If you ask me to explain in one single sentence the difference between Atalji’s five years and Modi’s five years, I would say this. The BJP’s influence in states was continuously receding during Vajpayee’s five years. On the contrary, Modi / Shah cultivated BJP very carefully in state after state during their five years.
Haryana, Maharashtra, Assam (and all of North East). The historic revival in Uttar Pradesh. A clear upper hand in Bihar. And the big surprise package : West Bengal. Even a modest beginning in Telangana. These days, PM Modi seems to be taking more and more interest in Tamil Nadu.
The list is endless. And very impressive.
But there is a slight trend reversal in progress. It is not strong enough to be called blowback yet, especially with the BJP having just stormed back with 303 Lok Sabha seats. But glitches are happening. And more regularly than expected.
It began with Karnataka where the BJP failed to form a government. Then, losing 3 states in December of 2018. Now in Haryana where the BJP fell to 40 seats. Now in Maharashtra where the first ever BJP government has been displaced. Jharkhand? We’ll see. Don’t be optimistic. Delhi? Be very circumspect. Relax. Bihar is easy.
To be fair, it is possible to treat each of these elections as unique, as setbacks of various degrees. In Karnataka, the BJP only fell short by a whisker. In Lok Sabha polls, it entered for first time (and swept) the Old Mysore region. Ultimately, it managed to form a government. Then, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were narrow losses. Chhattisgarh was a blowout but see how quickly BJP recovered.
Haryana is down by just 7 seats. In Maharashtra, BJP is still the biggest by a massive margin. Has both the best strike rate (by far) and most popular leader. Can look forward to imminent collapse of a khichdi govt which will be punished by people for sure. Jharkhand has never given any party a majority. And so on…
But winning is a habit. Each state where BJP stays out of power, even if for a few months, is still a setback. Every day in power is a chance to exert your influence. To sow a seed that might pay dividends in 10-15 years time, even generations later. The Congress understands this concept very clearly.
Power is a funny game. With 303 seats, it is easy to get complacent. To be fair, the same could have happened with 282 seats in 2014. But between 2014 and 2019, Modi sarkar had one very valuable ally.
That ally was paranoia. Because only the paranoid survive. They had learned from Vajpayee’s bitter experience in 2004. As had all BJP workers, sympathizers and supporters. They took nothing for granted, least of all winning 2019. Not for one moment between 2014 and 2019 did they get complacent. The ghost of 2004 would not let them sleep.
Then, the 2019 election happened and the ghost of 2004 died. We all celebrated it when the ghost was finally buried. It had been on our shoulder for 15 years, causing the longest, most annoying pain ever. It was like we had successfully treated cancer and survived to tell the story.
But now the ghost is gone and there is real fear of complacency setting in. Yes, BJP still controls most squares on the chessboard. The largest state of Uttar Pradesh is safely in the bag. The khichdi govt in Maharashtra is bound to generate long term sympathy for the BJP. And the BJP is waiting to pick up the Bengal prize.
I love cricket analogies. It is like when a really weak team like Holland has to face off against a really strong team like India. They can’t really match India in batting or bowling. But what they can do is show exceptional commitment in fielding to block runs.
That’s what the opposition is doing right now. They are blocking BJP from scoring singles. Where the BJP expected two runs, it is getting just one. Where they hoped to hit a boundary, they are having to run for three. Every single run counts, remember.
Don’t forget what happens in cricket when the singles dry up. They say that the humble pawn is the most powerful piece on the chessboard. The minister can do a lot more as an individual piece, but remember you have eight pawns but just one minister.
In retrospect, was the ghost of 2004 perhaps a friend?