Politics of the country in the last quarter of 2019 took curious undeterminable and unpredictable turns. In May 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to an unprecedented victory in the Lok Sabha election with an improved mandate bettering his own record of 2014 and by the end of the year it appeared to be floundering.
In normal course and in ordinary times, it is only just over six months and few days and therefore an unthinkable proposition for a scenario particularly that of politics to undergo a substantial change but exceptional times dictate unexplainable turns and twists and that seems to be happening.
History repeats itself but if we want to assume that at present the political situation in India is a repeat of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s primeministerial years between 1971-77, then the country shall have the answer to this by the year end.
The year ended with nation wide agitations with youth, students and civil society joining hands to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) giving the opposition a chance to regroup and realign, signalling a possible change in the national politics. It was also reflected in the electoral victory of the Jharkhand Mukti Mocha-the Congress-the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance in the tribal state of Jharkhand.
Notwithstanding people’s protests and setbacks in assembly elections in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the ruling party in the Union capital led by Modi and his confidante Union Home Minister Amit Shah remained aggressively belligerent to deal with the developing political situation by eventually dubbing the opposition to the CAA and NRC as a Hindu versus Muslim issue thus polarizing the society hoping for the BJP’s electoral advantage.
On the other hand, developments of last three months seems to have energized a thoroughly demoralised opposition that has begun to see an opportunity for itself. Electoral victory in Jharkhand and coming to power in Maharashtra along with opposition to the NRC by some of the NDA alliance partners has provided further traction to the opposition. The opposition, ranging from regional parties via the Congress to the left, received a boost when a resolution against the CAA, was adopted by the Kerala assembly that went on to unnerve the Modi government fearing that more opposition ruled states may proceed on the same track creating a serious constitutional crisis- a challenge to federal polity.
In succession within the first month of the second term, the BJP government enacted Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 ending the Islamic practice of ‘triple talaq’ that had been stalled in Parliament by the opposition since 2017 when it was first introduced. The government had brought in an ordinance on the subject first in 2018 and then in 2019.
The BJP had gone for state assembly elections in October in the states of Haryana and Maharashtra with a confidence of being sure that both Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar government would return to power with a strengthened mandate improving the electoral record of 2014. In Haryana the BJP went on its own strength confident of the popularity of the Khattar government that had given all 10 seats to the party in the Lok Sabha couple of months ago, the party had observed enough caution in Maharashtra by keeping its old ally-Shiv Sena in good humour by conceding some ground.
Though electoral results on October 24 caused a setback when in both states, the BJP fell below its 2014 performance, yet it could form the government in Haryana with the help of a regional party while in Maharashtra it failed to retain power taking a principled stand refusing to give chief ministerial position to the Shiv Sena that was its junior in term of number of seats. In the process, it ended losing the state paving the way for its most disliked if not the most hated opponent-the Congress-to sneak into power in company of the NCP and the Shiv Sena that obviously fulfilled its long term ambition of occupying the chief ministerial chair.
Despite setbacks, the Modi-Shah duo went ahead with its long-term agenda and pushed the CAA through the two houses of Parliament that facilitated citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan leaving Muslims outside of the provisions amended Act. The Home Minister also promised to the nation both from the floors of parliament as well as in his public meetings to bring the NRC.
In Jharkhand electoral battle, neither the cry of nationalism strengthened with the dose of the CAA and NRC nor the Modi’s charisma helped the BJP to retain power but a change in political climate at the state level became apparent. Whether this would impact the mood at the national level or not is too far to judge since the next general elections are due in 2024 only.
Coming assembly elections in Delhi in February are going to be the next test of the Modi’s hold on people and Shah’s electoral strategy on the ground whose outcome would form the initial contours of the emerging national politics as the BJP is trying to oust the Aam Admi Party (AAP) of Chief Minister Avind Kejriwal. The Congress, that had been completely routed in 2015 assembly elections failing to even open its electoral account in the 70-member assembly with the BJP just winning three seats, too would strive to revive its political fortunes.
Between Delhi and Bihar elections, scheduled to take place in October this year, shape of the politics would become more clear as it would become evident whether the BJP’s present vulnerabilities further deepen conceding space to the opposition or it is overcomed by Modi-Shah duo?