Will the BJP’s ‘Robert Vadra’ moment hit its 2019 prospects?
In India, nepotism is another name for “ease of doing business” and allegations have flown against politicians across the spectrum, be it Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, former Bihar Chief Minister (CM) Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav, or now the ruling BJP’s chief Amit Shah’s son Jay Amitbhai Shah. In each case, the allegation has surfaced at a critical political moment that could have ramifications for the ruling BJP in 2019 as well.
Vadra was targeted in 2012 by the now Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who spearheaded Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. The BJP’s Narendra Modi used the movement as a launching pad to seize power and become Prime Minister in 2014. Soon after Tejashwi Yadav was targeted, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke his alliance with Lalu and formed a new one with the BJP. Jay is targeted at a moment when his father Amit Shah and Modi are under siege for mismanaging the economy, having earlier promised voters development and ‘acche din’ (Good days).
Also, the news about Jay Amitbhai Shah’s overnight fortune has emerged two months before the crucial Gujarat state assembly election. Both his father Amit Shah and Modi are from Gujarat. In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary election Modi had promised to replicate the “Gujarat model” nationwide. The BJP has ruled Gujarat for 22 years, and Modi was a three-term CM before he became PM. Thus, the Gujarat election is a prestige issue. Losing here might convince electorates in other states, and perhaps nationally in 2019, that Modi has run out of steam. Also, Modi and Shah are sensitive to criticism and setbacks.
After Modi left, Gujarat has spiraled downward in governance. His successor Anandiben Patel quit office following allegations of nepotism. The Patidar reservation agitation in 2015 soured the community to the BJP. The beating of a Dalit family in Una in 2016 drove protests and upset another community with the BJP. The twin effect of last year’s demonetization and the clumsy implementation of a complicated Goods and Services Tax (GST) peeved small traders and agriculturists. Taking advantage of this discontent, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been resurgent of late, visiting Gujarat on several occasions. Since he has been in government, the BJP does not know where to attack him. Amit Shah spoke of Rahul’s inability to see India through his “Italian glasses” but these days such polemic impresses few Indians (and in any case, the PM wears Bvlgari frames).
Jay Amitbhai Shah and his Temple Investment company was a loss-making company during 2004-2015; its turnover was Rs 50,000 in 2015 which jumped to Rs 800 million the next year. It is a fine piece of rigorous and vigorous journalism by Rohini Singh, who been personally attacked by BJP supporters. Incidentally, she is the one who exposed Vadra’s sweetheart land deals back in 2011. My feeling is that she got a good tip. If this is incorrect, my apologies to her. If it is correct, then it would be no surprise if the tip-off came via a cut-out, and originated within the ruling party itself.
Many in the BJP have disliked the Modi-Shah pair from the start but have kept silent in view of Modi’s tremendous personal popularity. More have come to dislike him because of his unidirectional Cabinet discussions; a BJP parliamentarian from Maharashtra even went public to complain that Modi does not like questions. There is fear that if Modi wins in 2019, some ruling party members will be shunted to the Margdarshak Mandal, a retirement forum to which senior leaders like LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha and Murli Manohar Joshi have been despatched. Also, some remember how Modi, a month after becoming PM, reportedly berated Home Minister Rajnath Singh over allegations of nepotism against his son Pankaj Singh.
If sabotage is coming from within – an article by former BJP finance minister and now margdarshak Yashwant Sinha about the dismal state of the economy has undone Modi and Shah in more than one sense – then it is likely that more skeletons will come tumbling out over the next 18 month, before the parliamentary polls in 2019.
Nobody expects Modi and Shah to lose Gujarat, but they will have to go all out to retain the state. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh next year are a different matter altogether. These states already witness deep anti-incumbency, and if the Congress fields young CM candidates then 2018 will be a good year for Rahul Gandhi (also, Jay Shah nullifies the damage her husband can cause Priyanka Vadra). This will set the stage for a keenly-contested 2019 Lok Sabha election. Ironically, it was just in July that Nitish Kumar, writing off the Opposition, jumped into bed with the BJP once again. In any case, it again proves that nothing can be taken for granted in politics – especially not the Indian voter. And if nepotism is the ease of doing business, it is also the difficulty of doing politics.
Aditya Sinha is a writer and journalist, based on the outskirts of Delhi. He tweets at @autumnshade