The BJP has been riding high on the development agenda and has pushed the country’s image globally. But the question is: Can the party make a shift from being rightist to centrist?
In May 2014, when the till then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister, it was propagated that now India would be turned into a majoritarian state and the marginalised sections of society, particularly Muslims, would be at the receiving end. But as soon as Modi embarked upon governing the country, it was confirmed that he meant development, and only development. His election slogan ‘Sabka saath, Sabka vikas’ slowly but surely started translating into ground realities and the country galloped to becoming an economic power centre.
If we closely analyse the four years of Modi governance, there is a long list of achievements. Beginning from foreign policy to domestic issues, the Prime Minister has left his impression everywhere. During this period, Modi took some radical steps like demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to improve the economy of the country.
He also launched many welfare and development schemes like the Jan Dhan, Skill India, Make in India, Startup India, disinvestment programme in public sector companies, 100 smart city project even as he sought to increase India’s international standing through strategic partnerships, forging new alliances, settling old disputes like border issues with Bangladesh which greatly enhanced the image of the country.
One of the most important features of his governance is that the Prime Minister has succeeded in establishing rapport with heads of many developed countries like the US and the UK. Not only this, he has also acquired a stature in Muslim countries.
It is not a simple achievement that Saudi Arabia has bestowed upon the Prime Minister its highest civilian award. His newly acquired respect and credibility in Muslim countries have paid dividends domestically. The distance between Modi and the Indian Muslims has considerably minimised. This is a big achievement not only for Prime Minister Modi himself but also for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Politically, under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi, the BJP has created a credible political alternative. Though the BJP is treated as a Right-wing party, policies of Modi have put it in dead centre, and neither left nor right. This is the best example of how Modi has succeeded in putting the nation’s development before all other considerations.
When Modi appointed Amit Shah as the BJP’s national president, many eyebrows were raised. But with passage of time, his decision proved to be very fruitful. In 2014, only seven States were under the BJP’s direct rule or through a coalition. Today, the BJP is ruling over 20 States. Shah has a unique talent to turn the odds and adversaries into achievements and gains.
The forthcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election is not only very important for the BJP and Prime Minister Modi but also for the survival of other political parties like the Congress.
The current scenario is that at some local levels, BJP activists are raising issues that are obstructing developmental works launched by the Modi Government. Provocative slogans, engineered confrontations, and violent incidents are damaging the BJP’s image.
There is a dire need that Modi and Shah direct local BJP activists that they should keep in mind national development and the future of the party in view of 2019 Lok Sabha election. One of the biggest challenges before the BJP has come from the Dalits. Their Bharat Bandh, called on April 2, was very successful. There was an undercurrent which was cashed in by opposition parties, particularity the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which has lost ground considerably in recent times.
Modi and the BJP should draw a comprehensive agenda to keep intact Dalit votes otherwise in 2019 general election, if opposition parties succeed in denting in its vote-bank, it will be prove very costly for the party.
The BJP cadre at the ground level must be instructed that they should not indulge in any anti-Dalit acts. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and BSP alliance, which took root during the Rajya Sabha elections, may go a long way in damaging the BJP’s prospects in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. While Mayawati is still the biggest hope for Dalits, who having voted for the BJP in 2014, may reconsider their choice next year.
Muslims have the second largest vote bank. No political party can ignore them. Some political parties, claiming to be secular, had adopted a strategy to exploit Muslims on the pretext of the BJP being against them. However, experience shows that Muslims have had much more opportunities to develop under the BJP. Here, I shall give the example of Shia Muslims, who had started supporting the BJP even before the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Now, their support is paying dividends. Likewise, Sunni Muslims should also come forward to support the BJP, keeping their future in mind.
Prime Minister Modi had addressed the World Islamic Sufi Conference 2016 and Islamic Heritage Conference 2018 in New Delhi which was a success. Muslims at large and Sunni Muslims particularly must change their political psyche under the changed scenario and should rally behind the BJP.
It is a fact that in the entire Budget session, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha both could not run peacefully due to ruckus created by the Opposition. The Prime Minister observed a day-long fast against Parliament disruptions. He must call an all-party meeting and remind them that the nation demands work and this is not the way parties must serve the people’s cause. This meeting might not bear fruit but a message will be sent to the public that the BJP Government means business and that the opposition parties are not cooperating.
For the time being, the BJP should concentrate on Karnataka Assembly election because election results in this State are bound to impact the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Karnataka has a unique political history. On the one hand, the present Congress Government, led by K Siddaramaiah, will face incumbency.
On the other hand, the BJP must adopt more forceful and aggressive strategies. Though it lacks cadre at the ground level in the State in comparison to north India, nevertheless,at the same time, the BJP has prospects of winning elections, provided the local Karnataka leaders succeed in countering the Lingayat card of the Congress.
As I have said earlier that Prime Minister Modi has pushed India to the centrestage of world forums and has made India a strong economic centre. He is still a crowd puller and Shah is still a successful
The BJP is in position to challenge any political party and the possibility of its returning to power in 2019 is the highest, as of now.
Political analysts believe that there is no alternative to Modi for the time being. But the burning question is: Will the BJP succeed in shedding its rightist image? It is very important that the party goes by its agenda but at the same time, it should signal that it is a centrist party with a focus on development only.
(The writer is former Media Adviser, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh)