Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are the big losers but will they learn their lessons?
The leader and the master strategist pitted the Prime Minister of India against the chief minister of a state, a leader of a regional party, and lost. But will they mend their ways?
Prime minister Narendra Modi, it is estimated, addressed around 37 election rallies in the last two months, as many as 18 of them in West Bengal. But while BJP did manage to retain power in Assam, it lost the only seat it had in Kerala Assembly; it was leading in just three seats in Tamil Nadu at the time of writing, had performed below par in West Bengal and had gained three seats in Puducherry.
Was it all worth it, one might ask. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister spent an obscene amount of time and money on campaigning when they should have been working to avoid the second Covid surge which has led to a public health crisis in the country. No previous Prime Minister or Home Minister have spent so much of their time and energy in poll campaigns and it is time to ask if the country can afford to allow them to do it. It is not their primary job in any case and by devoting a disproportionate amount of their time to party work, they are clearly neglecting their duty to the nation.
In West Bengal both Modi and Shah spared no opportunity to mock the chief minister, attack her for alleged corruption and ironically misgovernance and even used central agencies to tap her phone conversations and release audio clips to score a brownie point. What kind of message do such conduct send out ? And what kind of cooperative federalism do they have in mind ?
As is well known, Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s passion for winning elections has no parallel. This is somehow seen as a virtue for which the nation is expected to be grateful. But while some of the expenses related to their poll campaign may well be paid by the party, a substantial part of the arrangements are borne by the state. Security potocols, personnel and the time and expenses that is devoted by the administration in states and districts for their political work is substantial and, one might say, unwarranted.
What is more, campaigning by these political heavyweights, Amit Shah having campaigned even during the municipal poll in Hyderabad, distorts the level playing field in states. They get away making promises which chief ministers and other leaders in the states cannot. The Prime Minister has even utilized his foreign visits, notably to Bangladesh during the election in Bengal last month, to blatantly campaign for the BJP and make promises to a community. Had Mamata Banerjee done the same thing, BJP would undoubtedly have cried foul. What’s more, Mamata Banerjee as chief minister couldn’t have made the kind of promises that the Prime Minister of the country could.
State elections are best left to political leaders in the state. But BJP has been perfecting the art of importing manpower and resources from BJP-ruled states, encouraging other parties also to follow suit. Vehicles, computers, cadre, resources etc., for example, poured into West Bengal from as far as Gujarat and chief ministers from BJP-ruled states have made it a habit of campaigning in states other than their own. While legally there is nothing to stop them from doing so, what is the impact of such intervention awaits deeper analyses.
BJP must also question whether it is gaining anything by putting their eggs in one basket and creating a personality cult. This has already started giving diminishing returns and in future the party may well pay for emasculating local leadership and depending on these two leaders to win elections.
These questions need to be raised because the prime time debate on Sunday evening will almost certainly focus on the failure of the Congress to win in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and Bengal. But the bigger political story is the loss of face by Modi and Shah and what it means for politics, the country and the BJP.
(Views are personal)