Prime Minister Narendra Modi will mostly be at home for the immediate future as India hosts several meetings related to its G20 presidency. There is a Quad summit coming up in Australia but the dates are yet to be finalised. Meanwhile, new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due in India in March and the two sides are set to toast the trade pact initiated by his predecessor. A heavier domestic agenda means it will be a while before Modi speaks to a diaspora audience where his addresses are in the manner of report cards from home. The domestic engagements are set to get more pressing in 2023 when the economy will need more attention as the Russian war against Ukraine drags on and recession becomes more pervasive in many parts of the world. There is also a string of challenging state elections in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The state challenges will require Modi’s attention as BJP’s campaigner-in-chief and poll mascot.
In his address to the party cadre at BJP headquarters in New Delhi after the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly results came in, Prime Minister Modi referred to the narrow vote difference of less than 1 per cent in Himachal Pradesh that went to Congress, suggesting there was no dishonour in the defeat. The close contest is, however, attributed to Modi’s campaigning and his connect with the state rather than the efforts of local leaders who were a disunited lot. Himachal came in for close attention since JP Nadda, the BJP president, hails from the state and had invested considerable time in getting the party unit battle-ready. The state’s electorate maintained its reputation for changing governments but there is a lingering feeling that BJP leaders could have done better. There is bound to be an audit of the campaign, say party insiders, who feel changes will follow. The process of developing a new leadership is expected to gain momentum and the new order is likely to be reflected in the organisation soon. The post-election review is unfolding even as factional clashes have hit the new Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu government as supporters of Pratibha Singh, the state Congress chief, sulk at her claims being overlooked.
Fire on the Hill
The winter has been mild in Uttarakhand so far although snowfall is anticipated towards the year-end and in early 2023. But the thoughts of hill residents are already turning to the warmer months due to concern about the yearly devastation caused by forest fires which often run unabated. Residents and activists involved in afforestation say there is inadequate monitoring of government programmes intended to restore the green cover and there is a greater need to use drones and GIS to ensure trees are actually being planted. There is also a sense of dismay that the state has not considered a more effective plan to check the fires that destroy precious greenery and release thousands of tonnes of anthropogenic pollution into the atmosphere. Residents feel that the gram panchayat head and sub-divisional officials must be made directly responsible for reporting forest fires as soon as they start. The state machinery must also prepare division-level capacities to ensure the administration and volunteers work in tandem to control the menace.
Among states headed for polls, Karnataka is holding everyone’s attention. BJP is in a state of transition, with the leadership moving from BS Yediyurappa (BSY) to Basavaraj Bommai and the government running with the help of Congress rebels. Congress, for its part, remains a divided house. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, though the party’s more popular face, has a reputation for running things his way while he and state party chief DK Shivakumar remain at odds. In this mix, the role of BSY is crucial and so far he has been working like a loyal party hand. A recent piece of news about BSY’s son and BJP state vice president BY Vijayendra being ready to contest, and not necessarily from the family bastion of Shikharipura, is seen as more evidence that the veteran politician and Lingayat stalwart will push for the party’s victory in the state polls due around May next year. Vijayendra has reportedly said that working for party unity was paramount and he would not object to being pitted against a Congress heavyweight.
The wheel of family inheritance and succession spins faster with each passing generation in many states. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin is known to indulge his son’s political ambitions. No sooner did Udhayanidhi turn 45 than the DMK chief welcomed the first-time MLA from Chepauk and movie star into his cabinet. Stalin himself had to bide his time to find a place in his father M Karunanidhi’s government. Stalin was already a four-time MLA by the time the party patriarch, in his last term in office from 2006 to 2011, gave the local administration portfolio to his son in a jumbo cabinet. In the absence of strong opposition voices, Udhay’s rise has been much swifter despite the fact that he is only a part-time politician. With his birthday celebrations, including skydiving, gold rings and fawning tributes from senior leaders, making news, Udhay has finally decided to give politics his all though his Instagram continues to identify him as an actor and producer. The phrase “the son also rises” has a certain resonance with DMK, with a rising sun between two peaks being the party symbol.