NEW DELHI: A basic issue that undercut former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s re-election bid in 2004 and showed up the hollowness of his “India Shining” campaign was a sustained period of jobless growth. Although other factors contributed, a lacklustre jobs front decisively turned the mood of the electorate against the government of Dr. Manmohan Singh although it had delivered an average growth of an unprecedented seven per cent per annum over a 10-year period, not achieved under any democratic dispensation in the world.

Now it seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s turn to be stung by the same naughty bee. Not creating jobs can scuttle communal projects of his party to rake in the Hindu vote through the much-glorified nationalism route. It is this-and of course the stubbornly high prices of everyday essentials such as dal which refuse to subside- which is emerging as the crucial political factor in the upcoming Assembly election in UP expected in just about six months’ time- and the BJP is showing signs of running scared.

In a laboured 90-minute address from the Red Fort on Independence Day, the Prime Minister cited a jumble of data to show that his government excelled in the difficult art of implementation, and concentrated on “making the impossible possible”.

Recounting his “achievements”, the poor man in his desperation even listed the release of the Subhash Bose papers from the archives as a singular achievement, although the published material has left no one any the wiser about whether “Netaji” had indeed died or still lives amongst us disguised as a sadhu baba. But doer-man Modi was careful to offer no data concerning the employment scene, noting only that if small businesses prospered, and shops kept open longer hours, they could hire more people.

This was noticed even by a panel of high-profile analysts- who revealed themselves to be diehard Modi bhakts- in a post-speech television discussion. The grey-beards noted with marked reluctance that the Prime Minister should have referred to the issue of unemployment, and proffered plans to address the crucial issue. The big dodge brought beads of perspiration to their brow. At the Red Fort grounds itself, people didn’t show signs of being particularly enthused with the speech. Leave alone the “Modi, Modi” cries of approbation that were frequent at the PM’s rallies earlier, on this occasion it is hard to remember if the crowd even clapped.

This is because everyone knows what the score is. The writing is on the wall. Being more perspicacious that others in the saffron camp about matters “political” (rather than “cultural”), the RSS has known for some time that there is little hope of righting the employment situation so long as extreme pro-market foreign prescriptions continue to obsess the Modi regime.

And being a fairly alert outfit, the RSS has launched heavy-duty propaganda across the country. Under this line of falsity being spread, the hope is being held out to the poor that although the Modi sarkar has belied its election promises and given them nothing so far, it will give them much in the future.

The argument goes that such important and spectacular plans have been set in motion for the benefit of ordinary people, that these will bear fruit only in three or four years’ time. “Does a tiny plant become a giant tree in one day?” the people are asked.

The line can be heard in all parts of the country. And an appeal to elect Mr. Modi in 2019 inevitably follows- so that he may give you in future what he couldn’t now. The message to the needy is: “A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.” It is difficult to think of greater political chicanery.

Of course, no one is buying the lollipop. The “goli”- the colourful expression commonly heard in the north to denote a trickster’s lie- is just not selling, and people are chafing at the bit. As the Lohiaites used to say, “Zinda qaumein paanch saal intezar nahin kar saktin.” (People who are alive can’t wait five years!)

Signs of this could be seen in Varanasi earlier this month when lakhs of people flocked to Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s rally right in the heart of Mr. Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency. Earlier, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi had received a very warm response at an event in Lucknow.

It is commonly thought that the election result in UP will either shut the door in Mr. Modi’s face, or cheer him on to another triumph in 2019. It is early to make predictions, but signs of anxiety are visible in BJP-RSS circles.

The saffronites had hoped to carry on from the momentum of the 2014 Lok Sabha election in which BJP claimed 73 of the 85 seats in UP, retain the affections of the upper caste, maintain a hold over the non-Yadav OBC and the non-Jatav dalit voter. This calculation seems to be going awry with a string of attacks on dalits by the Hindutva fanatics “gau-rakshak” platoons across the country, the most notable being the one at Una in Gujarat in July. The upper caste Brahmins and Rajputs are also showing signs of veering away from the BJP, as they see some signs of a Congress revival.

When the situation is looking anything but comfortable, a diktat of BJP chief Amit Shah to his party MPs in UP is making these worthies run for cover. Mr. Shah has ordained that every MP should aim to ensure wins for the BJP in at least three Assembly segments of his parliamentary constituency. For their part, the MPs believe that Mr Shah is losing touch with the ground reality.

They say that the economic scene is so grim in Mr. Modi’s raj- with runaway prices and no jobs- that they dare not show their faces to those who voted for them. “Where is then the question of making the BJP win on three Assembly seats in my constituency?” is a common refrain.

What this foretells can only be guessed at. But the RSS is doing what it can to shore up the regime by raising the bogey of hyper-nationalism to combat ghosts that threaten to emerge from a poor man’s empty kitchen. Its chief Mohan Bhagwat himself jumped into the fray in Agra last week. He asserted that “Hindutva equals nationalism”, and urged Hindus to have children in much greater numbers. If this goes viral, BJP’s political opponents could have a field day.

(Anand K.Sahay is a senior journalist and commentator)