Right wingers no more smug

Saba Naqvi

Now that Baba Ramdev has declared that he does not know who the next PM will be, it’s clear that the forces of Hindutva are not super confident about their prospects in 2019. 

About the yoga guru-turned-entrepreneur, let me reveal that I last sighted him in the office of Akhilesh Yadav in early 2017. I was in Lucknow to meet the CM in the midst of the Assembly election campaign and in popped the Baba with his retinue, including Acharya Balkrishna, the business brain behind Patanjali. I noted Ramdev’s genuflecting to the SP neta and mentioning a caste affinity (Ramdev is a Yadav). 

As we enter 2019, there are also reports that the sales of Ramdev’s Patanjali products are declining. In business and in politics, self-interest is the primary mover, ideology way down the line. As the next year promises a brutal game of thrones, the real contest is not just about one man, Narendra Modi, winning or losing 2019. It is about the largest cadre organisation, the RSS, retaining the unprecedented influence and acceptability it got after 2014. 

The NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, only gave a limited scope to the RSS because it was a coalition run on a common minimum programme. Vajpayee himself was not particularly enamoured by hardline agendas. The six years of NDA rule were then followed by a decade of reversal. 

Now the RSS is in the driver’s seat and they will do everything possible to ensure retention of power and all their eggs are not in the Modi basket. In the recent weeks, various lines have been floated. There are the piquant statements of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. He is a sort of individual who gets along with everybody. I quote from my book published in mid-2018 (Shades of Saffron, from Vajpayee to Modi): “The favoured leader of a section of the RSS has always been Nitin Gadkari, who served as the BJP president from 2010 to 2013… A Maharashtrian Brahmin like much of the Sangh leadership, he remains even today the figure the RSS would like in the top spot, were there to be a situation in the future when... allies were to be needed to run a government.”

As we enter 2019, let us ponder over the odd choice of Adityanath Yogi as UP Chief Minister that the BJP and the RSS have to live with. It’s never been satisfactorily explained how a man with no competence in administration was given the charge of India’s largest state. Hard Hindutva and polarising politics is not a satisfactory answer as that works when it is carefully calibrated. Modi should know as after the 2002 riots in Gujarat he ensured peace in the state. Yet, while there is the likeable Gadkari being quietly floated, there is also the fact that in the last round of Assembly polls that the BJP lost, Yogi campaigned more than Modi. He is quite autonomous and unlikely to take orders from anyone, except, as he told a visitor, “Lord Shiva and my guru, Goraknath”. So, in the coming months, he will preside over the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and speak of Ram Mandir even as he acts in words and policies against minorities. The problem is it’s so predictable that it has become a tad boring and offers no hope for the future. 

All eyes are on UP as it gave the BJP 73 seats in 2014 and a three-fourth majority in the Assembly in 2017. Yet, a year later, tactical understandings in three Lok Sabha byelections between state parties led to the BJP being defeated. It’s fairly straightforward at this point: the SP and the BSP have mostly decided which seats each will contest, with a few left for the RLD while they will not put up candidates in the Gandhi family boroughs in Amethi and Rae Bareli.

The Congress suddenly winning three Assembly elections has created a problem for the alliance. The party will be ambitious and possibly want to replicate a performance such as that given in 2009 when it won 21 Lok Sabha seats in UP. If the party pushes too hard, it will have to contest separately. The SP and BSP both would want to remind the Congress that it’s been decades since it was a primary player in UP politics. Will the Congress be willing to bend to conquer? 2019 also depends on that.