Modi getting his comeuppance and the aftermath
The drubbing Modi and, secondarily, the ruling BJP, was given by the Indian voter in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh is a testament to his remarkable good sense and equanimity. The surging frustration with Modi, in particular, found expression in even relatively good chief ministers — Shivraj Singh in MP and Raman Singh in C’garh, with much to show by ways of good governance, being trounced. It has less to do with seeing the same old faces seeking an extension of stay in office, than with the people firing a warning shot across the bow of the BJP ship Captains Modi, Amit Shah are steering, and which long ago lost direction and sense of positive purpose. Let us succinctly jot down the main points and refer to some lessons prime minister Narendra Modi should learn unless he craves an early political vanvas in 2019.
There was no clearer message by the people than that they didn’t care for the Modi at the centre who is helming a growingly illiberal Indian state where the cow is venerated, huge gobs of public monies invested in gau-shalas, and what people can or cannot eat, drink and wear is dictated by a straitjacketed version of Hinduism foreign to the vedas. That the youth have had it with the absence of mass employment programmes that is sought to be covered up by talk of digitisation of governance, etc. They want the Modi of 2014 to emerge from the quagmire, but if he does, he will carry far less conviction, and his talk of re-working the government to make it more accountable and less intrusive in the lives of ordinary Indians, more readily dismissed as so much gas! And armed with evidence of five years, his emphasizing of ‘Make in India’ that involves little more than, as I keep repeating, screwdrivering imported equipment, and otherwise turbocharging a genuinely indigenous defence industry, will be readily refuted. In fact, he may well be accused of under-estimating the capability of the private sector that can, given its head, produce the most advanced technology. The issue is these are all things he actually promised in the 2014 Campaign, but did little to realize.
The question to ponder is will the Prime Minister pay heed and make a drastic course correction? Probably no. And even if he were to do so, where’s the time to show results? Hence the possibility that come next year’s general election the country will be staring down the barrel of a populist-wasteful, non-performing, coalition government that will retard India’s progress, leaving many of us ruing how Modi, armed with the people’s sanction to restructure government and set the country on a radically new, more productive course, fouled up.
Amit Shah, the BJP supremo and PM’s chief lieutenant, has proved he is no Chanakya of domestic politics (any more than Ajit Doval — Modi’s adviser on everything related to the working of government and the military — God forbid!, is Chanakya in the external realm), and that, if persisted with, his brand of political strategizing keyed to relentlessly low politics will only dig a still deeper hole for Modi to slip into next year.
Talk of Modi’s bad political instincts. He installed people he thought were like himself — pracharak of the RSS or Gorakhnath mutt type — Manoharlal Khattar, who made as big a god almighty mess in Haryana, as Adityanath has done in Uttar Pradesh, except neither of them had his political nous and resembled bulls flailing around in deep water and stirring trouble BJP could have done without. Whether Modi now appreciates the limits of the Hindu hardline and how it demotivated even party devotees in urban areas (the small trader class already hurt by GST and demonetisation) where Shah, for some unfathomable reason, had deployed the blundering Adityanath, may not be known. But it would be politically reckless of Modi to not recognize that Khattar, Yogi and their ilk are political poison and will sink BJP’s residual chances in 2019. And by extension that the Hindu fringe groups like the Bajrang Dalis the Yogi patronises may get out the vote in the countryside and elsewhere alright, but against the BJP! It doesn’t speak well for Modi and Shah’s supposed mastery of Indian politics and its slipstreams.
Rahul Gandhi, contrary to his reputation, has proved himself fast on the uptake. He revealed that the 2014 election was a great classroom. He didn’t do this in his post-election results press conference, but he may as well have thanked Modi for being such an adept tutor, and how all his temple-going and corruption charge hurling learned from Modi, fetched him results. Modi, Shah and that lot will hereon find it hard to trump Rahul on these and similar poll practices.
And, finally, Modi’s hubris — “excessive pride and self confidence” as the word is described, led him to believe that no one could better him, that he was lord of the Indian political scene he surveyed, and that a second term in office was his for the taking. The Gods have a way of mocking such pretensions, and not just in hoary Greek tragedies, as the public did in this case. Modi’s promises of fast-tracked development and gigantic jobs generating schemes persuaded lots of people, especially the young demographic. Five years later they will hear the same rhetoric this time from Rahul. The point is not that the Gandhi scion will be any more persuasive, but that widespread disillusionment with Modi will take its toll. It may not return him to Vadgaon, but will get him to Parliament (if he ensures a safe seat in Gujarat), perhaps, not as Prime Minister.
By Bharat Karnad
(The author is India’s Foremost Conservative Strategist. This piece first appeared on the author’s blog “Security Wise”.)