Indian Politics In 2017: Modi Grows Stronger, Rahul Gets A Makeover
2017 proved once again that there is never a dull moment in Indian politics.
And so, while it was a year of consolidation for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which now has governments in 19 states, the opposition Congress gave it a scare of sorts in the recently-concluded Gujarat assembly election. The grand old party’s attempted turnaround was in part due to an image makeover for Rahul Gandhi who also took over from mother Sonia Gandhi as Congress president.
These are some of the stories that defined India’s changing political landscape.
The Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh were crucial for more than one reason. Besides the caste politics that runs rife in India’s largest and most populous state, this year saw a tie-up between the Samajwadi Party headed by then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and then Congress-Vice President Rahul Gandhi. But the alliance failed.
The two parties were hoping to cash in on the nation’s discontent over the government’s cash ban, but BJP’s star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned the tables on the alliance by painting demonetisation as a moral fight and a means to end corruption.
The real surprise was still to come.
Religious leader and five-time Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, was not announced as a chief ministerial candidate for the BJP and few imagined he was in the reckoning because of his brand of aggressive Hindutva politics. So his appointment as Up Chief Minister, when it came, was a clear signal that the Modi-led BJP would not shy away from portraying an aggressive Hindu identity
While the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand were along expected lines, the political acumen and aggression of the party was on display in how the party managed to form governments in Manipur and Goa. Results in both states threw up no clear mandate but the Congress had more seats. The BJP moved quickly to form alliances and staked claim in both states. The Congress was left flustered, blaming the BJP for ‘stealing’ the elections.
Perhaps the biggest blow to the opposition party in 2017 was the crossover of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The Mahagathbandhan – a mega alliance between the Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress – managed to comprehensively beat the BJP in the Bihar assembly elections of 2015. But cracks in the alliance had begun to emerge early on.
A nimble-footed BJP found the right environment to rekindle an earlier alliance with Nitish Kumar that had soured before the 2014 general elections. Nitish quit the mahagathbandhan on ‘moral grounds’ and staked claim to form the government along with the BJP, leaving his erstwhile partners in the cold.
Nitish’s withdrawal from the opposition alliance didn’t just result in its loss of power in the crucial state of Bihar. The opposition also ended up losing one of its most credible faces.
The biggest image makeover of 2017 has arguably been that of Rahul Gandhi’s. The Congress Vice-President was the natural heir to the top post of India’s grand old party. The challenge was to make it an acceptable ascension.
The makeover began with a number of appearances in American universities where Rahul Gandhi came across as far more eloquent than his previous avatars.
A more reactive Twitter handle and punchy lines introduced voters to a new Rahul Gandhi; one who wasn’t afraid to pull his punches or admit mistakes. The long-awaited takeover of the top job of the Congress party finally came with an emotional speech and a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered Congress.
The Gujarat assembly polls was easily one of the most exciting state elections this year. If Uttar Pradesh was seen as a referendum on demonetisation, Guajarat was a test for the six-month old Goods and Services Tax. The roll out of GST in July left small businesses in the doldrums, facing several compliance issues. And it was keenly felt by traders and businessmen in Gujarat’s industrial hub.
An impassioned campaign by the Prime Minister took the BJP across the finishing line when the results came out. But its 99-seat tally out of a total 182 was the lowest in nearly two decades and gave the new Congress President a chance to claim a ‘moral victory’.
For the BJP the message from the Gujarat voter was clear. ‘Haraya Nahi, Lekin Daraya Zaroor’.
The other major highlight of 2017 was the Supreme Court ruling that privacy is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. The argument was raised in the context of making Aadhaar mandatory for basic amenities. In August 2017, a nine-judge Constitution bench ruled that privacy is an ‘intrinsic part under Article 21 that deals with the right to life and liberty’.
While the larger case of Aadhaar has still not been decided; the top court’s ruling on privacy was a shot in the arm for rights advocates and citizens.