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It was the year of political change. It has set the template for 2014
Has 2013 secretly been the year of change we had pegged 2014 to be? Politically, it was not supposed to add up to much — it was to be a mere prelude to 2014, the year of the general elections. But the big change might have come a year early.
This year saw several inflection points, which have already set the template for the next phase of politics and alignments in India. The BJP has pitched Narendra Modi as the embodiment of a new idea of India. Meanwhile, the Congress is going through a period of transition and, after many decades, it is not a transition forced by an unforeseen event. The new middle classes, though numerically small, constitute a shrill and significant voice now. They appear to have embraced a political system they loved to deride even last year. In the still feudal Hindi heartland, the political shifts and alignments of 2013 promise to have a deep impact on politics in 2014.
The first signs of change came from the BJP-RSS combine this year. It started with the dramatic ouster of then BJP president, Nitin Gadkari. But more crucially, the country's main opposition party chose to push the idea of Hindu nationalism, symbolised by its choice of Modi as prime ministerial candidate. The Jan Sangh of 1977 and the BJP of the NDA years had been more reluctant to show their colours. But this year, the RSS flaunted its most successful pracharak and chief minister, Modi, who is meant to be shorthand for "infrastructure" and "development", showcased in his home state, Gujarat. It is a bold positioning.
This signalling by the BJP set off changes in the Hindi heartland. The JD(U), an ally for 17 years, decided to jump ship. A party of the much fragmented Janata parivar, representing an important colour in India's political rainbow, the JD(U)'s presence in the NDA had long bolstered the BJP's claim of leading the "anti-Congress" team. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, another chain of events was set in motion with the eruption of communal violence between Jats and Muslims in the western region of the state. Significantly, the violence happened on the watch of the Samajwadi Party, which has reaped the political benefits of providing a riot-free environment for the state's more influential Muslims. The plight of those in Muzaffarnagar's relief camps, just two hours from Delhi, the SP's growing impatience with the situation and the reckless remarks made by party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav are beginning to work changes in the state's politics. The Central government of 2014 will depend, in large part, on seats and events in the cow-belt. The BJP, the lone ranger in both UP and Bihar, might have gained significantly from these developments. But it has lost a key ally in the JD(U), and renewed alliances like the Congress-RJD in Bihar or an "understanding" between the Congress and the BSP in UP could regroup voters and throw up surprising results.
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