End of good times for the BJP?


HAS the tide finally started turning against Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Only months ago, the prime minister whose meteoric rise defying the fame of Gujarat pogrom and numerous court cases surprised many appeared invincible.

Earlier this year, the spectacular BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh despite the all-round devastation by demonetization had everyone scratching their heads. It seemed as if nothing and no one could beat the man from Gujarat. And adding to his legend of invincibility has been the massive propaganda machine that works 24/7 and has helped his effortless leap from Gujarat to Delhi.

Not any longer. It is amazing how fast things can change and change the fortunes of even the most powerful. Yashwant Sinha’s attack on finance minister Arun Jaitley in his Indian Express article seems to have set the cat among pigeons. The BJP veteran who has served the country in various capacities, including as foreign minister, is respected for his integrity.

Jaitley may dismiss the former finance minister as yet another aspirant for his job but even he knows that every argument in Sinha’s powerful critique is spot on. Besides, what the former finance minister has articulated is not just the view of a small, disgruntled group within the ruling party but reflects the growing sentiment of the majority across the country.

You had to be blind to not see that demonetization has been an unmitigated economic disaster. Yet the BJP’s Orwellian propaganda machine managed to perpetuate the myth that it had been introduced to go after the rich and hoarders of black money and that in the end all will be well. Especially when some of that ‘black money’ is shared with the nation’s poor.

It is this fiction that partly helped India’s patient multitudes silently suffer the nightmare which lasted for months and destroyed millions and millions of lives and livelihoods.

Small businesses have been totally destroyed. Millions and millions of people in cities and towns across the country, especially those in unorganized sector are still without jobs. Farmers couldn’t find cash to even buy seeds. Nearly a year after demonetization, the country is still reeling from its devastating effects. Many ATMs in my part of the city back home still report ‘No Cash’.

And just when people were beginning to find their feet and stand up all over again, the government comes up with this thing called GST (Goods and Services Tax), wreaking economic havoc once again.

Those who survived demonetization have been brought down by the GST. Originally conceived by Manmohan Singh and once bitterly opposed by Modi, GST may have been a good idea to unify tax regimes of the Center and various states. However, the crude, haphazard manner in which it has been implemented by this government, not to mention the exorbitant ratio of tax, bringing everything under the incredibly complex tax system has overwhelmed everyone.

As a result, the prices of basics essentials of life have shot up, fueling inflation on the one hand and bringing the world’s fastest economy to a grinding halt on the other. Instead of registering growth, the Indian economy has now declined for six quarters in a row.

As Sinha puts it, “Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetization has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs.”

Trashing both Modi and Jaitley, the BJP leader concludes: “The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters."

No wonder Sinha’s attack has got the ruling party into quite a fit, especially considering his son Jayant Sinha is Jaitley’s junior minister. The government even fielded him to counter his father with yet another oped article in the Times of India. However, the damage has been done.

This may just be the beginning of the end. As the economic mess deepens in days and months ahead and the pain being felt by those at the bottom is shared by everyone else, these stray voices of dissent would turn into vox populi.

Looks like the economy may eventually prove the fatal chink in our hero’s armor. Even the BJP’s patron deity RSS has started distancing itself from the Modi-nomics, acknowledging that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. In his annual Dusserah speech, RSS chief Bhagwat even called for a “new economic model.”

Considering this government came promising ‘achche din’ (good times) — it has had a good run and incredible luck of low oil prices, not to mention the public euphoria — the bad news on the economic front must be galling. Especially when the 2019 elections are less than two years away.

Indeed, the silent, sane majority looked the other way while the Parivar and its numerous outfits played havoc with the law and order and various institutions, unleashing a reign of terror against minorities and Dalits. Intolerance has been the order of the day with intellectuals, journalists and everyone else who doesn’t share the saffron worldview being silenced. Scores of Muslims have been beaten to death in the name of holy cow and other absurdities, in full view of the state and its law enforcement agencies.

However, those at the top, ever prompt to commiserate with victims of terror and violence around the world, are yet to condemn these killings, let alone rein in the killers. Instead of going after those responsible, the state has actually penalized the victims’ families!

Yet the rich and middle classes ignored these antics of the Parivar. Indeed, they have silently nodded their approval, probably viewing it all as some kind of justification for what Modi calls “1200 years of slavery.”

Who cares as long as the economy is doing well and everyone’s enjoying good times, believing that we have finally arrived as a great world power!

What happens when fun stops though? Would the euphoric middle classes continue to cheer for Modi when ‘achche din’ turn into not so good times? I doubt it.

If reports from the PM’s home state are anything to go by, the BJP has serious reasons to worry. Ravaged first by demonetization and then GST, Gujarat’s mercantile classes are apparently in no mood to vote the BJP. If this is the state of affairs in Gujarat, Hindutva’s laboratory, one can imagine the mood of the nation. Another sign of the nation’s mood is the humiliating defeat that the ABVP, BJP’s student wing, has suffered in polls in universities across India, from JNU and Delhi to Hyderabad University. Looks like the party is over for Modi.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former opinion editor of Khaleej Times. Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com