Crystal Gazing Modi
Narendra Modi’s impressive performance in the just concluded Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra gives some clues as to the direction he is taking the party and the country
Crystal gazing is an avoidable preposition under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Not long ago one could predict policies, appointments and the lucky ones can even negotiate cabinet positions through the fourth estate. Under the NDA, the government maintains a safe distance from the media as if the latter is an Ebola-infected patient. Much of the elites and pundits have lost their ‘privileged’ access to people and hence information. Those in the know still aspire for rewards and hence maintain a studied silence. Both within and outside the country the Prime Minister delivers impromptu lectures and no longer reads prepared texts. Speeches of key functionaries are no longer written by the organisations that invite them.
Extensive use of the social media is parallel to limited flow of information. For instance, Arvind Subramanian was supposed to be out of the reckoning because of differences between Prime Minister and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Suddenly one fine morning Subramanian announces his own appointment to the media after taking charge as government’s Chief Economic Advisor. Such things can’t be imagined until a few months ago, when every aspirants had the eyes and ears of someone within the system.
However, Modi’s impressive performance in the just concluded Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra gives some clues as to the direction he is taking the party and the country. The decision to break away from the quarter-of-a-century alliance with Shiv Sena over a few seats is an ominous sign for all the constituencies of the NDA. The determination of the BJP to abandon, fight and eventually subdue Shiv Sena in Maharashtra is a deafening warning: The BJP is the senior partner not just in New Delhi but also in the states.
Shiv Sena’s fate is bound to cause anxieties for the Shiromani Akali Dal, especially in the light of its failure to deliver Punjab in the May Lok Sabha elections. Out of the 13 seats, the BJP-Akali alliance could secure only six seats and Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal failed to guarantee Jaitley’s victory. The anti-incumbency was visible for all to see. To make matters worse, in the recent Haryana elections, Akali Dal joined hands with Indian National Lok Dal which the BJP choose to jettison. Unless things on the improve dramatically between now and 2017 when elections are due, the Akalis should be prepared to fight alone in Punjab.
Moreover, unlike the Congress, the BJP is keen to be a partner not just in New Delhi but also in the states. For example, the UPA survived on the support of the DMK but much to the disappointment of local leaders, the Congress leadership did not demand a reciprocal representation in Tamil Nadu even though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave disproportionally large cabinet births to the Dravidian party. This will not happen under the NDA. As with Chandrababu Naidu, partnership with the BJP will have to be reflected in the state cabinets. There will have to be accommodation and power-sharing both at the Centre and in the states.
Two, the campaign saw Prime Minister Modi’s desire to expand his pantheon of gods. He successfully rescued Mahatma Gandhi out of decades of symbolism and brought him out of the two restricted occasions of his birth and death anniversaries. The Mahatma is now the family deity of the Prime Minister and his government. Mahatma was a fellow Guajarati might be an added attraction. Modi, however, did not stop with Mahatma. Along with other icons such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Swami Vivekananda, Modi expropriated Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Indira Gandhi. At this rate, the Congress party would not have any leader to lionise or monopolise.
This process of socialising of public figures is long overdue. Over the years, political parties and groups have expropriated national legacies and turned themselves as the sole and exclusive custodian and inheritor. These leaders were expropriated for parochial interests and calculations. Is B R Ambedkar an Indian icon or just the leader of the dalit community? Does one wish to recognize Maulana Abul Kalam Azad a pan-Indian leader or a leader of India’s Muslim community? And for that matter, is Rabindranath Tagore an Indian or just a Bengali poet? If the election campaign in Haryana is any indication, as and when elections are held in other states, Modi will covet and snatch iconic figures from other parties and groups. Imagine the AIADMK competing with Modi for the legacy of C N Annadurai or worse MGR!
Three, more than anyone in the party or outside Modi knows that when it comes to electoral defeats and reversals, the rank and file of the BJP would less forging than the Grand Old Party. Of late, defeats have become a pattern for the Congress. The party was reduced to cohabiting with many other regional parties for decades and even where it had significant presence its downward trend appears unstoppable. Modi can’t take full credit for the success of the campaign for ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’. His principle aide-de-camp is not the BJP but the Congress leadership which has done a remarkable job in making the party marginal and less relevant.
Indeed, beyond perfunctory sound bites and statements, electoral misfortunes have not touched the Congress leadership and ‘responsibility’ invariably falls on the shoulders of everyone except the Gandhi family. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was blamed for the party’s decimation in the Lok Sabha elections and now Prithviraj Chavan took the ‘moral’ responsibility for the party’s defeat in Maharashtra. Until now the loudest voice of no-confidence against the Congress leadership is confined to the renewed chorus for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra taking over the reins of the party. Modi merely hastened the process of Congress marginalisation with his astute style of functioning and oratory. At the same time, Modi knows that the rank and file of his party will demand the success of his magic on every occasion and in every state that goes to polls. Already there were mild criticisms from some over his failure to bring about a Modi wave in Maharashtra. He and the party chief Amit Shah would be watched even more closely when Bihar goes to polls late next year.
Thus, having won Maharashtra and Haryana through his personal appeal, Modi can now shift to real issues of governance. As a hard task master, five months are sufficient for Modi to evaluate the competence and deliverability of his cabinet colleagues. He might have to be lenient with those who are holding multiple or concurrent responsibilities. Those holding single portfolios might not be that lucky. Either he might shuttle them to less important positions or burden them with junior ministers to increase efficiency. Now is the time to rejig the cabinet!
By P R Kumaraswamy