The synchronisation of the next general election with the Assembly elections of 2018 to set a pattern may not be the only reason why the Narendra Modi government is said to be considering bringing forward the 2019 general election by a year.
While the need to evolve a system where the major elections are held simultaneously has been talked about for some time, the present conjecture relates mainly to the calculations about the prospects of the ruling party at the Centre. The belief seemingly is that it will be better for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to cash in on whatever gains it has made in the last three-and-a-half-years rather than wait for another 20 months or so when its inadequacies on the employment front and in relieving the distress of farmers may become more apparent.
It will serve the party better, therefore, to advance the dates of the general election when the Modi magic hasn’t quite faded as a recent opinion poll has shown and the opposition continues to be in disarray.
Although the government cannot but derive considerable satisfaction from the opposition’s discomfiture, it cannot be unaware of the fact that it still has pockets of influence as is evident from the marginal improvement in the Congress’s position in the recent Madhya Pradesh local elections and the Trinamool Congress’s sweeping victories in the West Bengal municipal polls.
The BJP also knows that it has to guard against the anti-incumbency factor affecting the party’s prospects in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat next year. Even if it wins, a loss of seats compared to the previous elections can be disheartening on the eve of the general election if it is held in 2019. It will also be demoralising for the BJP if the Congress wins in Karnataka and the CPM in Tripura. Holding the general election earlier will enable the BJP to avoid such uncomfortable possibilities.
What the BJP will have to remember is that people often vote against the ruling party because of dissatisfaction with its performance even if the opponent is weak. This happened in Goa and Manipur, where the Congress was the first party before it lost this position because of the BJP’s success in weaning away a number of legislators. However, such defections could not hide the fact that there was dissatisfaction with the BJP.
The same disenchantment has also been voiced by a fairly wide section of the people in recent weeks as can be seen from the protest letters written to the prime minister by retired bureaucrats and army veterans and the processions taken out by scientists about the encouragement of obscurantist practices by the ruling dispensation.
These grievances have nothing to do with unemployment and farmers’ distress which are undoubtedly the two most serious problems faced by the government. Instead, these are the grouses of the average middle-class householders who have been feeling uneasy about the growing climate of intolerance although it probably does not affect them in a personal capacity.
Even then, the depredations of the gau rakshaks, along with the possibility of the police entering private homes to check whether anyone is eating beef, as the Maharashtra government wants to do, the competitive jingoism in TV channels, the foul language used by the BJP’s supporters against the party’s opponents in the social media, the distortion of history, including the blanking out of Jawaharal Nehru’s name from the speeches of high dignitaries, are some of the trends which can cause unease among the common people.
No one can predict the cumulative effect of these feelings over the next two years, along with the slowing down of the economy which is a prime cause of the unemployment problem.
Although early general elections can enable the government to make hay while the sun is still shining, albeit faintly, it is only a temporary palliative. As of now, a more longstanding solution of the current ills is not visible. As a result, the BJP has to continue to depend on the faith which the average person still places in the prime minister’s ability to tide over the difficult situations through hard work.
The government is also fortunate that it hasn’t had to face the kind of corruption charges which brought down its predecessor and still hobbles many of the opposition parties. At the same time, it is obvious that the expectations of rapid economic advancement which are behind Modi’s success have been largely belied. No wonder the “achhey din” phrase is not heard any more.
The BJP’s other problem is its total dependence on Modi, which is not unlike what it was in the Congress in Indira Gandhi’s heyday. It is a scenario which is not politically healthy for a party, as can be seen from the Congress’s present plight when it is pathetically dependent on the dynasty despite its fading charisma. The BJP, on its part, has to capitalise on Modi’s popularity as long as it brings in the votes. Hence, the need for the general election next year.