense, the Bihar verdict is a wake-up call for Modi Sarkar to get its act together.

It is too early to say as to what would be the line-up when the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are held, but then it can be safely asserted that unlike the early impressions after the 2014 verdict that there is no challenger to Narendra Modi in sight, the Bihar verdict has changed this scenario. Nitish Kumar is emerging as a formidable challenger, although he has to travel some distance to get to that status, his journey seems to have begun in Patna last week.

Before I conclude…

The idea of levelling a specific tax for a particular objective is always appealing in theory, but fails in practice. There is a component of road tax in the prices we pay for petrol and diesel. But we all know the conditions of our roads. Now the government has levied a swachh cess. No one has any problems with the idea of Clean India. But it is a massive project that requires much more than a mere 0.5 percent addition to the service tax. The government at different levels has to actively pursue projects that create a Clean India, and has to move beyond tokenisms. It has to commit resources and manpower to keep India clean. Notwithstanding its disclaimers without heavy investments in Clean India, this cess will remain just another tax.


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Looking beyond oath taking at Patna


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