Winning and winnability is everything in electoral politics; and the perception is that Modi will win again in 2019 against an Opposition that is far from united; Trump might not prove as lucky for a second term
Is Politics about reality or perception? If both, then is it led by perception as reality catches up after a lag, or is perception the entire game afoot? Is yesterday’s news as stale as yesterday’s reality – in our short-span-of-attention times? This is a TV generation via satellite, brought up on drama, the telling visual, and rank opinionating just as much as reportage. Print and the digital word tries to make deeper sense of things, but how many bother to read reasoned arguments?
And if it is perception that is paramount, is its sole purpose to retain and enhance power? Or even create an opportunity where none existed? Contradictions, misinformation, promises not honoured, U-turns, unconstitutional behaviour, soft sedition, anti-nationalism under the guise of freedom of expression, everything, and anything, goes.
US President Trump has been taking his executive use of power to unprecedented levels as the international media watches in consternation. He has taken studied and demanding postures at NATO asking its constituents to pay their fair shares of the associated expenses. A demand that has never really been made, ever since Captain America helped a shattered Europe and Japan back on to its feet after the end of the WWII.
In Britain, its so-called ‘oldest ally’, Trump has shown his disdain for its messy and inept handling of its Brexit ambition. He returned its bad manners on petulant display during his recent visit, by hardly bothering with the protocol associated with its 92-year-old queen.
The UN too was earlier put on notice about ponying up the money for its various expenses, in a manner quite similar to the broadside at NATO.
The aggressive stance has marched on with continued and enhanced trade sanctions on China, to right by this method a huge and stubborn trade deficit. Nothing done by previous administrations has persuaded or fazed the one-sided trade practices of the Chinese. Trump has also shown the flag to North Korea with some preliminary results towards its defanging. And ditto in the South China Sea, that is, after all, an international waterway, and not China’s exclusive stretch of sea seen as a private pond.
Similar tariffs have been threatened and even started in for Europe, now contemplating big taxes on US imports of BMW and Mercedes cars.
Canada, that got by on neighbourliness thus far, has also been asked to mend its advantage-taking and freeloading ways.
Mexico of the “wall” is on notice and under pressure from the latter days of the Trump campaign itself. The Wall is still in Trump’s mind as opposed to under construction, but he’s not joking on illegal immigration and trade practices inimical to US interests.
Trump has also refused to worry about the diktats of the WTO. He has walked the US out of the Paris climate talks too, even as Twitter is ablaze with suggestions that he may be insane and /or senile. However, Trump’s personal confidence is immense, and he gives as good as he gets in terms of the abuse.
Is all this disruption then designed to change everything at once? Or it it merely aimed at getting Trump reelected to a second term? If his voters stay strong, does he have to care about any other force? Sanctions against China, for example, were said to have hurt American farmers who export their produce through value-adding intermediaries to China. But, they seem content to stick with Trump despite Chinese predictions to the contrary.
The red-necked Middle American Caucasian, the typical Trump voter, likes his style and credits him with fulfilling his election promises. They think he is a welcome departure from the professional politicians, with or without billions of dollars like Trump, that have been POTUS before him - from either Party.
The Opposition Democrats, much of the left-leaning media, are mostly aghast and wondering how to deal with this very different style of politicking. And indeed, the two houses of Congress have been rendered into helpless spectating.
Trump makes his unexpected and unpredictable moves at considerable speed, in his highly personalised manner, and they don’t know what to do, particularly because his voters seem to be sticking with him.
Here at home, Narendra Modi plays it a little differently. He has fulfilled only a fraction of his copious election promises. And has no apparent difficulty in making bushels of new ones too. He seems to not care whether Parliament functions as long as the Opposition gets the blame. He has done little for his erstwhile core constituencies and gone after the vastness of the poor as a substitute. But, his popularity ratings are still in the Seventies. The biggest business houses are in his corner with open wallets.
The Opposition, on the contrary, is disunited, despite its pretensions, and unable to make a dent. There is property damage, bloodshed, death and propaganda, but no gains politically for the Opposition worthy enough to put them back in the saddle.
Modi is clearly seen by the masses as its best bet in 2019. He is perceived to be an honest man in a highly corrupt political space, and the public is determined to trust him. He rides much above his often hapless Party and its fringe groupings, along with his trusted Party President Amit Shah in tandem. Both enjoy the solid backing of the parent RSS and its formidable organisation.
Dissidence within the BJP from the side-lined LK Advani camp cannot touch his popularity. The criticism of the Opposition led by a shrill Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee, and their out-sourced trouble-makers, is seen to be coming from corrupt and self-serving politicians. Besides they are mostly dynasts from “family owned” political parties.
There are more generals than foot-soldiers amongst them, each with a separate, difficult-to-reconcile agenda. There is no-one credible to take on Narendra Modi. Old war-horses with ill-concealed ambitions may say never die themselves, but don’t really stand a chance.
Traditional efforts to divide the polity along religious lines, once attributed to the Advani-Vajpayee-led BJP and the RSS by the so-called secular ruling parties, is fraying at the edges. Now even the Communists are climbing onto the Hindutva bandwagon!
Even Muslim unity in terms of vote banks is under potential threat as the BJP works to give power over their own fate to Muslim women. Congress and others are seen to be favoring revanchist Muslim/Christian attitudes, upheld solely by their men and their priests/maulvis.
Real work, apart from infrastructure development that does not talk back, in terms of bringing economic offenders to book for example, is being given a soft touch by the Modi government.
This, perhaps because it is wary of creating any kind of sympathy wave when it is clearly enjoying “advantage Modi” with a fast-growing economy to boot. The same may be said about a long list of unrequited hopes- education, health, jobs, security, all mostly given the go by.
This, as the Opposition, whose track record is no better, tries to coalesce around a cause, any cause, with sufficient traction.
Winning and winnability is everything in electoral politics. And the perception is that Modi will win again in 2019 against an Opposition that is far from united.
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Last Updated Jul 19, 2018, 4:23 PM IST