Sunil Sharan


It was all going swimmingly well. 2019 all locked up with 350 seats. Until the economy tanked.


If anything other than being Hindu Hriday Samraat, he was hired for being the Gujarati economic miracle man. The same miracle that he would wrought at the centre. The base would not only be doubly delighted, it would expand, eating into whatever was left of the seculars, for even would not be able to question his genius.


The issue with the Parivar is that morning calisthenics do not a minister make. So admitted LK Advani during NDA I when he said that his ministerial bench strength was poor. Say what you will of the Gandhis, but they do know how to pull in people of calibre — economists, lawyers, MBAs, political scientists — into their tent, and retain them there. Yes, they are all retainers, and nothing more, but retained they are.


So you have a Mukherjee, a Manmohan, a Chidambaram, a Khurshid, a Sibal, no matter what you think of them, all highly-qualified. And no matter that at one time or the other the Gandhis have mistreated each one of them, but none has really left the fold of the tent. And what a big tent it is — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Issai — hum sabh hain bhai bhai. As long as we know who the boss is.


The RSS is not able to churn out the same calibre of people. It plucked Gadkari out of obscurity and made him a major domo, but his closeness to the RSS brass is his main claim to fame. In Atal’s regime, it loathed the eminently-qualified Jaswant Singh, and woke Atal in the middle of the night to thwart him from making Jaswant finance minister. The ministerial ring instead was put on the now-rebellious Yashwant Sinha.


In the current dispensation, Jaitley is qualified, but he seems uncomfortable as finance minister. Yet, Mr. Modi endures him. There is no one else. Atal at least had Jaswant, Fernandes, Shourie firmly in his camp. Mr. Modi only has Shah and Jaitley, and the latter’s fealty he cannot fully count on.


In Atal’s case, as well as Mr Modi’s, the RSS looks askance at them. And so do they reciprocate the love in full and requited manner. Mr Modi has some talent in his second line of defence, but as two — Goyal, Sitharaman — ascend, so one — Prabhu — falls.


And it remains to be seen whether Goyal and Sitharaman are a match for their new assignments.


Jaitley soldiers on nevertheless. Demonetisation was supposed to be a coup d’etat to jolt a stalling economy. Instead, it just stalled the economy. GST was supposed to work wonders. Instead, it didn’t. The economy has tanked. People are angry.


Constant bugbears — Sinha, Shourie, Swamy — are coming out of the closet, each emboldened enough to ask for Mr Modi’s head but each probably satisfied enough with the coveted portfolio of finance. But once on the wrong side of Mr Modi, as each has been, then forever on the wrong side. Mr Modi has a long and enduring memory.


But this means that only Shah and to an extent, Jaitley, make the cut. But how can a government run with two and a half men?


The Marathi RSS knows that this is not the time to go after Gujju raj. But it does enough, like pulling out an Adityanath, to remind Mr Modi that it has not thrown in the towel as yet. And if he slips, enough, then an alternative is waiting in the wings.


Mr Modi is taking on his baiters. Much of his base still retains faith in his magic. But how is Shah’s Mission 350 attainable? Nitish is not as popular as he once was, and there is no reason to assume that he will not blow with the wind again. So there goes Bihar. And just forget about anything more than forty to fifty seats in UP. 2014 was a complete aberration.


Anything over 250 seats, and Mr Modi is home and dry in 2019. But it seems lower. Much lower. People are angry. There are too many jobless floating around. Mr Modi is unable to install a capable finance minister in the vein of Manmohan Singh, who crunches numbers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and thus can turn the economy around. Suddenly, India looks too big for Mr. Modi to handle. To digest.


Two hundred or thereabouts is looking a distinct possibility now, unless a drastic turnaround happens. And that opens up many possibilities. Didi, Sonia, Nitish, the communists, the Dravidians, they all come come into play then.


Amit Shah perhaps counted his chickens well before they were hatched.


On Dussehra, Prime Minister Modi provided the perfect visual metaphor for why this is so: He raised a bow to shoot an arrow into the effigy of Ravan, failed twice, then just threw the arrow a lame couple of feet. A grand set-up for an embarrassing flop. ***The cartoons just draw themselves*** (emphasis added.).

Top - Home