All good things must end. Everything has a “sell by” date. And contrary to what propagandists will scream on prime time, Prime Minister Modi’s politically lucrative slogan of “Achhe Din” has delivered its final victory today. From here on, it shall be consigned to the “used dustbin” of history.
My assertion seems so foolishly contrarian on such a heady day. In fact, TV screens are beaming pictures eerily reminiscent of the euphoria of May 2014, when young people across four-fifths of India, with Modi masks, saffron scarves and vermillion foreheads, had danced in aspirational joy. Today, those geographies have gone mute, even rebellious, but tiny Tripura has erupted with similar enthusiasm.
Young voters are out on the streets in Agartala, rolling the drumbeats, longing for “Achhe Din” to come their way. While defeated Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and CPI(M) have been rejected as decaying status-quoists, Prime Minister Modi and BJP have been elected with the full-blown excitement of expected change. The last bastion has fallen to the bugle of hope.
It’s undoubtedly a crowning political achievement to come out of oblivion and oust the Marxists, who had been unassailable and entrenched for decades. It’s a moment of fantastic triumph; nobody should grudge Modi and BJP that.
At the same time, it also signals the beginning of one end; the democratic world’s most savvy politician will silently sense that today. As his bhakts (devoted followers) go into delirium, Modi will be tremulous, worried, on at least FIVE counts.
One: Fleeting Payoff From UP’s Crushing Victory
Just 12 months back, Modi’s political juggernaut had rolled across India’s largest state. His audacious gamble of demonetisation had paid handsome rewards at the hustings. People were in thrall to his “skin the rich” narrative. Every political pundit and his granny thought Modi was unbeatable. Nobody saw that the UP verdict was the peak (not upward trend) of Modi’s popularity in the heartland. There was no other way but down from there. But even Modi must have been astonished by the rapidity with which that peak crumbled: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, UP local polls, and student unrest across universities in Hindi speaking states — the losses just kept on piling up.
Two: Tripura’s Spectacular Victory Is a Similar Peaking In Unconquered Lands
In a similar vein, today’s spectacular victory in Tripura is at the ultimate frontier of unconquered lands. Now there is no new territory left where the prime minister can put himself out as the Unknown Knight In Shining Optimistic Armour. From now on, Prime Minister Modi will be fighting everywhere on his record in office, not his ability to peddle hope. That terrain is much rougher, more demanding, questioning, cynical.
Three: West Bengal, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu Remain Unconquered Hold-Outs
Prime Minister Modi will be acutely aware that Tripura is a tiny enclave compared to the giant states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha. While the politics in Tamil Nadu is unique, the turf in West Bengal and Odisha is not that dissimilar to Tripura, where the BJP has/had the opportunity to maul the incumbent with its promise of change. Yet it has consistently failed to do that. So the gains from Tripura, while loud and noisy today, are severely limited when it comes to fattening the kitty for 2019.
Four: Ghosts Of Contradictory Alliances, From PDP To Gorkhaland
The politics of BJP and IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, a tribal party and BJP’s alliance partner in this election) are as different as combustible chalk and cheese. BJP advocates a unitary, nationalistic vision of India, while the tribals want autonomy. The BJP has already suffered political damage in J&K and Darjeeling where its contradictory alliances with PDP and Gorkhas are splitting at the seams. It stands to lose electorally in 2019 because of these politically irreconcilable partnerships.
Five: Tactical, Opportunistic Politics Of Regional North East Parties
For very good reason, local parties in the North East are most promiscuous. They tend to align with whoever rules in New Delhi. No new ally or legislative gain can be considered permanent. If there is a change of government at the center, you should not be surprised if regional MLAs swiftly switch allegiances. In North East’s practical political culture, these are called intelligent tactics; the national winner does tend to take all. So in that sense, today’s victory, while solid, may prove to be equally pyrrhic.
At the end of the day, democratic politics is about numbers and majorities. Just one statistic should be enough to temper the euphoria:
- Today, BJP swept across North East’s approximately 50 lakh voters.
- Over the last few weeks, it was swept away by approximately 100 lakh (one crore) voters in Rajasthan, MP and other by-elections.
Go figure – what’s bigger? One crore or 50 lakh? And wait, another crore or so voters are set to give their verdict soon, on March 11, when Phulpur (UP) and Araria (Bihar), along with other constituencies, hold by-elections.
“Achhe Din” is now a stale jumla (slogan) for them. Its “sell by” date truly got over today. The challenge for Prime Minister Modi is to convince his erstwhile voters with a new narrative.
Nobody should uncork the champagne until then!