Within minutes, the pro-government television channels were calling it a huge ‘game-changer’ but the “ten-percent quota” gambit could mean only one thing: the Modi cabal will go to any length – do anything, say anything, promise anything – to try to win the next Lok Sabha election. Never mind that the proposed constitutional amendment would certainly run afoul of the Supreme Court, but the super-clever men who constitute the Modi clique clearly hope that large chunks of the friendly media will help the prime minister re-write the ‘narrative’ around this 10% business.
The Modi crowd may well be entitled to its conceits but the democratic, liberal, progressive and secular voices owe it to the country not to get taken in by this sleight of hand. The last-minute googly needs to be seen for what it is: an open acknowledgement by Prime Minister Modi himself that his government’s record of glorious incompetence will not do the trick with the voters in 2019. It is an implicit admission that the vikas mantra has lost its power of incantation.
The politics of polarisation has run its course; no one is listening to the divisive, incendiary rhetoric of the Nagpur commissars. The “chowkidar” has found it difficult to get away from the Rafale taint. After the defeat in the three Hindi-speaking states, the much-touted “chanakyas” have come to realise that the voters have perhaps seen through the baazigar’s bag of tricks. Hence, a new act – say, the 10% quota – had to be unveiled. More such dramas can be expected, before the model code of conduct kicks in.
That the 10% quota move is riddled with electoral calculations has been spelled out quite eloquently by Ram Vilas Paswan in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Whatever may be the BJP’s compulsion, it remains incumbent upon the opposition to nail the Modi government down with its own failures and flaws. That means not letting the Modi sarkar photo-shop its incompetence out of the election-time narrative. That also means not letting the country forget about the great scam called demonetisation – a gross abuse of governmental authority by a grossly whimsical prime minister.
That certainly means reminding the nation how the Modi government has messed up our geo-strategic environment in the neighbourhood. And, that means reminding the voters of the fault-lines that have been inflicted on society in the name of the cow. And, above all, that certainly means reminding the young voters of the unfulfilled promises on job-creation and stemming black money. The Modi government’s record of mega incompetence and underperformance will need to be cited in chapter and verse.
For his part, Modi appears to have decided not to seek re-election on the basis of his government’s rather patchy record; instead, he has already gone about the country, trying to crank up the old perceptions and sentiments about the Congress Party and its pre-2014 record of presumed corrupt misdeeds. Perhaps it is not difficult to read Modi’s strategy: he wants to run down and demonise all political rivals and opponents as unprincipled, unworthy seekers of power while painting himself as a worthy – and, sole – custodian of the nation’s treasury, integrity, security and morals. Left to his own devices, the megalomaniac in Modi would want to outlaw any challenge to his return to the prime ministerial gaddi.
Whatever may be the BJP’s expedient calculations, the larger dimension of the last-minute constitutional jugglery is deeply troubling for our democratic project: the utter cynicism, undiluted and unadulterated on display. Suddenly, the prophets and proponents of the “New India” look very much like the calculating practitioners of the old India whom they had once accused of populism, of “vote bank” politics; those who were serenaded as transformational leaders are today gloating over their legislative machinations; the “reformers” have turned out to be much-derided power-hungry operatives.
Inevitably, the question that presents itself is this: does the Modi crowd believe in anything except its own political survival and prosperity? Does Narendra Modi stand for anything other than Narendra Modi?
Beyond the ruling coterie’s obvious contempt for the voters’ basic intelligence, there is the fundamental issue of trust in public institutions and governmental leaders. Constitutional functionaries and ruling impresarios are principal keepers of that trust; every healthy democratic society expects its politics to deepen trustfulness in public life, and an incumbent government is enjoined to act in a trust-worthy manner. Robust democracies frown upon arbitrariness and whimsicality.
It is on this count that Narendra Modi as the prime minister is most disappointingly deficient. If any proof were needed of this anti-democratic streak, anyone can read it in the Supreme Court judgment on the midnight ouster of CBI director Alok Verma. Modi has consistently and wilfully refused to accept that those who preside over the government do not have a licence to dismantle the structure of restraint and accountability.
The man who was abundantly rewarded by the electorate in 2014 because he had promised to rescue the country’s governance from Rahul the Pappu’s errantry has himself turned out to be a grandiloquently self-obsessed leader. And it is up to the opposition to communicate to the voters a sense of this grand betrayal of trust.
As prime minister, Narendra Modi has regrettably introduced a culture of political dishonesty. Nothing captures this dishonesty more graphically than his deceitful accusation against his predecessor, Manmohan Singh (as also a former vice-president of the republic and a former chief of army staff), of a “conspiracy” to involve Pakistan in Gujarat’s December 2017 assembly elections; that was the day the prime minister lost the nation’s confidence. The BJP barely scraped through; its “mission 150” eloquently rebuffed. But, it needs to be noted, that since then the BJP has not won a single state. That day the prime minister forfeited the nation’s trust. A prime minister does not have the luxury of being insincere. Not even a Narendra Modi.
Governance is much more than a bag of tricks; nor is politics an endless game of hoodwinks and sleights of hand. Public life has to be necessarily anchored in trustfulness; public order can be sustained and citizens’ obedience and compliance secured only if the rulers keep their part in this reciprocal bargain of trust. Narendra Modi has proven himself to be unworthy of the citizens’ trust.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was, until recently, editor-in-chief of The Tribune.