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The Big Story: Regional/original

This current era of Bharatiya Janata Party dominance, particularly through the North and West of India, seems so complete that it is hard to remember that the party’s success is quite recent. Take the two states going to the polls on Monday, Haryana and Maharashtra.

Not only do they have first-time chief ministers from the party hoping to win second terms, they are also the first BJP chief ministers ever in these two states. Sure, the saffron party has been in power in both places in the past, but only as the partner in a coalition headed by other parties.

In some ways this makes Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar the most interesting prototypes of the regional leader in the era of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Neither enjoyed great popular before the last state elections. Neither was a shoo-in for the chief ministerial post. Both are Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh men. Neither comes from a community that usually occupies the top post in their respective states, a deliberate policy from the BJP not to rely on the dominant castes. And, arguably, neither can expect to see any success if Modi was not at the helm.

Devendra Fadnavis

There has been a rash of pieces profiling Fadnavis, only the second chief minister in Maharashtra’s history to complete a full term, and the first in 40 years. Read Anosh Malekar’s in the Caravan (paywall) or Pavan Dahat’s in the HuffPo to get a good sense of the man who, as a Brahmin leader in a Maratha-dominated state has carefully cut down all his rivals within the party and deftly conducted negotiations with the Shiv Sena, a pesky partner that is perennially worried about the BJP taking its space.

Yet reporters traveling through the state rarely found major popular support for Fadnavis (see this, for example). Instead, it seems like the chief minister has skillfully navigated internal rivalries, defused crises, attracted leaders from other parties and managed to avoid major scandal, all the while relying primarily on Modi’s success to stay popular.

Manohar Lal Khattar

Although there has been less focus on his time in power, Khattar’s last five years in some ways mimics Fadnavis’ trajectory. A “Punjabi” leader in a state dominated by Jats, Khattar was an unexpected choice and initially seemed somewhat listless – especially when the Jat agitation erupted onto the streets in 2016.

Yet Khattar has consolidated his power base, contributed to the fractured nature of the Jat-led Opposition and focused on streamlining the process of recruitment for government jobs, which goes a long way in Haryana.

New regional model

As many have pointed out, two things can be said about these elections: they seem extremely lacklustre, because a BJP victory seems like a foregone conclusion, thanks to a fractured, infighting-ridden Opposition. Despite that, the saffron party is still pouring time, effort and money into them, a reflection of its never-complacent approach. (Political scientist Suhas Palshikar examines this here.)

A third factor seems apparent, or at least interesting: Khattar and Fadnavis, if re-elected as widely expected, reflect a new sort of regional leader in the Modi-Shah era. While the Congress was often a centralising force with an overweening High Command, its power structure depended on regional leaders building their own bases.

Modi-Shah prefer the opposite. The chief ministers are more like competent bureaucrats or ambassadors. They are Modi’s representatives in the state, rather than independent names in their own right.

They’re not unpopular and have deftly navigated internal party battles, but in coming from non-dominant castes represent a new leadership that may only be able to thrive while the leaders in Delhi are popular. Can you imagine Khattar or Fadnavis winning if Modi’s flag was not still flying high?

This is not true of all of the Modi-Shah chief ministers: BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka represents the old guard, Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh is a different experiment altogether. Yet in some ways, Khattar and Fadnavis seem like the ideal CMs of the Modi-Shah fourth party system era: not mini Modis, but Modi’s minions.

What do you expect from the elections in Maharashtra and Haryana? Write to rohan@scroll.in


Civil liberties are still severely restricted in Kashmir, 77 days later. The government may have opened up cell phone lines (only for those with postpaid connections) but that is hardly an indicator of normalcy. It is also quite clear that the lockdown is politically motivated, not based on security considerations, so that the BJP doesn’t have to hear the unhappiness of the public.

Arguments in the Ayodhya Babri Masjid demolition case being heard by the Supreme Court wound up last week, with some final-day rumours about one of the Muslim parties withdrawing their suit (it didn’t end up happening – here’s my recap of the last day and Shoaib Daniyal’s explanation of why a withdrawal might even be considered). This case is massively significant for India, so look out for the judgment anytime before November 17, when the current Chief Justice retires. The end also brought in some ridiculous, communally charged TV coverage and some satire about the coverage too.

Abhijit Banerjee, a graduate of Jawaharlal Nehru University, was one of three academics to win the Nobel prize in Economics last week. He shared it with Esther Duflo, his wife, and Michael Kremer. Here’s my explainer on why their work was well known (and criticised), what Banerjee thinks India should be doing economically and, of course, how the prize sparked off a Bengalis vs Tamils vs Punjabis vs others debate.

The International Monetary Fund was the latest to severely downgrade India’s growth rate projections. Almost every institution, domestic or global, started the year with much higher expectations from India’s GDP growth rate – and have since cut the projections massively.

This chart is a good indicator:

More depressing economic news: Rural consumption hit a seven-year low. A quarterly Nielsen report confirmed that not only have numbers dropped radically but that the rural markets are unusually growing slower than urban ones.

Former Indian cricket captain Saurav Ganguly became the head of India’s cricket board. Why is that in the Political Fix? Because cricket = politics in India, and because Ganguly seemed to get there after intervention from Home Minister Amit Shah. Could a BJP role in Bengal be next?

Last week on Scroll.in

  • Aarefa Johari reports on the campaign of Aaditya Thackeray, the scion of the Shiv Sena founding family and the first to contest elections.
  • Arunabh Saikia explains why, at this late stage, the Supreme Court has transferred Prateek Hajela, the man tasked with implementing the National Register of Citizens, out of Assam.
  • Suketu Mehta writes for Scroll.in about how around the world, there’s a battle of storytelling about migrants and Muslims. Populists are winning.
  • Aarefa Johari and Vijayta Lalwani report on how at labour markets around the country, Muslims fear for a national NRC while Hindus are less perturbed and often don’t know about it.

Poll toon

Reports and op-eds

The Indian republic was born as a liberal democracy. The second part of that term is alive and well, writes Political Scientist Ashutosh Varshney in the Journal of Democracy, but India under the Bharatiya Janata Party is turning into a majoritarian and illiberal democracy.

Never mind development promises in Kashmir post-Article 370. For actual entrepreneurs in the Kashmir Valley, the last two months have been awful. Asmita Bakshi in Mint talks to those whose businesses and lives have been upended by the crushing of civil liberties in the valley since August 5.

This op-ed criticising Modi’s economic management got a little more attention because of whose name was attached to it: Parakala Prabhakar, husband of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

We are not paying close enough to how states are spending money. They are doing better than the Centre fiscally, but a slowing economy and growing demands for things like loan waivers means they have completely cut down on crucial capital expenditure, writes Rajrishi Singhal in Mint.

Kerala has seen huge amounts of money pour into the state over the last few decades from the Gulf. Unfortunately, most of that has ended up in (unproductive) real estate, cars and jewelry, writes KPM Basheer in the Hindu, saying the state needs to do much more to generate jobs.

I think The Political Fix links to Roshan Kishore (who interviewed Abhijit Banerjee this week) and Andy Mukherjee (who connects the dots to draw the big picture on India’s financial sector mess) every week, so you should probably just follow both on Twitter, here and here.

Can’t make this up

A clerical error – basically a complicated typo – nearly led to a major international incident between India and Pakistan. On August 30, Pakistani air traffic controllers discovered an Indian military aircraft entering their airspace on a flight-path towards Kabul. They scrambled two F-16s, even while attempting to process why a plane that otherwise seemed to be a Boeing 737 civilian aircraft – a SpiceJet flight, in fact – was using the code of a military plane. The explanation? India’s civil aviation authority accidentally assigned a military code to the SpiceJet flight. Business Standard has all the details. Since then India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation has automated the process of giving out codes.

Did we miss anything? Like the Political Fix? Want to send angry responses or funny GIFs? Write to rohan@scroll.in