The Newtonian law of inertia held firm in politics in the year of the pandemic. As the country settled into a prolonged period of inactivity and humanitarian crises of varying dimensions, it was ideal time for politics to go noisy and intense. It was more of the same as the previous year instead. The BJP retained its pole position, the Congress stayed in hibernation and most regional parties remained trapped in existential dilemma. National politics was a one-horse race, and in the states it was the saffron surge versus the local fightback.
Here goes the cardinal law in physics: Unless acted upon by force an object will retain its state of motion or lack of it. The state is inertia. After decimating the lone rival Congress in the national arena, the BJP juggernaut pushed ahead steadily to pose a challenge to well-entrenched regional outfits. The agenda to defeat ideological rivals in states was as much at work as to usurp the position of primancy from allies. It continued efforts to gain and expand political ground in less familiar terrains such as Telengana, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. The Congress, in contrast, stayed in its own intriguing state of inertia, refusing to stir a limb to assert its presence. The only time it hogged the headlines is when suicidal factional rivalry went to the extreme or its frustrated leaders migrated to the BJP.
Leadership, organisation and strategy – the BJP ticked the right boxes on all three parameters for success. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the party’s mascot, Amit Shah as commander-in-chief and a well laidout agenda for expansion of reach, it stayed its course in what could have been a difficult year politically. Its well-oiled and incredibly efficient electoral machinery has set its eyes on the conquest of the East. After Assam, and for all practical purposes Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha remain on target. In 2020, it never wavered from that goal. The party machinery – from the footsoldiers to the dirty tricks department – remained busy attracting eyeballs.
The Congress, on the other hand, ticked all the wrong boxes on these parameters. The leadership question remained unresolved. Rahul Gandhi remained the disinterested, disengaged and, to a degree, disliked politician. The Congress’ unique internal dynamics allow
no other claimant to leadership other than the Gandhis. Its organisation was in tatters at national level as well as in the states, and in terms of strategy it had none. Towards the end of the year, it lost two crucial links of the Gandhis to whatever exists of the party – Ahmed Patel and Motilal Vora. Troubleshooters, micromanagers and staunch family loyalists, they propped up the aura of acting party chief Sonia Gandhi. With them gone, Sonia in semi retirement, Rahul incapable and a rebellion within brewing, the Congress took a step closer to death.
A moribund Congress has left a vacuum that is unlikely to be filled soon. Thers is no other national party to challenge the BJP; a regional coalition to take it on is impossible to imagine at this point. If there was more than a hint of arrogance in the ruling party’s conduct towards its allies, it’s not difficult to fathom why. The unipolar polity also brings in hubris of power, which is visible in the way the government has been streamrolling friends and foes alike in critical policy decisions. There was no force visible to counter the BJP’s dominance in 2020.
Besides the three parameters, the standout feature of saffron politics has been the sense of urgency. After the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national scene, politics no more remains a relaxed, armchair affair. He has turned politics into war, no less, where enemies have to be vanquished and new territories captured. It has to be a relentless exercise. The rivals should at no point feel secure or stable or confident. It is ruthless but it is effective. The opposition, still trapped in old world politics, is yet to grasp the dynamics of this approach. No wonder we are yet to find a competent challenger either to him or his party.
It was a dull year. But the party remained furiously active on the social media, the most significant political battlefield of our times. This is where parties win or lose the battle of perception, the factor way more weighter than performance in electoral politics. Not all decisions in the year – from the lockdown to the handling of migrants to the new farm policy – were free from controversy, but perception management on the social media saw the government come unscathed. It even earned a few bragging points. All its activity on the new media were not edifying but they reaffirmed the emergence of a sturdy Right eco system. It could deliver a bloody nose to whoever it wanted.
To sum it up, it was a year of no surprises in Indian politics. Inertia remained its dominant feature. In 2021, considering the state of the opposition, not much is expected to change.