2017 showed what lies ahead, 2018 will make the picture clearer

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The results in Gujarat were a major shot in the arm of Congress. It was an indication that there was a major scope for revival of the party, which was reduced to its lowest score in Lok Sabha after 2014 elections, and, more importantly, that the BJP under Modi is not invincible. In 2018, eight states will go to polls. The results of these states will make the picture clearer about who will lead India after 2019.

The year 2017 was eventful as far as the politics of the country was concerned. In a way, the year has become an indicator of what lies ahead in the run up to the 2019 general elections.Prime Minister Narendra Modi may still seem to be tallest leader in the country. But at the same time 2017 has proved that the challenge to his leadership is evolving in the form of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.On November 6, 2016, since Modi announced the government’s decision to withdraw Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes, the politics of the country has been on a roller-coaster ride. The sudden decision took the opposition by surprise and gave Modi leverage in the beginning of 2017. Though the policy of demonetisation created financial upheavals in the country, people believed that the steps taken by Modi was in the national interest and would wipe out black money from the country’s economy.

It paid rich electoral dividends as the BJP not only swept the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in March but also formed government in three of the four states where polls were held. As the tie up between the Congress and Samajwadi Party failed miserably in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi was ridiculed by the leaders of the BJP, including Modi, who had always talked of “Congress-mukt” Bharat. The Congress’ win in Punjab, where SAD-BJP combine bit the dust, was credited to chief minister Amrinder Singh, not Gandhi.

Along with the BJP’s electoral success, however, came the reports of BJP leaders’ arrogant utterances that encouraged bias towards minorities. The Uttar Pradesh government raked up a controversy around Taj Mahal by undermining its importance in the tourism map of the state as well as country. Some BJP leaders talked of Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple and a “graveyard” in the same vein.

There were several reports about crimes against minorities by fringe elements, which remained the main support base of India’s ruling party, too. In April, a group of cow vigilantes murdered a 55-year-old farmer Pehlu Khan in Alwar district of Rajasthan on the suspicion that he was smuggling cows.

In June, a 16-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death in a train by some youth shouting “nationalist” slogans between Delhi and Ballabhgarh. In the same month, Asgar Ansari, a meat trader, was murdered by a group in Ramgarh district of Jharkhand on the suspicion that he was transporting beef. His wife alleged that the mob comprised members of Bajrang Dal.

While the attacks on the minorities created an atmosphere of intolerance across the country, the central government rolled out the Goods and Services Tax in July, which further compounded problems for the economy already weakened by demonetisation.

As the combined effect of demonetisation and GST resulted in large scale unemployment and loss for businesses, the opposition mounted attack on the Modi government for its alleged non-performances. Gandhi led a spirited campaign against the government’s alleged economic mess and found several takers. During the same period, the Congress president’s newly refurbished Twitter account added millions of followers within a short time indicating a rise in his popularity.

It reflected in the run up to the Gujarat assembly elections where Gandhi cobbled together a coalition of forces with three different social movements led by Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani to improve the performance of the Congress.

Even as campaigning was on Gujarat, a bizarre incident of murder of a migrant worker from West Bengal in Rajasthan, a state ruled by the BJP, shook the nation. The killer filmed the murder and burning of the victim’s body, and made an “appeal” to Hindus to kill all those indulging in “love Jihad”.

Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, who belong to Gujarat, could not afford to lose the state at any cost. They put in their best efforts to help the BJP government in the state to hold on to power by unleashing a massive election blitzkrieg including several rallies by the prime minister. The BJP returned to power for the sixth time but with a much reduced margin.

To many observers, it was not an electoral success that would make Modi and Shah happy because the party lost in the rural areas of Gujarat. It got back to power by the skin of its teeth because just four cities – Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Varodara and Surat – supported it wholeheartedly. Nonetheless, the BJP never looked so fragile since it came to power in 2014.

For the Congress, the results in Gujarat were a major shot in the arm. It was an indication that there was a major scope for revival of the party, which was reduced to its lowest score in Lok Sabha after 2014 elections, and, more importantly, that the BJP under Modi is not invincible.

In 2018, eight states will go to polls. That includes four politically decisive states – Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh where there is direct fight between the BJP and Congress. The results of these states will make the picture clearer about who will lead India after 2019.

2017 was a year of major political developments in the state. During the year the rivalry between BJP and ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) intensified while Congress continues to be driven by internal dissensions. Politics heated up as the major parties geared up for the next general elections(January1-15-2018pp)

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