It’s a little early to predict a political swing across the country but the wind seems to have started blowing in the reverse direction. First, it was senior Congress leader P Chidambaram who got bail from the Supreme Court in an alleged corruption case on the morning of October 22. By the evening, an exit poll commissioned by India Today was predicting a hung Assembly verdict in the Haryana Assembly elections, which went to polls on October 21. The next day, i.e. on October 23, Delhi High Court granted bail to Karnataka Congress leader D K Shivakumar.
Modi critics rubbed their eyes and began to wonder if the pro-BJP camp wave has begun to recede. No one has a definite clue about it so far. The results from the two states — Maharashtra and Haryana — where Assembly elections were held will give some clues about which way the political wind is blowing.
Yet, the ground reality has begun to change. There is a perceptible shift in public mood. The economic slowdown has surely affected Narendra Modi’s popularity. Moving in Delhi through Uber cabs in recent weeks gave one the impression that the state of the economy, rather than any political issues, was weighing on the mind of the common man.
Rising onion prices, dwindling jobs, declining car sales, a feeling of insecurity with banks in the wake of the PMC Bank scandal, declining GDP growth rate etc were the most talked about issues both among those hailing from the middle classes and the poor.
The BJP led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah was banking on its Pakistan card laden with ‘Kashmir victory’. The saffron camp also tried to paint the principal Opposition party Congress as ‘corrupt’ — with its leaders like Chidambaram and DK Shivakumar behind the bars — during the poll campaign in Haryana and Maharashtra. Amit Shah, in between, peddled the NRC issue to try and cash in on the ‘Muslim threat’.
The BJP, obviously, has been banking on old wine in a new bottle. In the BJP’s poll campaign, Article 370 replaced Balakot, with Pakistan being projected as India’s enemy number one whom Modi has successfully fixed in Kashmir. As the saying goes, you can fool some people for some time but not all the people all the time. The BJP hoodwinked voters in the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, by creating a Pakistan smoke screen with the Balakot strike. Indeed, Modi successfully turned the tables on his rivals by donning the avatar of a ‘super nationalist’.
But in less than four months, the public narrative seems to have changed. It was the economy that began to pinch the people rather badly. Forget about new jobs, employed workers and white colour employees began to lose jobs. Young workers began to return home in villages to try their luck with MGNREGA. Farmers were already down and out due to rural distress, and disparate rainfall this monsoon dashed their hopes of even a little cheer during Diwali.
Shopkeepers began to face declining sales despite the festive season. Small businesses shuttered down their workshops. Slowly but steadily, the economic slowdown had begun to take its toll upon one and all.
The Pakistan smokescreen alone, it seems, is unable to sustain the ‘Modi Wave’ that swept the BJP back to power second time in the 2019 parliamentary polls. Still, let’s wait and watch till tomorrow evening when Maharashtra and Haryana votes are counted.
But economy surely is fast replacing politics in the public discourse. Which surely is not a good sign for Narendra Modi who thrives on the politics of smokescreens.