The pandemic has changed the manner in which political parties interact with people. As social distancing is here to stay, the BJP is set to use virtual technology for campaigning in a big way in the upcoming Bihar elections.
As a trial run before the state elections, the saffron party will kickstart its month-long awareness drive to mark one year of Modi government in power through virtual rallies across the country to highlight the work done by the Centre in dealing with COVID-19, and other issues during the last one year.
In fact, the work done in the last one year will continue to occupy attention of the government and the party as NDA government enters its seventh year. Managing Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370, the anti-Citizenship Act sentiment and construction of the Ram Temple with government setting up a trust after the Supreme Court verdict, will be areas of focus during second year of Modi 2.0.
In addition, the Disaster Management Act which gives powers to Centre and the state to run affairs during the pandemic, and Centre-state relations will also be the focus now. While Modi has taken political ownership of managing the COVID-19 crisis, be it by enforcing lockdowns and providing economic package, the operational part is being handled by Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Health ministry, of course, remains the main advisory ministry.
With the onset of the pandemic in India, Shah has maintained a low profile, fuelling buzz in the political circles. As he was not seen in a few meetings, it led to speculation if he had been sidelined or not keeping well. Shah had to publicly clarify that his health was fine and he was busy managing the COVID-19 crisis. Ministry of Home Affairs is the pivot for managing a disaster or a pandemic as the Act is under its jurisdiction. Shah has been attending meetings and seeing to it that police was active in acting against those who were allegedly involved in the riots, and accused of the anti-CAA protests, thus inviting criticism that government was using lockdown to crack down on activists. He mostly stuck to issuing statements on key government decisions.
As lockdown 4.0 entered its last stage, Shah again individually spoke to all the chief ministers to elicit their views before fresh set of guidelines could be announced. This role was earlier played by PM Modi as he engaging with the CMs. It served well in coordination between the states and Centre. There was a view that Shah, being sharply political, had taken on most of the Opposition CMs as BJP chief, so this could have led to some controversies erupting. So, Modi as political head did most of the talking.
Now, as Modi gets busy with border issues, and larger global engagement, Shah may be much more 'visible.' The home ministry may also need to fine-tune some disaster management laws as it was experienced during the COVID-19 crisis.
In the second year of Modi 2.0, Shah will have his plate full—starting political process in Kashmir, besides conducting delimitation exercise and conducting Census across the country amidst pandemic. It will be a tough act, given social distancing norms, and suspicions over the NRC.
“The census exercise may be delayed, but it will be held,” I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar told THE WEEK.
Though J.P. Nadda as BJP chief will handle the Bihar elections, Shah is expected to do heavy lifting in terms of strategising, and managing the campaign messaging. BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav said it was up to the Election Commission to decide on the norms of the elections keeping in mind all the health concerns. He said BJP will rely on alternative means of communication during the Bihar elections.
If the first year of Modi government was dominated by ideological agenda pushed by Shah, the second year's focus will be on putting the economy back on track, while keeping the ideological and cultural issues, too, in motion.
The BJP's ideological mentor RSS has mostly welcomed the Swadeshi push of the economic package, though some of its frontal organisations are protesting against the reforms. The Sangh is expected to focus on engaging with the society as it deals with the pandemic. This engagement will help take away some anger that may be building against the government as the MSME sector suffered, and the migrants were the worst affected.
The construction of the Ram Temple had stopped during the initial phases of the lockdown, but picked up once norms were eased. The entire project will be treated as cultural resurgence project for the country when the donation is collected and people involved in the construction.
Sangh's work will also be in focus when states like Bihar and West Bengal go to polls.
Apart from the political work, economy will be a major focus in the coming year. Nirmala Sitharaman has been moving from one crisis to another in the past one year. Economic slowdown greeted her as she assumed charge of the finance ministry, as did crisis in the NBFCs and private banks like Yes bank, and now COVID-19-induced recession. She had been actively engaging with all the stakeholders in different parts of the country to understand their concerns, and come up with solutions. The government has initiated various reforms that aims to unshackle various sector. But hardselling them to the stakeholders, and making them work at the ground will be a challenge. Her role will be in focus.
The government is entering its second year with a certain experience of managing the crisis, but much more uncertainty that comes with the spread of the disease. Can the Opposition parties make it much more tougher for the government depending on how they counter it on governance issues?