The complicated and controversial notion of a Muslim vote bank stretches back to the first general elections in 1952. The post-Partition face of the Indian Muslims, Maulana Azad, was keen to contest an election from a constituency with a sizeable Hindu population to prove his ‘secular’ credentials when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insisted he contest from Muslim-majority Rampur district instead. Nehru didn’t want to take a risk with the electoral fortunes of one of his key lieutenants.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena were once seen as ‘natural allies’ but life for the original saffron alliance is not quite the same in the age of Narendra Modi. Last week, when the picture of Modi replacing Mahatma Gandhi on the khadi and village industries commission calendar stirred a controversy, it was a Shiv Sena-backed union that first raised the red flag. A Shiv Sena MP went on TV to describe it as a ”sin” to replace the Mahatma with the prime minister.
We live, to put it mildly, in “interesting times”. This is an age where TV family serials have given way to political soap operas: Are Akhilesh and Mulayam at war or peace? Or is there a chacha still in-between father and son? We have a prime minister who refuses to take a break even on New Year’s Eve and an Opposition leader who determinedly takes one every year. In 2016, the rupee was demonetised; in 2017, will it be the turn of our politics to shrink into a one man, one party show?
Last month in an interview I asked Congress president Sonia Gandhi if she would concede that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a similar personality to Indira Gandhi, tough and authoritarian. “No, no, absolutely not,” she responded emphatically. A month later, I am tempted to pose the question again. More specifically, would it be right to suggest that the politics behind Modi’s demonetisation programme is similar to Indira Gandhi’s 1969 bank nationalisation drive?
For those still surprised by prime minister Narendra Modi’s audacious demonetisation gamble, the past maybe a useful guide. In 2007, just ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections, Mr Modi kickstarted power reforms in the state as chief minister, including a hike in rates and police action against farmers involved in power theft. When an angry RSS-backed farmers delegation met the chief minister, Mr Modi’s response was reportedly defiant: “I will step down as chief minister but not back down.
The latest opinion polls in the US are suggesting a much tighter race for the country’s presidency but the debate in Washington DC, at least, has slowly shifted from “will Trump be the next US president” to “gee, how did someone like Trump get so close to the White House”. This mood shift reflects the belated realisation that the US could be electing a man who is clearly unsuited to the job, someone whose outrageous remarks evoke as much anger as mirth across large parts of the country.
In the 1980s when Rajiv Gandhi had chosen to attack his opponents by warning that “hum apne virodhiyon ko unki naani yaad dila denge” (we will make our opponents remember their grandmother), his comments sparked off as much mirth as anger: The ill-chosen phrase which was meant to convey the sentiment that we will teach our opponents a lesson was seen to reflect the former prime minister’s discomfort with Hindi.
In the universe of the 24x7 media, there is literally no place to hide. Which is why it should come as no surprise that a video of Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking out as Gujarat chief minister against the then UPA government’s Pakistan policy went viral last week. The video shows Modi mocking the Manmohan Singh government for not giving Pakistan a befitting reply to a terror attack. “Why are you not marching into Pakistan instead of begging the world for support,” he can be heard saying in the video.
Life on Twitter can be nasty, brutish and short. Which is perhaps why within moments of the news breaking that Smriti Irani had been shifted out of the HRD ministry, her critics had pounced on her and were happily trending #ByeByeSmriti. “Aunty National” is now “Sari National”, they scoffed, a reference to her sudden move to the relatively low-profile textiles ministry.
“We will change the face of India in ten years,” thundered Narendra Modi in a victory speech in Vadodra on May 16, 2014 within hours of his famous general election win. To his critics, this was typical Modi bombast: A leader who had been elected for a five-year term was already talking of a decade in power. Two years later, the euphoria maybe fading, but what is looking increasingly likely is that Modi has every chance of repeating his success in 2019.