Credible rumours doing the rounds in New Delhi have it that Narendra Modi has matured as prime minister. Some knowledgeable insiders even whisper that he has become a statesman. But in just one outing last week in Assam, he has firmly scotched the rumours. Modi remains Modi: wonderfully acerbic, cheerfully partisan, creatively virulent; though his bark no longer has the bite, he has not surrendered his licence to be confrontationist.
Unwilling to absorb lessons from the defining defeat in Delhi and resounding rebuff in Bihar, the prime minister has injected himself again in a state-level election. Electioneering is essentially a partisan rite, but a prime minister has to maintain the aura of sobriety, a sense of institutional balance and be mindful of political proportion. But Modi being Modi, he remains untutored in constraints of prudence. He joyfully attacked and castigated the “one family”, that is the Nehru-Gandhi family. During the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, Modi used to mockingly refer to the Congress leadership as the “maa-beta” duo. Now as prime minister, he blames the “one family” for using the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha to obstruct the government. As reported in The Telegraph, the PM’s formulation read: “Those who have lost the election and have come down from 400 to 40 have decided not to allow Modi to work. They have decided to create obstacles and difficulties. The conspiracy for the same goes on….”
Contemptuous of the political rites and protocol in a divided polity, Modi is disdainfully dismissive of a prime minister’s obligation to lower his voice and seek consensus. There is disquieting arrogance at work: the 2014 premise remains intact. The 2014 sales pitch was predicated on the dream of a glorious future for all Indians; this sales pitch was anchored in stoking pent-up unhappiness with the Gandhis, their presumptuousness and arrogant sense of entitlement. Modi aggressively sold himself as the only man who could deliver the country from the Gandhis’ clutches and open the floodgates of prosperity, national glory and global investment. Well, the voters in India allowed themselves to be taken by the simplicity and certainty in Modi’s voice. The Gandhis stand reduced to a pitiful presence. And it is Modi – not a Gandhi or a nominee of the Gandhis – who sits in that corner office in South Block. It is thus up to Modi – and, Modi alone – to redeem his promise to the people of India.
Nearly two years after that historic mandate, as that dream curdles, he is tilting at the Gandhi windmill. A man who promises to be a maximalist prime minister is suddenly holding “one family” responsible for blocking the path of national glory and prosperity. This is nothing but 24-carat demagoguery. And, it does not add up.
Let us examine a few glaring failures in the last 20 months for which neither the Rajya Sabha nor the Gandhis can even remotely be blamed.
First, the fiasco called the Pakistan policy. The on-off-on tango with Pakistan has become an embarrassingly messy floor number. If the Modi establishment failed to figure out the state of play in Islamabad/Rawalpindi, no one can deny it the intellectual property right to that failure. Any objective observer can detect a conspicuous similarity between the UPA government’s response and the Modi establishment’s reaction to Pakistan-centric terror. There has been, no doubt, a hint of imagination and innovation in dealing with Pakistan but if things did not work out to New Delhi’s satisfaction, the blame cannot be placed at the Gandhis’ door. Surely, it was not at the behest of the “one family” that the PM decided to reduce the conduct of foreign policy to an event-management affair. The pit stop at Lahore was a pure roll of the dice that only he could make.
The failure of the Modi establishment’s Pakistan policy hurts much more because it also negates the mumbo-jumbo the Sangh parivar has dished out for over three decades. Nor can the “one family” be held even remotely responsible for the botched handling of the Pathankot terror attack. That buck stops at Modi’s desk.
Then there is this unimaginable mismanagement of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir. On any day or time of the year, it is a given that the affairs in that sensitive state need to be handled with wisdom and foresight. And, it is not at the behest of the “one family” that the policy in this crucial state has been outsourced to the Nagpur commissars. Consequences have followed. National security and national interest are in serious jeopardy in J&K, and the Gandhis have no role in it. The Modi establishment alone is responsible for the impasse and the mess.
Many other failures can be catalogued but there is the much larger issue of effective governance in divided societies and divided polities. The Modi promise was that a strong, charismatic leader was also ipso facto a wise leader, a helmsman who would be able to haughtily demand and effortlessly procure cooperation from one and all in a federal set-up and that he would create such positive vibrancy that all our structural deficiencies and oppositional impulses would simply dissolve. The built-in democratic speed-breakers have remained in place. Those are part of the Constitution of India. A fact that seems to escape Modi and his partisans.
Next time the prime minister goes before the Assam voters and accuses “one family” of obstructing “Modi”, he should ask his senior colleagues, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, for all their clever formulations about democratic virtues in parliamentary disruptionism. For 10 years, the BJP played the obstruction game in parliament. Sushma had, with her own invented logic, argued, during her last avatar as the leader of the opposition, that “not allowing parliament to function is also a form of democracy like any other form.” Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Politics is all about accumulation of power – how to obtain it and retain it. Modi and the BJP have a legitimate right to win power in states like Assam and West Bengal; others have an equally legitimate and valid right to deny the BJP a slice of power. The prime minister is entitled to engage in the politics of confrontation, but the non-BJP political formations will simply not fade away just because Narendra Modi wants to perform “vikas” miracles.
Accumulation of power also has – and has always had – a deeply corrupting impact. Implicit in the prime minister’s accusation against “one family” is a claim of immunity from democratic scrutiny and criticism. That is a claim no democracy readily grants to its rulers, however enlightened or powerful. The country has not opted for a new royalty to replace the Gandhis.
Harish Khare is Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune
Courtesy: The Tribune