Modi’s Cabinet rejig aimed at win in 2024, but playing Hindutva card will bring Yogi in fray for PM

Modi’s image has taken a beating in India and abroad due to his autocratic ways and mishandling of pandemic and economy, which means he may end up counting on communal polarisation to win 2024 polls

Modi’s Cabinet rejig aimed at win in 2024, but playing Hindutva card will bring Yogi in fray for PM

Faraz Ahmad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi presumably carried out the exercise of reshuffling his Council of Ministers under a well thought out strategy keeping in mind the general elections to the 18th Lok Sabha due in 2024. However, due to many factors in play, it is more than likely that he may end up counting on communal polarisation to try to retain power once again.

The economy is in shambles since Demonetisation in 2016 and subsequent roll-out of GST, with the GDP down in negative figures due to the pandemic. Even if some recovery is made, it won’t be worth a mention. Of course, Modi’s capacity to resort to shock and awe tactics to dazzle people for a while cannot be dismissed. Yet, all available evidence suggests that we would be lucky to see the economy recover for the GDP to even enter a positive number in the coming three years.

One of Modi’s ardent admirer-turned sceptic, Tavleen Singh, who still keeps moving between hope and despair vis-à-vis Modi, has dismissed the latest survey post this year’s lockdown that Modi is still immensely popular. She claimed that of all the people on the street she spoke to in Mumbai and Delhi recently, only one still defended Modi and he was a BJP fellow. The rest all blamed Modi for the deaths and sufferings of the masses during the COVID waves.

Moreover, with the government apathetic to the burden on the common man and fuel prices going up almost daily, inflation is at an all-time high. When Modi and his Sanghi comrades were beating their breast over petrol selling at Rs 70 a litre under the UPA regime, crude oil prices had crossed a $100 a barrel. At one stage it came down to even $20 dollars a barrel soon after Modi took over and has remained generally within manageable limits during these last seven years. Even today, it is around $74-75 dollars to a barrel. But not just petrol but even diesel is now priced above Rs 100 a litre.

This rise, accompanied by the incessant lockdowns in the country, has broken the back of the new crop of Ola, Uber taxi drivers and all other private public transport including diesel-run buses.

One remembers how Rajat Sharma had called Ramdev to his ‘Aap ki Adalat’ TV show and gleefully egged him on to talk of inflation in UPA government. Ramdev went on to say, “Bachchon vote usko doge jo tumhe 35 rupaye mein petrol dega ya usko jo sattar rupaye mein”. The response of the audience in a chorus was, ‘”35 rupaye wale ko”. Ramdev then announced to a beaming Rajat Sharma, “Sarkar to hum banayenge”.

Forget Modi, neither Ramdev nor Rajat are seen anymore talking of inflation and fuel price rise. And given the present situation, a reversal of this situation appears almost impossible.

On the issue of employment, Modi had mocked Sonia Gandhi in Parliament on MGNREGA, calling it evidence of the failure of 70 years of Congress rule, but government data itself showed how the scheme came to the aid of the distressed rural poor during the last lockdown. Is that the reason why Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Gangwar was made to to exit the Cabinet, for releasing figures that must have embarrassed Modi and Shah?

Modi had a considerable fan following abroad, mostly comprising of course of non-resident Indians settled in the USA, England, Canada and other places. But since 2019, when Modi embarked on executing the RSS agenda of scrapping Article 370 in Kashmir, bringing in CAA, imprisoning human rights activists like Sudha Bhardhwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, the 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy – who died in imprisonment – Varavara Rao, young students like Natasha Narwal, Devangna Kalita, Umar Khalid and not to forget journalist Siddique Kappan, Modi’s image has taken a beating.

To add to that, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar or the now-former IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prashad had the temerity to target or ridicule Modi’s foreign critics. So Modi isn’t selling anymore abroad either.

Modi rode the Anna Hazare-Ramdev led campaign, backed and sponsored by the RSS, on alleged corruption in Manmohan Singh’s government. But even he had to admit subsequently in Parliament that no charge could ever stick to Dr Manmohan Singh himself. But here we have the Rafale case being judicially probed in France over which Modi has little control. After this, even Modi bhakts would have a hard time defending the deal, from which Anil Ambani seems to have benefitted.

Of course, Modi believes – and justifiably so, given the past record – that he may successfully brazen it out. So he has given the additional charge of the newly-created Ministry of Cooperation to his Man Friday, Home Minister Amit Shah.

It is worth recalling that Shah’s name had figured in the deposit of more than Rs 3000 crore in 11 cooperative banks of Gujarat immediately after demonetisation, for which the BJP offered no explanation, leave alone order a proper, transparent enquiry. Besides, using this position, Shah may try to capture or mould according to his wishes the sugar cooperatives of Maharashtra to dent the NCP-Congress base in that state.

Thus, only successful polarisation by raising the communal temperature to a boiling point may help the BJP reap some benefit in 2024. It is for this reason that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, whom his party legislators and ministers evidently no longer like or trust with any development work, is invaluable for the RSS/ BJP. While Modi reportedly wanted him removed or at least cut to size, the RSS would have none of it.

This priority is also evident in Modi’s choice of rewarding some ministers. Anurag Thakur of the ‘Goli Maro salon ko’ fame has been elevated to Cabinet rank. So was Giriraj Singh, who asked every critic of the government to move to Pakistan. And now that Smriti Irani is losing her sheen, we seem to have a replacement in the form of Meenakshi Lekhi.

If Modi could not directly reward the openly-communal, vituperative Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, facing legal heat in some matters, his financier Rajeev Chandrashekhar has been made a minister to send out a signal to all and sundry not to mess with Arnab.

Meanwhile, retired IFS officer Hardeep Puri, an old ABVP friend of late Arun Jaitley, has been rewarded for pressing on with redevelopment of the Central Vista, Modi’s dream project, brushing aside all valid criticism.

But there is also a flip side of such communal polarisation for Narendra Modi on the personal front. The problem is the vaulting ambition of Yogi Adityanath. By 2024, Modi would be approaching 75 years of age and the much younger Yogi may be all keyed up to lead the country. Modi thus faces a Catch 22 situation.

A defeat for the BJP in UP in 2022 could be lethal for Modi and BJP in the next general elections. Yogi is indispensable for the party’s campaign in the Hindi heartland. But if it does retain power in UP, Yogi may well become a claimant for the Delhi throne.

(Views are personal)

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