There have been just two non-congress governments in the last 70 years which have been able to complete their full term; erstwhile NDA govt with Vajpayee Ji as the PM and current NDA govt. with Narendra Modi as the PM. Many parallels are drawn between the two governments and comparisons are inevitable. Specially when the opposition is hoping to replicate the surprise of 2003 general elections.
It is, therefore, imperative to understand the strategy of the opposition then and now to understand whether a repeat is possible or not.
Not much has changed in the opposition’s strategy while countering the respective governments. Then opposition, led by Sonia Gandhi and powerful regional leaders, constructed a counter narrative of Unemployment, manufactured Coffin Scam (which was lost soon after 2003 election victory), Farm loan waiver, agrarian distress, intolerance and security of the minorities after 2002 riots; to counter the “India Shining” campaign of the BJP.
Similarly, opposition has tried to corner the current govt. on similar issues like imaginative Rafale Scam, Lynchings, Farmer Suicides, Unemployment and Minorities Safety. Apart from these usual issues, this govt. has given more ammunition to the opposition with the amount of reforms and historic decisions it has undertaken in last 4.5 years whether it is GST, Demonitization, IBC and NPAs, Crackdown on corruption and institutional reforms.
Difference between 2003 and 2019
With opposition strategy remaining the same, is it possible for a repeat of 2003 election result where India Shining campaign completely backfired for the BJP and Vajpayee Ji?
Although anything is possible when it comes to the public mood, if we study the crucial differences between the working of the two governments, a similar result looks like a distant possibility.
There have been many similarities between the working of two govts, like the thrust on infrastructure, better governance, no corruption at highest level, more freedom to security forces, and major policy reforms; but we should focus more on the key differences in the operating styles of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi and their governance.
Despite fighting the Kargil war with Pakistan in its last term, Vajpayee Ji opted for soft policy on Pakistan and its sponsored terrorism even after the Parliament attack. He did deploy a large army on the borders but it achieved little while costing the Indian taxpayer hugely.
On the other hand, after the initial peace attempts, Narendra Modi has adopted a muscular approach towards Pakistan since 2016 after the Uri attack. He has approved Surgical Strikes across LOC as well Air Strikes across IB in retaliation to the terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Contrast that to 1999 Kargil war, when Vajpayee Ji refused to give permission to the Indian Army to cross LOC despite being in a dominant position.
Speed and Efficiency of Social Schemes
Narendra Modi govt has been able to achieve some impressive and astounding milestones when it comes to delivery of social schemes through a re-energized bureaucracy. 7 crores LPG connections under Ujjawala with 82% returning users; opening of over 30 crore bank accounts and DBT to all beneficiaries under many of the schemes; income support to farmers upto Rs.6000 directly in their bank accounts; health insurance upto Rs. 5 Lakhs for poor; immunization of over 25 million kids and pregnant mothers in just 4 years; electricity connection to every village and every household; almost 100% coverage of toilets in rural and urban areas; and many other initiatives which reached to the actual beneficiaries rather than getting entangled in an inefficient and corrupt system as was the case before.
Difficult and Major Reforms – Changing the system
Narendra Modi govt has been able to bring some major reforms like GST, IBC, Make In India, Digital India, Banking reforms, rise in EODB rankings from 141 to 77 in 4 years, Benami Act, crucial defense procurement, NRC, Citizenship Bill, among many others. This is while ignoring the Lutyens and mainstream media and intellectual liberals, while cracking down on NGOs and other organizations with dubious funding, while closing the doors for brokers and lobbyists, and while cracking down on the privileged and beneficiaries of the old system cutting across sections of society.
This govt. has dismantled the old system to lay the foundation of a new transparent and responsive system rather than just trying to improve the defunct system as was the case with Vajpayee Ji’s govt.
Although the approach of both the govts have been the same vis-a-vis Ram Mandir, Narendra Modi has been more open towards Hindutava ideology. Whether it is the appointment of a Mandir religious head to the post of CM of the most populous state of India, or grand celebration of Hindu festivals, or getting the resolution passed in UN for Yoga day with historic majority, or restoration of many dilapidated religious temples and buildings.
This has helped in hiding the misses when it comes to issues like Ram Mandir, Uniform Civil Code, changes in RTE act, relinquishing the control of govt. over Hindu temples and other religious places.
BJP has been so successful in its Hindutva ideology that even the opposition is being forced to practice Soft Hindutva, visit temples, celebrate Hindu festivals, show their Janeu and talk about cow protection.
Statesman vs Politician
Atal Ji was often termed as a Statesman even by the opposition leaders. Narendra Modi does not expect this kind of treatment either from opposition or from pliant media. He does not care about criticism by the armchair intellectual liberal lutyens class and does not seek their approval. That is one of the traits that has irked many who were part of the establishment. He came as an outsider in 2014, in contrast to Atal Ji, who was always a part of the Delhi power corridors.
He also has been very vocal while criticizing the opposition parties, particularly Congress and the Gandhi family. He is a hungry politician who does not sit on previous laurels and wants to advance his party’s political footprint to as much landmass as possible. He is more ferocious and direct than Atal Ji ever was.
Lack of credibility and strong leadership in the opposition camp
In 2003, Sonia Gandhi was able to rally together strong regional parties under the umbrella of UPA with Congress as the core of the alliance. All the opposition leaders had faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
Contrast that to today, where a record string of losses for Congress and its President Rahul Gandhi has led to complete loss of faith in his leadership within and outside the Congress party. He comes across as reluctant, superficial, uninspiring, weak leader who is fighting for his own survival. Plus the corruption charges against him and UPA-2 has damaged the credibility of the opposition in a big way.
None of the other regional leader seems powerful enough to match up to Narendra Modi’s appeal and charisma. Even if some of the regional leaders are able to give a good fight, it will unlikely be enough to unseat him from the PM post.
That’s why I feel, it would be difficult for the opposition to repeat 2003 election results and Narendra Modi should be able to come back to power after 2019 general elections.