Absolutely Karnatakered

Last week’s State elections are a litmus paper to the controversies and voting patterns of the upcoming GE

When PM Modi was here in London last month it looked to me that he was implicitly enacting the opening scenes of his general election campaign.

Nothing but portents of doom had been emerging in the Indian media – both from its gleeful opponents and mournful supporters – about the BJP’s prospects in 2019. What I saw as very many promising datapoints, not least the ground-level successes of most of Modi’s policies, were largely ignored or traduced by the Indian MSM. The unprecedented dominance of the BJP in the far north-east of the country passed uncommented on.

OK, I thought, Modi hasn’t begun to campaign yet. Wait until he does and we’ll begin to get a clearer picture through this gloomy miasma. We’ll see if the opinions and analyses of the secretly-delighted naysayers have any substance to them.

As Minhaz Merchant tweeted: “The Ayatollahs of (fake) secularism are back & everyone seems to be ganging up against Modi: the Church, Muslims, Dalits, activists, NGOs, the opposition, culture vultures, foreign media. Everyone except … voters.”

We have just had the Karnataka state election, and during the fortnight prior to voting, Modi did indeed go on a campaigning storm through the area, which must be seen as at least a rehearsal for his manner of presentation in next year’s big contest.

Now, the BJP is not traditionally big in the south

It has Andra Pradesh, but Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu , Puducherry are all foreign to BJP dominance. The BJP is the party of the north, west and the Gangetic plain. Its founders were merchants exiled from Pakistan after partition, who had first formed the long-lamented Swatantra party (the nearest thing to classical Liberalism India ever had).

Its heartlands are Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madya Pradesh. But the BJP is now dominant – ruling alone or in coalition – also in the North and generally across India, except for the south and the Communist-Maoist strongholds in the east.

Congress clings on in a few places, including Punjab, where it is rewarded for its friendliness with fundamentalist Islamics.

According to the media prognoses, with as usual the honourable exception of India’s finest psephologist, the BJP was about to get knackered in Karnataka.

What actually happened turned everything around – even as it appears that Congress will manage to wrest the Chief Ministership by making a shaky alliance.

Some numbers: In 2013 the BJP was indeed hammered. Out of 224 seats Congress won 121, comfortably more than 50% of the vote. The Janata Dal (Secular) – an anti-Congress option – gained 40 seats, exactly the same number as the BJP. A few other parties shared the crumbs.

Last week Congress won 78, 43 fewer seats, while the BJP increased its total to 104, up by 64, or if you prefer, more than a 150% increase in vote. Thus we observe how Modi is truly hated in areas where the BJP previously did little business!

The JD(S) lost a couple of seats and slipped to 38.

The Aam Aadmi Party (Congress B-team) didn’t win a single seat.

Although the BJP didn’t achieve an overall majority of 112– short by eight seats – they were by far the largest party, and the Supreme court declared in support of his assertion on that basis that BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP candidate for Chief Minister, should form the new administration.

The only other party that could ally with Congress to oust the BJP would be the JD(S). That would not be received well by Janata Dal supporters because they had just voted against the ruling Congress Party, not the locally out-of-power BJP, but would end up with a Congress majority administration (even with HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister) just the same, courtesy of their treacherous JD(S) pols.

And yet, dear reader, it looks as if that’s just what is going to happen. Delicious – and I’ll tell you why.

What happened was that Congress petitioned the Supreme Court, which had given Yeddyurappa two weeks to form a majority coalition and establish a BJP-led administration. Congress petitioned the Supreme Court and somehow got the period reduced to only two days, which was an impossibly short time to cement any alliances.

Congress also basically kidnapped the new JD(S) MPs and is even now keeping them in purdah in hotel rooms while a deal with the Congress Party is stitched up. They don’t want any new MLAs taking fright and fleeing across the street to the BJP – a realistic fear.

Also, there is the matter of personal safety: on no account are the JD(S) MPs to venture onto public streets, to be possibly lynched by their angry voters! “You should also ask Rahul Gandhi why he has kept MLAs in hotels. They are still there,” joked BJP President Amit Shah.

Shah called the Congress manoeuvres a “betrayal” of the people’s mandate and questioned whether it would last. A fair point: Congress and the JD(S) have spectacularly fallen out before, and the Janata vote in Karnataka was clearly against Rahul Gandhi’s family party.

The question is what this might mean for the general election. The BJP almost always triumphs nowadays when there is a three-cornered fight, because the opposition will split, dividing the vote, almost always guaranteeing an NDA (National Democratic Alliance) victory.

Where opposition parties unite in a UPA (United Progressive Alliance) block, the BJP is vulnerable.

A senior BJP politician I talked to agreed in principal, but made the point that Modi and the BJP are both far more popular after four years in power and having achieved so much – which the voters approve and reward even if the media and the establishment refuses to acknowledge them.

He added that the popularity of Modi across India, even in the far north-east, and among minorities, is due to concrete progress and the withering of Congress propaganda in disinfecting sunlight.

Up from 40 seats to 104 in Karnataka is testament to this, especially in a traditionally non-BJP-voting southern state – but one in which Modi had indeed spent that whirlwind two weeks electioneering prior to the vote.

If the BJP vote improves on average by just one-third as well as it did in Karnataka – up by half on 2013, say – then it will not matter how united the UPA parties are: Modi will simply bulldoze them.

And another thing …

From India to Canada, the USA, China and back to India again …

Ha ha ha, what a dink … see below

This post is likely to be a little discursive: the snow has gone, the days are stretching longer and spring is on the way, so I’m feeling a little looser.

Do bear with me.

First of all, after addressing in my previous post all the doom and gloom (not mine) surrounding Modi’s and the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming 2019 general election, it is amusing to have to report on the the state election in Meghalaya last week (27 Feb) which led to the crushing of the Congress party and the installation of an NDA government—led by 40-year-old Conrad Sangma, chief of the National People’s Party (NPP)—in which the BJP has just two seats but effective strategic control.

The plain fact is that in mountainous and jungly northeast India, where the party of the plains is traditionally weak, the BJP is now the biggest player, even if that’s as part of local coalitions. The major takeaway is that Megalhaya is yet another state to have been snatched from Congress in a part of the nation that it always assumed was its to command. The frustration for Congress is that this was despite winning the most seats of any single party (21)—but that’s democracy, folks!

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An election cometh!

The election’s not due for over a year yet, but it’s best to get your despair in early

It’s always been my contention that Modi became prime minister despite the BJP rather than because of it. His appeal as a singular personality lay in the combination of his auspicious achievements in Gujarat as chief minister and his position as a social and political outsider. Remember the dynamics of charisma: you win charisma by gaining successes; you don’t gain success by having charisma. Modi was elected on his record.

It helped that Modi was a great orator and had fresh ideas and was a moderniser and was the very first social media genius among politicians—Donald Trump was the second Twitter leader, Modi was the first.

Continue reading “An election cometh!”

Modi more popular than ever

What on earth can be going on?

Modi’s been “doing a Trump”.

After winning the state election in Gujarat a fortnight ago—and after a simultaneous victory in the formerly solid-Congress territory of Himachel Pradesh (As BJP wins Gujarat, Himachal, it is Modi vs Modi in 2019”), there can be only one interpretation: Modi and the BJP are doomed.

It is hilarious. These unceasing BJP victories mean the Indian mainstream media is forced to interpret damning defeats for the Congress Party as “a great opportunity” for the boy Rahul. And this despite the latest figures  that demonstrate Modi’s governance is heartily approved of by the Indian population—which must therefore increasingly be seen as “a bunch of deplorables” by the sophisticates in Delhi to keep their hallucination intact.

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April update – and the contortions of the Left

Modi gets his man, triumphs in Delhi local polls; how the Left now backs the bankers; a great new magazine

A little bit of a round-up and some thoughts on the plight of the Left around the globe: I have been busy on something else this month (see below), so I am running around catching up on what I want to discuss on here. Back to normal service soon! OK …

At last Vijay Mallya, rural Hertfordshire’s most notorious alleged loan defaulter (but ask the banks and his wretched employees, who should know, or the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi, which recently charged the business genius with fraud) was arrested in London on 18 April on an extradition warrant. This doesn’t mean he’ll be dragged, handcuffed and squealing, onto an India-bound jet next week, desirable as that might be. It’s the start of a long, lawyer-enriching process that should nonetheless eventually see the ‘businessman’ back in the country he loves – and I do mean India not the Bahamas. PM Modi tweeted, ‘There is no place for corruption in India. Those who looted the poor & middle classes will have to return what they have looted.’ Not much fun to be in Modi’s crosshairs, I should think. Mallya’s besotted cheerleader at the FT must be sobbing.

Continue reading “April update – and the contortions of the Left”

Antifragile India

What are we to make of the extraordinary progress and results that Modi is achieving? It could be the ‘antifragile’ phenomenon in action.

Of the five recent Indian state assembly elections – in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur – the BJP either won outright or formed a ruling coalition in four of them. Only in Punjab did the party strike out, and this was easily foreseen. I think it is time to begin to speak of Modi making India – and himself – ‘antifragile’.

The most stupefying electoral result was from Uttar Pradesh. At the conclusion of my last post I cautiously guessed at a 60-70% chance of Modi (and I purposely say ‘Modi’ rather than ‘BJP’) winning in UP. It transpired that an unprecedented landslide in Modi’s favour gave the BJP 312 seats (excluding alliances) out of a 403-seat Vidhan Sabha. This is almost unbelievable, especially when the doom-laden predictions of electoral oblivion – heavily predicated on the ‘disastrous’ demonetisation of late 2016 – are taken into account.

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Election fever is breaking out in Uttar Pradesh

In a tight, dirty race, which of the electoral horses in a three-party race will cross the line first in UP?

In legal circles it is said that hard cases make bad law, but in electoral politics the opposite is true, and a crunchy election may be a decisive pinch point and an interesting, perhaps reliable indicator of the future course of events.

At present several Indian states are electing their assemblies, which is done every five years. For those not familiar with the Indian political structure, the simplest way to describe it is to say that it’s mostly like the US federal system, but with bits of the British parliamentary arrangement thrown into the mix.

Continue reading “Election fever is breaking out in Uttar Pradesh”

We don’t need no stinking dynasties!

The Democrats and the US media gave Trump the Modi treatment – with the same results

My friend Winston the electrician called round last week, a couple of days after Donald Trump’s election victory. I unlocked and swung open the gate and he was pointing at me.

‘You’re the man, Andy, you’re the man! You said Trump would win!’ he said.

I’d briefly forgotten the conversation we’d had the previous Monday, on the eve of the US presidential election, when I’d heretically argued that in spite of all the pro-Clinton hysteria on the TV and wireless, I thought that Trump had a very good chance of stealing victory from under the noses of the Democrat-supporting media. Almost all journalists and commentators were so frantically virtue-signalling that they couldn’t detect the reality of what was happening on the ground.

And so it transpired. I didn’t take any particular delight in Trump’s victory; I wasn’t even gruntled at having been more or less correct in predicting he would win. I didn’t like Hillary at all – a greedy, corrupt, establishment money-grubber and war-monger who had utterly forsaken the ordinary folk who were the Democratic Party’s mass (and essential) voters. Trump was loud, vulgar, abusive and egomaniacal – although he was less boring than the alternative. Like many, I quite liked some of what he was saying but I wondered if it was insincere and crazed gibberish that he had no real intent of making good on. But he certainly knew how to ‘lead and pace’ his supporters.

Continue reading “We don’t need no stinking dynasties!”

So much more than musical chairs

Studying the changing profile of power in Modi’s government will reward those who wish to understand and do business with India

A week ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated a major reshuffle of his cabinet and ministers. Halfway through the NDA’s term of government is a good time to take stock in a significant way, and to position the government for the coming election in 2019 whose approach is still just below the horizon.

What seems clear is that with this reshuffle Modi is further putting his stamp on the character of the administration, and that he has one eye on the future electoral profile of the BJP: good performance is rewarded and poor performance, including ministers getting too big for their boots, is punished. The demotion everybody is talking about is Smriti Irani being moved from Employment to Textiles due to her proclivity for never knowingly avoiding a fight and admiring herself way too much. Some claim it is not a demotion but a sideways deployment that positions her to fight in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. (Note that the Gandhi family ‘pocket boroughs’, Amethi and Rae Bareli – which hold the honours of the most severe child malnutrition in India, and some of the worst highways – are in Uttar Pradesh.) Others say that is nonsense and that caste issues by far outweigh any influence that Irani could bring to bear in that state. We shall see.

Continue reading “So much more than musical chairs”