Being in active politics for more than three decades, the one thing that I have learnt is ‘never to try to predict the political future’. In 1977, for example, no one in their wildest dreams could have predicted the defeat of the tallest political leader of that time, Indira Gandhi, and that too by a little known Raj Narain. In the aftermath of the Jaiprakash Narayan-led movement against corruption, the Janata Dal government headed by prime minister Morarji Desai (the first non-Congress government at the centre), which led a constellation of top political leaders like Babu Jagjivan Ram, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chaudhary Charan Singh, George Fernandes etc. lasted a just little over two years; Charan Singh’s government lasted a mere 170 days. In 1980, when people thought she may never return, Indira Gandhi came back to power with a thumping majority — 350 Lok Sabha seats. The Janata Party won only 31 seats.
Similarly when former prime minister V P Singh came to power after a successful anti corruption movement against the Congress party, on the subject of kickbacks on the Bofors gun, the Jan Morcha lasted for less than one year — from December 2,1989—November 10, 1990. That government also had stalwarts like Chaudhary Devi Lal, Arun Nehru, Mufti MohammedSayeed, Madhu Dandavate, Arif Mohammed Khan, George Fernandes, P.Upendra, I.K. Gujral etc. But all these wise men could not hold the government together for long because of internal contradictions.
In Bengal, no one could imagine that the CPI(M)government led by Buddhadev Bhattacharjee could be defeated in 2011, that too almost single handedly by Mamata Banerji — remember the CPI(M) had won alandslide victory only five years before, in 2006. Buddhadev lost his own constituency Jadavpur, defeated by his own former chief secretary Manish Gupta, who fought on a Trinamool Congress ticket.
As for the present NDA government led by Narendra Modi, the continuing thought is, How the mood of the public changes. When this government came to power in 2014, again on the plank of anti-corruption, most people inside and outside Parliament wrote the obituary of the Opposition. The cocktail circuit was full of praise for the PM and talk was that this government would last at least 15 years.
The government appeared so strong that it could take any decision without taking the people, the Parliament or their own Cabinet into confidence, and they did. But in four years the mood of the public has changed. The same cocktail circuit has already started asking: “Who next? Will the Opposition have a credible leader to lead the front?”
Meanwhile, the voter is quietly watching. They are the ones to unleash change. The so-called Bombay Club of corporates as well as the media are sometimes the last ones to see the shift in political plates before the earthquake.
The turning point has been the Assembly elections in Gujarat, the bye-elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The body blow, of course, were the bye-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the constituencies of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. The unthinkable happened at the last minute just before the polls took place, with the teaming up of the BSP and SP. The Congress hardly mattered.
Suddenly it seems the government has lost the rein of power. They couldn’t even get the Parliament to function for the entire second half of the budget session. Shifting the blame to the Opposition, especially the Congress, is not being bought by the people. Suddenly there is a buoyancy in the body language of the Opposition and signs of worry in the BJP camp.
The NDA’s allies have realised that the ship is not safe to take them to shore, so they are ready to shift. The first blow has come from the TDP, the Shiva Sena, TSR, YSRparties, besides a little nudge from Akalis. I remember a similar political atmosphere just before the Janata Party in 1977 and the Janata Dal in 1989 were formed. The siege of the establishment at the time, of the Congress party, had taken place from within; outsiders only took advantage of it.
Today, the number of Dalit MPs revolting within the BJP is out in the open. This is exactly how the mighty Indira Gandhi was broken in 1977.
How the clock of political events turns 360 degrees! During the election of 1989, the Congress party, like the present government, talked about patriotism. Under the slogan, “my heart beats for India”, it came up with a repulsive election campaign in the print media (there was hardly any electronic media at the time), using symbols of scorpions, snakes, a dismembered baby doll, fighting cocks etc. for its depiction of the Opposition, of which the BJP was an important partner.
Today it is the turn of the BJP to use similar language to try and discredit Opposition unity.
The moral of the story? Never try to predict election results. If Congress wins Karnataka, the revolt within the BJP will take the shape of a tsunami. Those who entered the party in 2014 just to win, will be the first ones to look for greener pastures as they never came to BJP for ideological reasons in the first place. It is of utmost importance for a MP is to continue winning his/her own seat. Never mind the political party.
Once again it has been proved that what matters ultimately is governance and the continuous need to win the trust of the people. If the common man perceives that he is being short-changed on delivering the goods after promises have been repeatedly made, he revolts. It doesn’t matter which Opposition party he votes for, because he wants to teach a lesson to the person who has made those promises.
All is not well within the ruling BJP. In private, more than the Opposition members, it is the MPs of the Treasury benches in Parliament who look worried. People are watching the weather cock to figure out which way the wind is blowing. The man to watch, people say, is Ram Vilas Paswan, who has an uncanny grasp of the situation on the ground.
The world is waiting for the Karnataka verdict. As the parable goes, the life of the king resides in the parrot. If the parrot survives, the King has a chance to survive.
That parrot is Karnataka today. And the King? We will know when the ballot boxes open in mid-May. In any case, it is time to return to the statement with which I started out this piece : Never predict the future of politics in India.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines