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After 'suit boot ki sarkar' and Rohith Vemula, economy is PM Narendra Modi's third and biggest challenge

Will PM Modi be able to overcome the challenges and emerge victorious?

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After 'suit boot ki sarkar' and Rohith Vemula, economy is PM Narendra Modi's third and biggest challenge
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The political challenge to BJP-dominated narrative has come from the least expected quarter, the state of economy. The government had pegged all its actions on rooting out corruption and clearing bottlenecks in the economic sphere to unleash the animal spirit but the reverse seems to have happened.

The slowdown is visible and its effect can be felt by Aam Aadmi. It is not that government is unaware of the crisis, but it comes as across as lethargic in dealing with the consequences of a slowing economy.

Added to the narrative is the debate whether this crisis was result of government’s own economic policy or not. It is this narrative which should worry BJP because it will not go away by an aggressive campaign and it casts a doubt on BJP’s ability to steer the economy.

 The first time BJP got cornered after 2014 was with the ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ remark. The jibe not only stuck with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it also impacted BJP’s policies where in Prime Minister had to moderate his pro industry pitch and reassure the agriculture sector.

Modi could fight this pitch by announcing new schemes and continuous messaging. It was further helped by number of schemes the government launched under the new subsidy architecture. But the result was that the new land acquisition bill could not become a reality. It still remains in limbo.

The second challenge for the Prime Minister came during the Rohith Vemula controversy. It led to Smriti Irani losing the Human Resource Development portfolio. The government was accused of being anti-Dalit.

The whole Opposition united and BJP had to reinvent itself as pro-Dalit. The Centre organised, a special two-day session to discuss contribution of Ambedkar in both houses of the Parliament.

Till today, papers on a daily basis show BJP President Amit Shah having lunch or dinner with Dalits. It also led to appointment of Ram Nath Kovind as President of India. This battle lasted longer than ‘Suit Boot Ki Sarkar’ but ultimately BJP prevailed.

 The current challenge however is even tougher. It is neither section specific nor targets a person in the government. It is quite like a nagging feeling that things aren’t going in the right direction. The Opposition also derives strength from civil society actors who are addressing issues related to slow growth, lack of cash and stagnating income in the country in newspapers and journals.

 Unlike cultural intolerance, this narrative doesn’t create counter polarisation. Nor is it a sectional issue like Rohith Vemula, nor sector-specific like the pro-industry charge against Modi.  The narrative covers all and sundry, without generating a heated debate. It has started to become a shared consensus, which casts a doubt on the government’s ability to fix the economy. It should worry Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Even when he went ahead with demonetization, people didn’t doubt him. People participated in DeMo to root out black money from the society. It became a campaign, despite tremendous public pain. No one doubted the PM’s intention. This current political narrative on stagnating economy is creating a political consensus and has the potential to create mobilisation. It is casts a doubt on Modi’s ability to steer the nation as Manmohan Singh did by creating high growth rate.

It was corruption that brought Manmohan Singh down. There was no proof but people began to doubt his integrity because he kept silent most of the time. PM on the other hand is a great communicator but economic numbers don’t add up to the talk which has created the doubt whether he has in him to steer India to higher economic destiny.

 After three years, the anti-corruption narrative has exhausted its political potential. People now want to enjoy the results of all the big changes which BJP has claimed to make. If it can, 2019 Lok Sabha would be very smooth for them as Opposition is virtually absent. If it doesn’t, then the lingering doubt amidst the voters about PM 's ability may electorally sear BJP.

 

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