In his first political book, Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha leader, Derek O’Brien has laid out a roadmap to halt BJP juggernaut. Excerpts from ‘Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row’
Demonetization has been a turning point. Citizens were patient because they believed the prime minister and thought he had a plan to unearth black money and seriously tackle corruption. They are feeling let down.
Yet, since demonetization was such a massive exercise, with such deep and diverse implications, it cannot be dismissed as just another political failure. It has led to many types of stakeholders — from ordinary farmers to fat-cat bankers, from political workers to economic pundits — asking whether the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is mature and astute enough to think through the longer-term impact of its policy decisions, or whether these are impetuous and spur-of-the moment gimmicks.
These were doubts that not many were willing to listen to in the winter of 2016. They have a large number of takers today. Now, a backlash is building to the three-and-ahalf wasted years.
For me, the demonetization episode was instructive in other ways too. It became clear that the Congress was still in shock after its humiliating defeat in 2014. It was too timid when it came to responding to the BJP’s bluster and boastful claims. Frankly, it was overawed in the early days following demonetization and only reluctantly joined other opposition parties, such as the Trinamool, in their protests.
When it came to parliamentary interventions, the Congress’s internal politics became obvious. Senior and seasoned Congress functionaries played their own games. P Chidambaram, despite being an articulate and knowledgeable voice on economic issues, was kept out or stayed out of the parliamentary debates. At a time when we were trying to pin down the government, all this was frustrating.
Thankfully, after Rahul Gandhi’s town-hall-style meetings in US universities and the big controversy involving the son of the national BJP president, there is a distinct spring in the Congress’s step.
From Jai Ho to Jay Woe, the BJP’s narrative is gradually crumbling. In 2014, taking on a beleaguered and scandal-ridden UPA government, it optimized the anticorruption mood and exploited popular anger.
Now, after the BJP president’s ‘son stroke’ and the revelation that Acche Din and windfall gains seem to have come only for one company, the so-called anti-corruption rhetoric is struggling. Nobody buys it anymore. It is being laughed at and mocked. More than voters’ hate, megalomaniacal regimes should fear voters’ jibes.
I believe the BJP and Narendra Modi can be stopped in 2019. How can this be done? I offer a three-step approach.
First, don’t make this a national contest between Narendra Modi and a single alternative candidate. This plays into the BJP’s hands. Rather, make this a national election that is a sum of state elections. Make Modi and the BJP fight 29 different regional elections in the idiom and language and with the issues and themes of the individual states. Don’t let the BJP make it a contest around polarizing issues — beef, pseudo-nationalism or some such prime-time, made-for-TV-and-Twitter agenda.
Second, consider where the BJP juggernaut was stopped in 2014—in Bengal by Mamata Banerjee, in Odisha by Naveen Patnaik, in Tamil Nadu by Jayalalithaa. Consider where the Indian National Congress has beaten the BJP in recent times — in Punjab, led by the captain of the state, Amarinder Singh. Consider where the Congress is most confident when it comes to state elections in the near future — in Karnataka, under the skipper Siddaramaiah.
This is how the battle has to be fought in every one of the twenty-nine states in 2019 (or will it be in the winter of 2018!). Wherever the Congress can provide strong and rooted state leaders, willing to work hard, it will lead the battle and be relevant. Otherwise, parties that are strong in individual states will shoulder responsibility. It’s a joint effort.
Third, the BJP will try and divert attention with a fake narrative, but the opposition has to be disciplined in keeping the 2019 election to a referendum on the Modi government’s performance—nothing more and nothing less. Let’s talk jobs, demonetization scam, hasty GST roll-out, farmer suicides, prices, economy. This is a moment to judge the BJP government’s record. Here is how to JUDGE it: Jobs—and their absence Underperformance—a hallmark of governance since 2014 Demonetization—one of the biggest policy blunders and swindles in Indian history, on par with Muhammad bin Tughlaq and the Bengal Famine GST—the ‘simple’ tax that has made life so complicated and put business and commerce in the sickroom Economy—how our children are contemplating a shaky future of low growth, income inequality and economic distress Make the BJP answer for this. Ask the people to JUDGE it.
I am confident that the electoral verdict will follow.