By Priya Ranjan Sahu
As far as the politics of the country is concerned, 2017 may prove as a watershed year. The year showed that after all Prime Minister Narendra is not invincible and may face stiff challenge anytime.
Modi was undoubtedly the unchallenged leader of the country till he demonetised the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes on November 6, 2016.
No doubt, the sudden and unexpected decision by the Prime Minister caught the opposition parties off guard and gave him immense political advantage. Though the opposition, especially Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, criticised the move as anti-people, a majority of people in the country felt that Modi was genuinely trying to cleanse the system of black money though it shook up the economy.
The popular support to the Prime Minister’s move was reflected in the massive win of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, as the party formed government in four of the three states where polls were held. Gandhi, who had formed a coalition with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Singh, in Uttar Pradesh was dubbed as a failed politician hell-bent on finishing off the Congress and was ridiculed by the BJP leaders as a “Pappu” (child).
Modi’s all-pervasive persona and the BJP’s electoral success however coincided with loose talks by several BJP leaders against the minorities, who were often targets of violent attacks from Hindutva fanatic groups.
A cow vigilante gang killed a middle aged farmer, Pehlu Khan, for alleged cow smuggling in Alwar district of Rajasthan in April. In June, while a teenaged Muslim boy was stabbed to death over a seat in a running train near Delhi, another middle aged meat trader, Asgar Ansari, was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district. His wife alleged that the mob comprising members of Bajrang Dal killed Ansari after falsely accusing of transporting beef.
Even as an atmosphere of intolerance gripped the country, the Modi government rolled out the Goods and Services Tax in July, further complicating the economy, already slowed down by demonetisation. Opposition leaders like Gandhi and Banerjee continued with their criticism of demonetisation and GST and by this time found several takers for their theory that both the policies had unleashed untold miseries on the people of India.
The disenchantment with demonetisation and GST was visible in Gujarat which went to polls in December. Traders and farmers openly talked about how demonetisation and GST had caused havoc in their lives and created large scale unemployment. Gandhi led a spirited campaign against the ruling BJP during the polls by stitching up a coalition with three different social movements headed by three young men – Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.
The BJP managed to win the elections by a slender majority in Gujarat, but Modi clearly lost the plot. To many observers, the drastically reduced strength of the BJP in the assembly was as good as a loss considering the party’s massive election extravaganza topped by Modi’s whirlwind tours of the state. The party lost heavily in the entire rural areas that reflected the farm crisis in the state while managing to hang on with support from just four cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara.
Though won Gujarat for the consecutive sixth time, the BJP never looked so vulnerable since 2014. On the other hand, the outcome was a major morale booster for the Congress, which was at its lowest ebb following the 2014 general elections.
Eight states, including four politically important states of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh will go to polls in 2018. In most of them, the BJP and Congress will be in direct confrontation. The outcome of these battles will chart out the political course for 2019.