Rahul has not won but Modi has lost
The latest round of Assembly elections in five states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telegana, less than six months before the general elections next year, has reminded us of two important lessons. One, EVMs are not devils for the non-BJP parties, notwithstanding whatever Congress President Rahul Gandhi may say. EVMs are the time-tested and best possible instruments to ensure free and fair elections in the country. Reverting to paper ballot systems is the surest way to revive booth capturing by the parties relying on money and muscle power.
Secondly, the results have strengthened the democracy in the country by reviving the electoral fortunes of the Congress party. I have been always of the opinion that India cannot afford to have a weak Congress. Any regional leader Like Akhilesh, Stalin, Lalu or Mayawati, without a national outlook, or a Kejriwal who practices politics of anarchy cannot be alternative to Modi and the ruling BJP.
India’s future as a stable democracy depends on a healthy BJP and healthy Congress. If one of these two is a ruling party either by itself or in alliance with others, the other should be the principal opposition.
As any student of politics knows, the role of a healthy parliamentary opposition is essential for the sound working of democracy. In the absence of a vigilant opposition constantly on the alert and ever watchful of the government’s policies and actions, the ruling party will either be complacent and tardy or become arbitrary and autocratic. In other words, the presence of a strong opposition is an obstacle to despotism. Always
ready to expose the wrong committed by the government and to bring to light its acts of omission and commission, a healthy opposition ensures that the ruling partly can hardly afford to be negligent in the performance of its duty towards the country. It is in this context that Benjamin Disraeli had said that “no government can long be secure without a formidable opposition”.
Also, I find it is worth mentioning famous American political scientist Robert Dahl. According to him, there are four main functions of the opposition: forming an alternate government given an opportunity; influencing the public opinion on vital national and international issues so as not to allow the ruling party to become lukewarm about the country’s basic interests; exposing the ruling party of its failures to fulfill the promises to the electorate; and extending full support and cooperation to the government on occasions that threaten the very unity and integrity of the country, such as external aggression, internal armed rebellion and ethnic unrest. I think, in India, no party is better suited to play these roles than either the BJP or the Congress in today’s India.
Two points are particularly noteworthy in this context. In India we have hundreds of parties, as a result of which we have seen so many hung-Parliaments and Assemblies. In any case, in all the general elections held to Parliament so far, the ruling party has never received 50% of the voted polled. The nearest to the 50% mark has been touched only once in the 8th general elections held in 1984 when the Congress under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi got 49.6% of the votes polled. Predictably, he rode to power on a sympathy-wave, following the tragic assassination of his mother.
In other words, no ruling party in India can be arrogant enough to overlook the bitter reality that it is in government not because of the majority of votes that all Indian voters have cast in its favour but because of what I have written many a time – the non democratic first-past-the post system.
The second striking feature to note in Indian elections is that until the advent of the hung-Parliament in 1989, there had always been the fact that though the ruling party got minority of votes, the gap between it and the largest opposition was quite massive. As against the Congress’ 40-plus percentage of votes every time, the second largest parties happened to be Socialists (with varied names) with 10.6% and 12.4% votes in 1952 and 1957 elections, the then undivided Communists with 10 percent in 1962 elections, Jana Sangh with 9.4% in 1967 elections, the Congress (O) with 10.4% in 1971 elections, the Janata Dal with 19% in 1980 elections and the BJP with 7.7% in 1984 elections. In fact, in 1984, the second largest party in the Lok Sabha after the Congress was a newly formed Telugu Desam.
However, in recent years the gap between the ruling party (or principal ruling party) and the principal opposition party is not that huge. In 2014, while the NDA got more than 39% of popular votes, the share of the BJP was about 32%. Of course, the vote share of the Congress went down from 28% in 2009 to 19% in 2014; but still the 13% gap is respectable compared to the massive gaps between the victorious Congress and the second largest party in the past.
In sum, the Congress cannot be said to be just like yet another opposition party like Samajwadi or Trinamul Congress. It is a special opposition party, which the BJP will ignore only at its peril. The Congress will always have the special capacity to bounce back strongly. And this is precisely what has happened in the three Hindi-heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Obviously, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to bring about a “Congress-free” India will now remain a dream only. But, does this mean that his principal political rival Rahul Gandhi will succeed in removing him as Prime Minister in 2019? Will Rahul himself emerge as the Prime Minister? The latest results do not help in providing any clue to the answers of these two questions. One, all told, the Congress lost badly in Mizoram and Telengana. There is another interesting fact that has not been properly highlighted. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan every political party has been rejected by the voters since none has got the majority-mark. Secondly, surprisingly all those who always argue that the percentage of votes is the better indication of the support base of a party, in MP, the BJP, after 15 years of rule, got more votes than the Congress and in Rajasthan it is just marginally behind the Congress. In fact, in Rajasthan, the NOTA button got 5.34 lakh votes whereas the Congress got only 1 lakh 55000 and 862 votes more than the BJP.
Of course, the Congress victory in Chhattisgarh has been overwhelming. But then we are forgetting in the process the power of “anti-incumbency” in Indian politics as a law of nature. In all the three states where the Congress has made a comeback, the BJP was the incumbent. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the party was in power for 15 long years. And despite that if the BJP came out more or less the same performance by the Congress – the latter formed the governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with the support of the handful of smaller parties – then the Congress cannot claim to be a clear victor. In fact, there are merits in the arguments that but for the backlash of the upper castes in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for the Modi government’s bypassing of the Supreme Court verdict on the misuse of the SC and ST (prevention of atrocities) Act through a speedy amendment in the Parliament, the BJP could have easily retained power.
Besides, issues in the general elections are not necessarily the same as in Assembly elections and Modi remains still the most popular politician in the country, if opinion polls are any indication. So Rahul or for that matter the Congress faring strong enough in the general elections to unseat Modi is a highly debatable proposition. Moreover, there is still a big question mark over the leadership of Rahul as the Prime Ministerial candidate and Modi’s alternative of the broad opposition alliance that being proposed.
Be that as it may, it is to be admitted that the results of the latest elections have caused a huge dent to the formidable reputation of Modi. Now it will be difficult to say that Modi cannot be defeated. In fact, Modi now can be defeated. Modi no longer has the aura that he had in 2014. As I have written many a time on this platform, none other than Modi is primarily responsible for this changing scenario.
It is true that in the last four years, global leaders have taken India a little more seriously. Modi’s policies towards Pakistan and China may not have been inspiring, but at the least, Modi has been able to create an optimistic atmosphere that the world can do business with India. Similarly, it is to the credit of Modi that he has provided to the nation a scam-free administration. And despite the motivated writings against him, he has acted in a nonpartisan manner by being the “prime minister of all.” But then, Modi has not lived up to his reputation of being a bold reformer and has focused on rural poor and farmers with welfare schemes for them like any Congress Prime Minister.
Modi had promised that he would create a situation where people do not remain poor. He had talked about empowering the poor, rather than sticking to the Nehruvian framework that talks of distributing only freebies to the poor in the form of one subsidy or the other. One may argue that various welfare schemes that Modi has introduced are empowering. “Ujjwala Yojana” is a scheme under which LPG gas connections are being given free to poor households to enable the women to remain healthy by avoiding smoke and firewood, collection of which takes away their precious time; there is “MUDRA Yojana,” a flagship scheme with a motive to “fund the unfunded” by extending formal credit to micro and small enterprises; the Startup India program has been implemented to build an ecosystem where innovation is nurtured by facilitation through loans from the formal sector; and then there is the “Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana,” the insurance scheme with lowest possible premium to cover yield loss as well as post-harvest losses of poor farmers. All these need to be seen along with opening up bank accounts for the poor and direct cash transfer to them in various government-funded welfare-activities so as to avoid corrupt middlemen.
But then the problem with Modi is that his team has failed miserably in convincing people that such good work is being done. He may be the biggest communicator in the country at present, but he cannot communicate his achievements alone. He does not have enough competent ministers in his team or spokespersons in his party who evoke credibility to propagate the government’s achievements. In fact, compared to Modi’s rivals, they come out miserably. As a result, there is that widely-spreading negativity about Modi not only outside but also within his own BJP. I have met countless BJP members and activists who openly criticise the Prime Minister and the party President Amit Shah for their inaccessibility and “authoritarian ways”.
The second problem with Modi is that he does not have enough sincere and committed people to monitor the progress of his well meaning schemes. There is a severe problem on the implementation front. Take the case of his much lauded “Swachh Bharat” scheme. The fact remains that it has not been implemented well in Delhi, let alone the countryside. Delhi, arguably, is the dirtiest major capital city of the world. It is hard to drive or walk on most of the Delhi roads. Any person who travels by rail to and from Delhi has the spectacles of open defecation on railway tracks in the suburbs. Imagine what the foreign tourists visiting Taj Mahal or glorious sites in Rajasthan must be thinking of us when they travel by the “Shatabdis”. I can cite many such examples.
It is true that Modi has not been able to bring about as many reforms as he would have liked, even though it is a huge achievement that his government succeeded at long last in passing the legislation on the much talked-about Goods and Services Tax, which has made a unified market in the country. His government’s other legislations such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) Act will certainly uplift the economy and add transparency in the financial and business landscape. But then Modi has singularly failed in passing the Land-Acquisition Bill, so vital for the success of his “Make in India” program. After all, there cannot be any industry without suitable land.
Two principal challenges confronting Modi have been his own Sangh Parivar and “the Delhi establishment,” which includes Delhi bureaucracy, Delhi intelligentsia and Delhi media. Many BJP or RSS members also belong to the Delhi establishment, which, deeply committed to Nehruvianism, is yet to reconcile with what it virtually thinks to be a hostile takeover by Modi, a rank outsider. In fact, many within the BJP and Sangh Parivar are opposed to the ushering in of bold reforms, most important being the ones on labour and investments. Modi even has had a poor pace in bringing about some vital administrative reforms that do not require immediate legislative support or approval.
There have been no major administrative reforms such as police reforms and out-of-the-box measures in the education and health sectors. As a result, we do not have enough employable youth. We do not have adequate manpower to absorb the foreign technology and handle transfer of technology. We continue to produce useless college or university degrees. The Modi government has not given the vocational education its due, the education that will lead to employable skilled personnel who may choose to be small-scale entrepreneurs themselves or join the small and medium scale industries, the real source of a nation’s wealth in the ultimate analysis.
The latest officially released figures from the Labor Bureau are alarming, indeed. The average employment generation has plummeted to less than 2 lakh jobs a year, which is less than 25 percent of the annual employment generated before 2011. Of course, the bureau’s statistics do not provide the big picture, particularly when most Indian jobs have always been in the unorganized sector. But they suggest two ominous signs. One, the government jobs, including the ones in the public sectors, are shrinking. This, in turn — and it is the second sign — is largely responsible for demonstrations by young Patels of Gujarat, Jats of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh in the name of reservations.
Modi’s biggest challenge in the days ahead is the increasing but perverse demands for reservations, with his social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot openly supporting the thesis that every community must have reservations in proportion to its actual number. What it implies is that those who opt for smaller families are punished, not rewarded. It also means that people should produce as many children as they can, not educate them properly, and demand that the state gives them jobs even if they are not competent enough. This is a frightening scenario.
In the final analysis one, of course, can say that people do realize that Modi cannot set the mess of non-governance of 70 years right in just five years. In fact, given the alternatives we have in the country’s polity today, Modi does provide the hope that he is the only Indian politician today who can deliver. He is not corrupt. He is hard-working. He has got the right ideas for the country, be it “Swachh Bharat” for sanitation or “Make in India.” If he cannot deliver, no one else can. In fact, he still is the best hope for most Indians, opinion polls suggest. And that provides still a ray of hope for Modi that he will be reelected in 2019.
By Prakash Nanda