Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a busy man. One day he is holding American legislators spell-bound with his oratory, the next day he is confabulating with the Russian president on the nuances of war and peace, and then, in between, he finds time to bless the induction of Ajit Pawar as yet another deputy chief minister of Maharashtra. One day a global leader, bringing unprecedented glory and prestige to Mother India, and the very next presiding over intrigue and conspiracy of a sordid kind to embrace one of the most soiled political persons in western India. Why this descent from the sublime to the ridiculous?
After all, Ajit is the most uncharismatic, and perhaps the most unpalatable, politician Maharashtra has produced in recent times. On various occasions he has been roundly abused by the BJP crowd and often anointed as a corrupt minister. Whatever may be Ajit’s beef with his own uncle, Sharad Pawar, the nephew represents the very antithesis of the clean politics that Narendra Modi claims to have introduced in ‘Amrit Kaal’. Ajit is not a saint, nor is he a boy scout, and he has not crossed over just to be a ceremonial deputy chief minister; he will be muscling in on Devendra Fadnavis’s territory of power and patronage. He will demand his pound of flesh. The proverbial mess-making camel has now moved from the MVA tent to the already over-crowed Shinde-Fadanavis tent.
So, why would Modi bless such a patently unsavoury move?
The answer is simple: behind all the bluff and bluster, a nervousness is sneaking up on the calculus of the neo-Chanakyas of the Shahenshah and Shah regime. The master manipulators know that even if the BJP is able to walk away with an overwhelming majority of Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh on the strength of the Ram Mandir, opposition unity and alliances in Bihar and Maharashtra will help deny the ruling party a critical chunk of seats. And that will not augur well for the return of the greatest prime minister India has seen. No one can rule Delhi without control over Maharashtra and Bihar. Hence the simple need to subvert and break the opposition’s ranks in these two states. An uncomplicated but brutal calculation. Obviously the ability of the ruling clique to rattle the cage remains undiminished. The over-awed media apologists can be expected to hail the Maharashtra drama as another master-stroke from the wizards of manipulative politics.
Perhaps it should be said, to the credit of the ruling cabal, that unlike its drum-beaters, it is aware of the gathering moh-bhang at large in the country with the Modi regime. People are beginning to see through the haze of the most expensive propaganda barrage India has seen since independence. All that glitters is not gold; some of it is very rusty iron.
Despite a total control over the narrative manufacturing infrastructure in the country, the reality and the ugliness of the past nine years is beginning to trouble the voters. A burning Manipur is a daily reminder of Modi’s flawed governance. Vested interests seem to have let the supposedly omnipotent Union home minister, Amit Shah, burn more than his fingers in the Manipur burn-out.
The Modi arrangement is not without its share of internal dissension, fault-lines and factions; but the fragility of the regime is covered up rather completely with the massive personality cult that has been curated around the Leader. This personality cult acquires a cutting edge because Modi, using the resources of the Indian state, has positioned himself way above the BJP and, more significantly, has marginalised the super-nationalists in Nagpur. He is a leader in his own right, bigger than the party and much taller than the black caps of the Sangh parivar. But being an ideal product of the Sangh parivar’s intricate protocols of intrigue and conspiracies, Modi himself would know that the Nagpur brass cannot possibly be entirely happy with him and his deepening megalomania. Also, the prime minister probably knows that the Nagpur bosses would not be all that pleased with the selling away of our strategic autonomy to the Americans. And that given half a chance, the Sangh parivar would want to clip his wings.
Ajit Pawar, therefore, is a kind of insurance against the potential meddlesomeness of the Nagpur sanghchalaks. Yet in the process, the prime minister seems to have devalued one of the most potent allegations he has lobbed at the opposition and its efforts to forge some kind of understanding in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha poll. The prime minister has repeatedly argued that the opposition alliance would be, to use Arun Jaitley’s colourful phrase, a “mahamilawat gathbandan”, and that any anti-Modi arrangement would be a gathering of the anti-people, power-hungry parties. Ajit Pawar’s induction has blunted Modi’s accusation against the opposition.
Part of Modi’s acceptability at the national level is the high degree of trust he enjoys with voters. Trust is an essential ingredient in a regime’s legitimacy and its moral authority. But this trust is given to a ruler for being righteous and following the path of goodness in matters of statecraft. In Modi’s case, it has been argued that the prime minister has liberated Indians from the intoxicating allure of caste and religion, and that he now enjoys the voters’ trust as citizens qua citizens.
As prime minister, Narendra Modi has got away with taking very many liberties with constitutional niceties and democratic protocols, all on the strength of the presumed trust he has earned from the people. However, this trust is not available to a ruler to legitimise his unprincipled and immoral political shenanigans. Modi has now crossed a red line by breaking political bread with Ajit Pawar. And the voters may want to get even with him.
Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.