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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Has Nirav marred Modi’s name?

Kumar Ketkar



The tide against the so-called omnipotent Modi government seems to be decisively turning. The Nirav Modi affair could be the last straw (rather last diamond) on the proverbial back of the NDA. Not only the last name of the scamster is Modi, but both the namesakes seem to know each other so well that even in the exotic Davos, they could embrace each other and appeared in a common photograph.

But that the tide is turning is also evident from the fact that the admiring (and sycophantic) columnists have begun to express doubts about Modi becoming Prime Minister again in 2019. Chetan Bhagat went to the extent of advising Rahul Gandhi and his handlers as to how and what he should do to come to power. True, he put in a caveat saying that Modi is still invincible! Then there is the famous corporate intellectual Gur Charan Das, who is worried that the issues like beef and strident anti-Muslim campaigns could undermine the good and great work of the Modi government. Though he cited a few achievements (though questionable and dubious), he was afraid that the voters are turning away from the communal and intolerant BJP led by the Hindutva gangs of the RSS.

Even the renowned and redoubtable Swapan Dasgupta who was hugely forgiving to Modi, for his sins of omission and commission, wrote a column expressing serious doubt about a victory in 2019. Lord Meghnad Desai, once a comrade in his youth and later a liberal (and now neo-liberal) columnist expressed disappointment and added that the people are getting disillusioned. He has been a strong advocate of Modi so far. The famous, self-declared right-wing columnist Tavleen Singh is writing almost every week that Modi is not carrying out economic reforms and allowing the “fringe” fanatics to usurp the political agenda of the BJP.

Swaminathan S Ankakeswar Aiyar, known for his fierce individualism and support for genuine right wing (even neo-liberal) policies, and a strong critic of the Congress policies (particularly of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi), has now launched a blistering attack on Modi’s protectionist policies that resemble Nehru’s (obstructive and regressive) socialist approach. Aiyar too had hoped and thought that Modi is a reformer! There were fence sitters and anti-Congress commentators, who thought and wished Modi to make India corruption-free and Congress-Mukt! But when they saw the BJP on a recruitment mission of those very congress leaders whose corruption record was well known, even they started logging out!

For almost three years these and others, not only “Bhakts” but other naive well-wishers of Narendra Modi were sure that Modi will be Prime Minister till 2029, winning both, 2019 and 2024 Loksabha elections. Congress era was over, Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is heading for oblivion and new (Hindu!) India has begun to emerge which soon will become superpower was their belief. Their conviction was that Modi will surpass all icons like Nehru, even Mahatma Gandhi. That is why they did not find anything odd when they saw Narendra Modi on “Charakha” weaving yarn, in the same place as Gandhiji on portraits and calendars.

They vehemently and even viciously attacked and regularly trolled those who disagreed with them were on March to erase not only last 70 years’ history but even the freedom movement itself because it was led by Gandhiji and Nehru. They are trying to replace Nehru with Deen Dayal Upadhyay. They want to replace Gandhiji after “winning” 2019 election. Till then the Mahatma is supposed to be the brand ambassador for the “Swachhata Abhiyan”! Once the Gandhi-Nehru hurdle is out, the space will then be open for Hedgewars and Golwalkars. Then not only Ram Mandir at Ayodhya will be built, there will also be “Nathuram Mandirs” across the country to honour Nathuram Godse for the great work done of killing the Mahatma.

The changes in the Constituion, to remove terms like secularism and socialism, and replacing them with Hindu Rashtra will have to wait till the victories of 2019 or perhaps 2024. Earlier both Modi and his Sancho Panza, Amit Shah, were so confident of 2019 that they were projecting 350 to 400 seats in Loksabha. Even a large number of opposition leaders began to say that in 2019, Modi victory is assured. Modi wants to cross the highest Congress figure of Nehru, Indira, and Rajiv.

The so-called success of demonetisation and a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly election, their confidence level reached cloud 9. The clouds began to dissipate during the Gujarat campaign. Most BJP leaders began to say that Gujarat results were a stunning setback. The BJP which wanted and hoped to win 151 Sears in Gujarat could not even compete century as they ended up at 99. That was just seven seats more than simple majority.

That shocked the so-called “unconquerable” Amit Shah. He was similarly humiliated when Ahmad Patel won Rajya Sabha seat. In fact, Ahmad Patel had thrown a gauntlet at Amit Shah and challenged him for assembly election. Shah, in his own delusion of his massive election campaign, had ignored the warning. It is said that whosoever the campaign volunteers were, they were told that Modi’s charisma and Shah’s war machine will move heavens but will win Gujarat with 150 plus seats.

But as they saw Rahul Gandhi’s campaign succeeding, they began to develop cold feet and the results shattered them. Now they have begun to fear reverses in Rajasthan (where the BJP lost all by polls), Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh where elections are scheduled at the year-end. Before that there is Karnataka. Apprehending that the BJP cannot get its majority in Karnataka, Shah has struck a deal with Deve Gowda and his son, Kumaraswamy. According to the MoU between them, Kumaraswamy will be made chief minister in the Karnataka ministry which the BJP will join, even if they have more seats.

The level of desperation is written large on the faces of the Sanghparivar. They will lose at least 100 seats to bring their tally from 282 to 182 in the Loksabha. In that scenario, who will be the Prime Minister? The names of Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj are tossed around, but there are also contenders emerging like Nitish Kumar or Chandra Babu with the BJP support. Sharad Pawar will be an eternal candidate for the top job,

The point is that the stage is getting set for the most dramatic (perhaps violent) developments in 2019, which no one can predict. Suddenly the tide has turned and the Modi-Shah duo has begun to realise that they too are political mortals like the rest.

'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

What is the future of Congress?

Kumar Ketkar



What will happen in the 2019 elections? Will the Kashmir gambit help Modi to polarise the national mood again? What is the future for Congress? Indeed is there any future for Congress? Will Modi be Prime Minister again? If he doesn’t, who will? And what will Modi do if does not become PM? Will he be the BJP leader in opposition? He is a fighter, but fighter does not mean winner? When such questions arise, many a politicians and even media turn to astrologers!
Astrologers are not different. They are just like our political parties. Or Pollsters. Or Political pontiffs in TV debates. They never arrive at a consensus. And yet they have some transient credibility. Even respectability. Most parties and most leaders have their trusted astrologers, who advice them on everything—from when to file nomination to when to take an oath. And of course election victories, even margins.

Actually, the stars and the planets in the sky move in a very perfect tandem. Their movements are mathematically predictable and their stellar positions defined according to the laws of astrophysics. There is no disagreement about this among scientists, even if they have strong differences on the theories of Big Bang and Steady State and multiverses and string theory.

Astrology is supposed to be basing its observations, assessments and predictions on astronomy. Ideally, therefore, there should be consensus, if not agreement on their predictions. In fact, the leading lights of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS believe in the “science” of astrology. The HRD ministers of the BJP have often argued and even implemented in some universities, the elaborate courses on astrology. It is part of restoring the ancient wisdom to make India Great Again, they argue.  Donald Trump copied the slogan from them.

Indeed, even the date and time of Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Resham Baug and meeting with Mohan Bhagwat was decided by the “official” Astrologer in Nagpur. However, there was a difference of opinion between the horoscope readers at the PMO and at the HQ at Nagpur. That is why it seems neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah made any comment on the supposedly historic meeting of the former President with the current Supremo of the Sangh.

Did the power-duo also suspect that the Nagpur summit was an effort to work out an alternative plan for 2019, in case Modi fails to get the majority for the BJP? There were also reports that some corporate invisible hand was behind the summit. Even the corporates have their recognised astrologers! The Indian TV anchors and talking heads also thought that Bhagwat-Mukherjee summit in Nagpur was more historic than Trump-Kim summit in Singapore!

At least some embedded TV channels thought so! They praised Pranabda’s sagacity and Bhagwat’s flexibility. But even they could not interpret the silence of the Prime Minister and Party President, who have been through the khaki drill in Nagpur. Modi went for the Yoga-gymnastics instead! In any case, Modi and Shah’s physique is so gym-fit that they don’t need to do any lathi drill in Shakhas.!

Be that as it may. The question that is posed at the beginning of this piece is why astrologers do not agree on predictions, though all astronomers agree on the cosmic star position. Some of them have added even Pluto and Neptune in their horoscopes configuration. But none have been able to penetrate the Black Hole of Indian politics.

There are astrologers who are predicting, quite confidently that Narendra Modi will NOT be Prime Minister next year. Some say that the BJP under him cannot win even 200 seats. Some say he can’t cross 150. But then there are others, who say, complimenting Amit Shah that Modi will be PM, and with stunning 350 seats for the BJP. Others feel that the BJP will win just around 225, but that is enough for Modi to become PM as he will manage the NDA which will get over 300 seats.

Which is more scientific? Astrology or psephology? The CSDS-Lokniti and some independent pollsters have begun extensive surveys. Will the Index of Opposition Unity be in favour of the Non-BJP parties? The eminent commentators like Raghav Behl and Swaminathan Aiyar are warning Modi of the impending defeat.

Suddenly, Rahul seems to have redeemed himself. But the question that is dogging the pundits is: will the growing discontent against Modi regime be translated in the Electronic Voting Machines? Are the EVMs reliable or just whipping toys of the defeated and frustrated opposition? Has Congress acquired credibility even if the BJP is beginning to lose? Will the opposition unity last even next six months?

Almost all political observers, however, agree that Narendra Modi must be having something up his sleeve to lure the electorate. Most of them feel and fear that he will just do anything, dramatic or even catastrophic, in the final hour to sway the voters. They all agree that he will not just go away, defeated, and have an easy transfer of power.

However, if the BJP emerges single largest party, with about 180 seats (The Vajpayee threshold!), will it change the guard? And choose Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh or someone close to the RSS? Or will Modi stop anyone else from the BJP emerging as his successor? Many in his party, from Arun Shourie to Shatrughan Sinha say that Modi is so egotist, narcissist and dictatorial that he will not let anybody to take charge from the party.

Nobody has any idea as to what alternative plans  Modi, Shah or Ajit Doval have for 2019. The campaign teams, the trolling armies, the foot soldiers and booth managers of the party and the RSS have all begun their war preparations. Notwithstanding the fact that there are fissures in the Sanghparivar. Not all in the Saffron camp are comfortable with Modi becoming PM again. Many analysts say that it is the ruling party that often defeats itself.

Indira Gandhi lost, along with Sanjay Gandhi in 1977, with the Congress getting just over 150 seats, down from over 350 seats in 1971. That defeat was primarily because of the discontent within the Party. But that discontent was concentrated only in the North. In all the southern states, Indira Gandhi had swept the poll. So the anti-Emergency vote was only in the Hindi belt.

But the transfer of power to Janata Party was rather smooth, without rancour and reservation. So it was from the Janata Party to Indira Gandhi again in 1980. In fact, that history is being quoted, fearing it will be repeated. The opposition unity will collapse even if they defeat the BJP and Modi, and that will bring back Modi with vengeance!

But Modi is not Indira Gandhi, though it is fashionable these days to compare their style and substance. The polarisation that Modi has brought about has subtle but sinister Hindu-Muslim dimension. Though Modi has still a strong vote base in the urban middle class, he has hardly any admirers or supporters in the artists, writers, intellectuals, scientists and such communities. The whipped up media and social media support to Modi could delude even the PMO and his campaign handlers.

One thing is sure. The parameters of electoral prediction for 2019 are beyond the pale of astrologers, psephologists and pundits. The spectre of uncertainty and catastrophic possibility has begun to haunt and the nation waits with bated breath.

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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

4 Years of Modi Government

Kumar Ketkar



In the famous James Bond film, “Die Another Day”, the title, like his most films, does not bear any thematic connection. However, the title and the extravagant plot does resemble something with the Narendra Modi regime of four years. There is a diamond baron, for instance, who is planning all he can to mislead Bond and sabotage his mission. The mission that Bond has in the film is to investigate the link between a North Korean terrorist and the Diamond thug.

Though there is presumably no link between Narendra Modi and Nirav Modi, for mystery writers, the diamond merchant’s scam and Nirav’s escapades, as well as actual escape from the country, is enough material to generate suspense in a story.

But Indian mystery novelists are either too lazy or completely indifferent to the games politicians and such robber barons play. If the writers were creative enough, there was enough material in the Justice Loya’s mysterious death.

Raj Thackeray has publicly called the death as a murder. But Raj Thackeray is a cartoonist, not a novelist. If one follows the sensational disclosures by the investigative journalist, Niranjan Takle, particularly in his reports in Caravan magazine, one feels like asking Sherlock Holmes to come and conduct the investigation! But neither our media, nor fiction writers nor the Bollywood showed any interest in the Loya mystery.

Be that as it may. The Loya story, as well as the total acquittal and release of Maya Kodnani, Pradnya Singh Thakur and Colonel Purohit, are perfect metaphors for the Modi Regime of four years. The regime came with the promise of rapid development. But what we saw in the last four years was the rise of crony robber-baron-capitalism, the mafia-style operations and politics of lies, damn lies and statistics.

Everything from the GDP figures to GST collections, from the FDI to RTI, there is chaos everywhere. There are constant efforts to manipulate figures and facts, twist data and camouflage the disturbing reality. It is almost 20 months, but we still do not know how many notes of ₹500 and ₹1000 came back to the Reserve Bank of India. And this despite the propaganda that India has become totally digital. If indeed it was true, we would have known the total amount as well as the notes that came back,

The demonetisation caused a huge subterranean havoc, the small traders were wiped out, the skilled and semi-skilled workers lost their jobs, with no hopes of them coming back. Lives of hundreds and thousands of people were disrupted. The NRIs who had old notes, and their old parents, who could not exchange notes in the stipulated time frame lost all that money. The agents who could take old notes and exchange them with new ones flourished as the exchange rate for ₹1000 to ₹700.

Neither black money came back, nor generation of black stopped. Modi had said, the terrorism and extremist violence would stop because they would not be able to get old hard currency as that was reduced to rubbish. Both these issues he addressed on November 8, 2016.

Then within a week, he changed the goalpost. He started saying that the main intention was to create “Digital India”. It is interesting to note that all the credit card companies hugely welcomed the demonetisation. In India too the self-styled highly educated and well-off middle classes, particularly in the IT industry, thought that making India digital was a revolutionary idea. (Nor remembering nor realising that the idea was mooted by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 when the RSS and the BJP ridiculed him). But Rajiv did not do any theatrics of Digital India.

When Modi realised that not even 20 percent of the people have or will own a credit card, he promoted BHIM card, which hardly ever took off the ground. Modi then tried to induce people by announcing special concession and discount schemes for card users. That too did not work.

Then he brought in hardcore and hypocritical politics. He began to say that Congress is opposing the digitalisation because they have tons of black cash. The BJP is a clean party (party with a difference) and within a few years, the country will no not only be “Congress-mukt” but also “bhrashtachar mukt”. So the real aim of the demonetisation was to eradicate corruption.

But later it turned out that the demonetisation was not really a surprise or secret. It was known to a select BJP leaders who converted their notes before and in turn collected huge cash for the coming election in Uttar Pradesh and other states. So the BJP was obscenely cash-rich while the other parties were starved of funds. Then the cat came out of the moneybag!

The whole financial anarchy was created for acquiring tons of cash before the poll. The effect was seen in Uttar Pradesh.
Then he began the campaign for “One Nation, One Tax”! The GST, Goods and Services Tax, disrupted trade in the name of abolishing. Demonetisation followed by the GST sent panic waves across trade and commerce. From vegetable vendors to small-medium industry and the tribe of venture capitalists, everybody began to eulogise Modi.

Interestingly as a CM of Gujarat, he had issued a warning to his and other parties too, saying that he will never deploy GST even if the whole nation goes ahead with it. Anything that the UPA opposed, Modi instantly campaigned against it. Modi not only delayed the GST, he created utter pandemonium in the assembly over this issue.

In the final analysis, what has Modi achieved for the country, for the people and for the world? He has betrayed the non-Alignment Movement, by dissociating with the glorious anti-imperialist, anti-colonial aspects of the world politics that Pandit Nehru visualised. Indira Gandhi took the NAM to new heights, by bringing in the Movement more than 150 countries. India mattered in the world, not only Indira. Now India will have no natural friends in Asia. So instead of achieving anything on the foreign policy front, Modi has made India vulnerable and irrelevant. This is particularly glaring as he visits China and Russia and Europe for so-called “informal summits”.

Donald Trump too is announcing and then cancelling various assignments. Modi’s efforts are also in trying to remain at the top of the world, without mission, vision or global human passion. His so-called foreign policy is nothing more than globetrotting without any plan except international photo-ops to impress the gullible Indian middle class back home.

The four years are not just wasted, Modi has taken India backwards a few decades. The world had changed radically after the Second World War and again after the Cold War. In 1945, the Nazi menace was defeated and in 1991, the Soviet Union was disintegrated. The world vision that Nehru gave in the fifties provided hope to the people. Indira Gandhi took the Nehruvian mission to the new confidence, in the lines of Martin Luther King Jr—“We Shall Overcome”!

The four years under Narendra Modi have taken India back in civilisational terms, by a few decades. It will require great effort and will to bring back India to the present,  to march into future.

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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Who could replace Modi in 2019?

Kumar Ketkar



The names have begun flying in the media and in the eternal gossip and rumour circuits of New Delhi. The hypothesis being Narendra Modi will not make it. If he manages majority or re-manoeuvres the NDA, then, of course, he would be the PM again. But more and more pundits have begun to say that there is huge discontent in the BJP and resistance to him from the RSS. If the BJP gets less than 200 seats, then Modi’s future as PM will be in jeopardy.

I don’t like the expression, “dark horse” because it sounds demeaning and even racist.  But to use that conventional terminology, there indeed are several “ dark horses” who are being brought into drawing room discussions. Everybody agrees only on one point. And that is: no Party will get its own simple or even thin majority.The coalition then would be inevitable, either led by the BJP or some Opposition Party. So it could be another NDA or yet another UPA or Third Front and well, perhaps even the Federal Front! There are some self-proclaimed PM candidates, and some quietly working on the possible election outcome. One such permanent “Future PM” is Sharad Pawar. But he is a straight-faced poker player. He will neither reveal sentiment nor strategy!

The other (dark horses) in the race are Sam Pitroda and Ram Madhav. And also Rajnath Singh and Mamata Banerjee. While Prakash Karat lobby in the CPM describes Mamata as “fascist”, the Congress thinks the real “fascist” force in India is led by Narendra Modi. The Mamata backers argue that she would “punish” the “Modi-Shah gang” if the BJP loses power. The Congress, given its moderate nature, would never take such hard line!

A section in the CPM believes that the RSS is a fascist organisation, but BJP is only communal! However, conflicts in the CPM were sorted out by their politbureau, by some semantic skulduggery. At one point, Nitish Kumar had emerged as a front-runner in the race for PM. But it appears, he committed political “Harakiri” by suddenly changing loyalties and joining the NDA. Now again he is trying to distance himself from the “communal” BJP! Then there are some creative political crystal ball gazers who would not rule out even Pranab Mukherjee!

Ram Madhav could be the candidate of the RSS and Sam Pitroda of Rahul Gandhi. A famous Hindi TV anchor in fact recommended Sam Pitroda ’s name. Pranab Mukherjee’s name could come as a compromise of the Opposition parties when they fail to arrive at a consensus. After all, most parties had supported him as a President.

All this speculation is of course completely wild kite flying and image building by ambitious politicians. But then who would have thought that the offer would go to Jyoti Basu in 1996 and his party would refuse him the “NOC” to take charge as PM and take the plunge. Basu himself described later that refusal as the “Himalayan Blunder” of the Party. There was also some lobbying to rope in VP Singh as Prime Minister again. But he categorically refused. Nobody ever thought then that eventually, Deve Gowda would become the PM followed by Inder Kumar Gujral. Similarly, the name of Dr Manmohan Singh was also a startling surprise in 2004.

Such questions were never raised in the fifties and even in the sixties. There were no speculations and no “dark horses” in the race! As long as Pandit Nehru was alive, it was considered natural that he would be the PM after general elections—in 1952, 1957 and 1962. The question did get posed in 1967, but not too seriously.

That was (1967) the first election after Panditji’s death. There was an interregnum of about 20 months during which Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister. He had to face war with Pakistan in 1965, which ended in a kind of stalemate, though India could retain its image and pride. But Shastri’s death in Tashkent (former the Soviet Union) forced an internal election in the Congress party.

The Old Guard chose Indira Gandhi but another section of the party thought Morarji Desai would be a better choice. Desai was a well known Right Winger and also stubborn orthodox Gandhian in personal lifestyle. But the Old Guard (which came to be known as Syndicate), thought Indira could be manipulated to take the country Rightwards. It was clear that though they swore by the name and legacy of Nehru, they wanted a break from his political philosophy. To them, Indira was a “dumb doll”.

Moreover, they also calculated that to win general elections in 1967, daughter of Nehru would provide a perfect foil. Though the party had lost  Pandit Nehru, the towering leader, there was no Opposition worth the name to challenge the Congress. The Jan Sangh, a political party floated in 1950, by the RSS was slowly spreading its tentacles it never thought that it had potential to come to power on its own. Congress was like a colossus.

The parties that were getting popular appeal were the Communist Party and the upfront Right Wing outfit known as Swatantra Party. The Communist Party had come to power in Kerala in 1957. (that was the first ever democratic victory of the communists in the world). There were socialists, mainly breakaway factions of the Congress but they were in the political wilderness, constantly splitting and repositioning.

It was Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist ideologue and a maverick politician who first conceived the idea of “Congress-Mukt” India. But for that idea of “anti-Congressism” fifty years ago, there would not have been the BJP or Narendra Modi today. Lohia forged the non-Congress alliances in 1967, to challenge the Congress led by Indira Gandhi. She returned to power, though with a small majority in Lok Sabha. In as many as eight states the Congress lost power giving hope to the Opposition.

No political pundit or even the party ever thought then that the Congress would be dethroned at the centre. The Grand Old Party was just too deeply entrenched in Politics and in the minds of the people. The question as to who would be a Prime Minister never really arose. The split in the party in 1969 raised the hopes and ambitions of the Opposition parties. But Indira Gandhi’s single-handed landslide victory in 1971 (the famous “Garibi Hatao” election) reinvigorated the Party and her leadership. But after the Emergency, Indian politics changed at the core.

It is from 1977 that the general elections acquired the “suspense dimension” and the question of who would be Prime Minister began to be discussed in the media. Actually, even the Janata Party could not agree on any name for quite a few days despite its historic victory. They differed with each other intensely on the names of Morarji Desai and Jag Jiva Ram and Charan Singh. Madhu Dandavate’s name also floated for some time.

In 2014, Narendra Modi’s name could not have been challenged. He as well as the party, the media and the pundits had all seen the aggressive campaign, the super confidence, his way of humiliating Party colleagues, eliminating all competition. From Day One, he gave the impression, and it was believed by the corporates as well as the middle classes that he is invincible. He used to say, loud and clear, that he would be the Prime Minister for 10 or even 15 years. The Congress would cease to exist! His dream was to make India “Congress-Mukt” forever. His weapon was massive hate campaign, mainly through social media. That proved to be successful for First three years. Modi-led BJP captured as many as 19 states!  But then the tide began to turn.

In the last four years, his confidence has waned. His policies have failed. His dramatic and dubious decisions like demonetisation have boomeranged. His policies of “friendly neighbourhood” have fallen wayside. Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka do not even respect him or India. Neither terrorism has been brought under control, nor Pakistan has been tamed. His Kashmir policy has further alienated the people of Kashmir. His “blow hot, blow cold” relationship with Pakistan and China has exposed the thoughtless and visionless foreign policy. He has failed to get black money and miserably lost the war against corruption. The money that he and Amit Shah deploy in every election is a visible evidence of the power of black wealth they have generated for their party.

And that is why there is speculation as to who would be the Prime Minister of India in 2019. But he would not go away from the national stage without some huge drama, even violent and vicious. He could still dare some mind-boggling, even disastrous economic announcements to impress upon the gullible voters and the frenzied middle class. This middle class was his strongest vote bank, but now it is imploding. It is that impending implosion which has made his, and India’s future uncertain. Hence the suspense: Who Would Be The Next Prime Minister?
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