Monday, December 26, 2016

Politics Kaleidoscope 2016: Modi in eye of storm; opposition unity still a mirage

The BJP's coming to power in Assam, making its presence felt and entry in Kerala assembly and being part of the ruling coalition in sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir had all the reasons to suggest that the saffron outfit - essentially known for Hindutva tilt and pro-north Indian credential has come of age.  

 
In BJP's tumultuous journey emerging as a 'pan-India party' in 2016, the Congress party has been pushed to the second fiddle. In a year with highs and lows, Congress lost another key state of Assam to the saffron outfit. It also lost Kerala to the Left Front, generally compatriots at the national level.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP had their fair share of brickbats and bouquets for some major decisions in country's history which mobilised the opposition against them but a total unity of political forces against the ruling dispensation still remained a mirage.

The alleged chaotic handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, demonetisation and arbitrary dismissal of elected governments in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Prime Minister was in the eye storm throughout the year. Meanwhile, despite repeated clarion call for opposition unity by key regional players including Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee,  a strong anti-BJP front still remained a "non-starter". The ban on high denomination currency on November 8 by Mr Modi was certainly the most striking political decision of the year if not the last decade. 

 Now the answer to the question - whether demonetisation turns out as a master stroke or the last nail in the coffin for political career of Narendra Modi - remains only in the womb of time.

The charge of "personal corruption" against Mr Modi by Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi at the fag end of the year generated much the political heat. Often slammed for trying to emulate Hitler or Indira Gandhi,  Mr Modi however gets the backing of party lieutenants and ministerial colleagues. "Do you mean to say, none in Congress ministry feared Rajiv Gandhi?," asked Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan informally once. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says Prime Minister could have "played safe" and look the other way to  allow status quo vis-a-vis black money menace. "But he chose to fight it out". However, other players in the political game have started giving clarion call for anti-Modi crusade. Mamata Banerjee has called demonetisation a 'draconian move', Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has claimed Mr Modi received money during his stint at Gujarat Chief Minister from Birla and Sahara business groups. As the term "note-bandi" gained political legitimacy during the year, the immense inconvenience caused to the commoners during two last months has earned Prime Minister brickbats."Demonetisation will have a recurring affect to the rural economy and overall agri scene. Farmers have got a very raw deal from the Modi government," said RLD chief Ajit Singh -- who has in the past demonstrated his popularity among farming community in UP.
The continuous electoral defeats for Congress - in Delhi (2015) and states like Maharashtra and Haryana in 2014 and Assam in 2016 only provided optimism to regional players like Mamata Banerjee. Post-demonetisation, Mamata Banerjee's outfit has tried their luck for electoral expansion in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 

While Mamata hopped between Delhi, Lucknow and Patna and even led foot march of leaders to Rashtrapati Bhavan with parties like Shiv Sena, in Parliament her MPs took principal role to disrupt proceedings in both the Houses. Leaders from other parties like Mayawati of BSP have also become vocal against note ban, but striking a major surprise, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has backed Prime Minister's move.
        All these suggest unity move among opposition parties not coming soon. "This is the best time to unite. But I do not see the unity happening. And if disunity prevails Mr Modi and BJP may able to sail through these challenging times," a senior opposition leader sums up the paradox. The unity move by Rahul Gandhi against demonetisation got another snub on December 26, 2016 - when parties like CPI-M, JD(U) and NCP declined to response to the Congress invitation.

The unity move against BJP was sounded earlier this year by Nitish Kumar also.
But former socialist colleagues in Biju Janata Dal (BJD) called it a "non-starter" and said there ought to be clarification on whether the proposed front would include Congress or it will maintain equi-distance from both the BJP and the Congress. In crucial assembly elections, while BJP wrested Assam from Congress, the grand old party lost hold of Kerala to the CPI-M led Left Front. For her party, braving onslaught of a Congress-CPI-M alliance and vitriolic attack from BJP, Mamata Banerjee led her party Trinamool Congress to a record victory winning 211 seats in 295-member assembly.  The vote share too shot up to 44.9 per cent - a swing of almost six per cent improvement from the 2011 performance.
         In Tamil Nadu, while Jayalalaitha too had led her party to a crucial victory retaining power, her death on December 5 brought curtains down to an eventful life and political career. 

But the state was put in a new flux and apparently a political vacuum has been created in the southern state. For, BJP victory in Assam came as a blessing and answer to the critics who questioned electoral strategy of PM Modi-Amit Shah duo for their failure in Delhi and Bihar in 2015. While much of the credit goes to Sarbanand Sonowal for BJP's historic victory in Assam,  it is also the 'tribal' factor which catapulted the saffron party to power.
BJP generally perceived as a 'north Indian' Hindu party, was able to cobble up support of the tribals --- Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootea and the tea tribes, besides the Kachari tribe to which Mr Sonowal belongs.
The new foothold in Assam gave the saffron party new hopes to venture into states like Manipur and put up a spirited battle for Uttar Pradesh where elections are due in early 2017.
 But BJP's political machinations in 2016 also saw resulted in loss of face in Uttarakhand and in Arunachal Pradesh. The Supreme Court's strong worded verdict in both the cases where President's Rule were imposed only gave strength to the argument that BJP's actions vis-a-vis smaller states were only a throwback to the Congress culture.Dismissing Harish Rawat's regime in Dehradun and Nabam Tuki-led government in Itanagar under Article 356 were two additions to the catalogue of alleged constitutional sins.
Worse, a few BJP leaders have tried to build up an argument that the Congress had no business to talk about constitutional decorum as the grand old party had several times dismissed non-Congress governments across the country.  "Congress is forgetting how many state governments it has dismissed in the last 60 years," said BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya.
         The apex court's orders restored both the state governments. But political machinations continued unabated in Arunachal Pradesh and on September 16,  as many as 43 Congress MLAs headed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu quit party and joined PPA, a regional ally of the BJP.
       The beginning of the year 2016 also saw the Jat Reservation Agitation - that kept BJP-ruled Haryana paralysed and also plunged it into a cycle of violence. The 10-day stir from February 12 to February 22 is said to have caused an estimated loss of ₹340 billion.
The total loss suffered by Railways on account of damage to property and cancellation of tickets during the agitation was about Rs 55.92 crore.  By 26 February, 30 people had been killed in the violence. Within BJP, in a major decision, the Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, handpicked for the job by PM Modi in 2014, was shown the door this year.
       Patel presumably had to be shifted owing to the 'Patel or Patidars stir' in 2015 - when a 22-year-old Hardik Patel had ignited the agitation.
       Many ponder about the wisdom behind the agitation. Was the agitation anti-Mandal (reservation) cult of politics ? Or Is it just a tip of ice berg of ‘well to do’ Hindu upper caste community’s latent anguish against the Quota raj system?
         Sensitive to ground reality, PM Modi and Amit Shah have now placed a hitherto low profile Vijay Rupani in-charge of Gujarat - a state that goes to polls in December 2017 - and for the first time in two decades without Modi as an 'aspiring Chief Minister'. The family feud in Samajwadi Party coming to light was seen as a major political episode of the year.
 

 UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav fought in public against his uncle Shivpal Yadav while another uncle Ram Gopal Yadav, Rajya Sabha MP, had backed the young nephew. After a series of developments, Ram Gopal Yadav - was expelled once and then taken back by the party. The year also saw return of an estranged Man Friday of Mulayam Singh Yadav - Amar Singh back into the think tank for the party.

Another political highlight during the year was BJP's ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP) often trying to sustain pressure on the Modi government for the Special Category status for Andhra Pradesh. At the three-day TDP-Mahandu at Tirupati in May, the state Chief Minister said,  “We are not asking any undue favour from the centre. The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act was brought by the Congress party, but it is also true that all parties supported it. So it is the responsibility of centre and also all political parties to resolve the problems of Andhra Pradesh". On August 2, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the agitating TDP members in Parliament that the government would stand by the commitments it has made "in supporting Andhra Pradesh to the fullest". Meanwhile, Telugu actor-turned-politician and Janasena Party founder Pawan Kalyan has alleged that the BJP has gone back on its promise over the special category status.
 

Other salient features of political developments this year include Prime Minister's Independence Day speech - where in from the ramparts of Red Fort for the first time - an Indian Prime Minister waxed eloquently in favour of the freedom movement of Balochistan.
"The world is watching. People of Balochistan, Gilgit, Baltistan and occupied Kashmir have thanked me a lot in the past few days. I am grateful to them," Modi said in his customary address to the nation on the occasion of 70th Independence Day.

"In thanking an Indian Prime Minister, they have thanked the whole population of my country", Mr Modi had said. But PM's reference to Balochistan evoked strong reactions from senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid, also a former External Affairs Minister.
"Balochistan is a different thing from PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). We have every right to speak about PoK because it is our matter. Balochistan is not," Khurshid had said. The former external affairs minister said Balochistan was an internal matter of Pakistan. "When the question is about a sovereign nation, we should maintain a sense of restraint."Do we allow Americans to speak about atrocities in our country?

(ends)


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