Millennium Post

Sen’s caveat to Modi matters

Sen’s caveat to Modi matters
Having said before the elections that Narendra Modi was not the right person to be prime minister, Amartya Sen’s recent acceptance of the Gujarat strong man’s right to govern, ‘and govern well’, before an Asia House audience in London was more gracious than Sonia Gandhi’s initial reluctance to personally congratulate Modi. However, the Nobel laureate was stating the obvious when he said that the BJP’s victory did not mean that any fundamental change had taken place in Indian society. According to him, the preservation of the status quo was expected not only because the BJP had received no more than 31 per cent of the votes, but also because the new government would be watched by ‘a largely secular media’, the courts and the opposition.

Notwithstanding the guarded acknowledgement of the BJP’s success, it is undeniable that regime changes have become part and parcel of the democratic system. Ever since the rejection by the voters of Indira Gandhi’s attempt to impose her authoritarian writ via by the Emergency, there hasn’t been any doubt about the durability of the multi-party system. Even prolonged periods of one-party rule, as by the Left for 34 years in West Bengal, didn’t shake the belief of the electorate in the possibility of poriborton or change. What is more, powerful politicians have been summarily rejected and brought back by a whimsical electorate, as Indira was in 1977 and 1980. If the present focus of the Modi government is apparently on governing well, the reason is its awareness of the resilience of the system. The new rulers are aware that one false step can bring about their doom. Therefore, Sen would have served his audience better if, instead of underlining the secular bias of the system, he had dwelt more on the losers than the winners.

Although he did concede that the Left had ‘imploded’, he did not care to explain why it had done so. Evidently, the catastrophe has something to do with his view that the communists have ‘lost their brain in many ways’, which he expressed at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year. Sen had also criticised the Left when it withdrew its support to the Manmohan Singh government on the nuclear deal. ‘I wouldn’t have thought it is a reason for pulling a government down’, he had said.
It is the implosion of the Congress, however, which calls for a closer look. The party’s precipitous fall from 206 seats in 2009 to 44, and from 28.6 per cent of the vote share to 19, cannot be easily explained, not least because there is no easily identifiable cause like the Emergency was in 1977 or the Bofors howitzer scandal in 1989. True, the prevailing corruption was very much in the air, as was inflation. But, these could not have been the only reasons for such a dramatic tumble. The Congress itself is yet to give a satisfactory explanation for its failure except its apparent inability to communicate its ‘achievements’, as senior general secretary Digvijaya Singh said. Former defence minister A K Antony is at present looking into the possible causes. But, so far, he hasn’t said anything of note except that the party’s credo of secularism is being generally interpreted as a tilt towards the Muslims, thereby virtually substantiating L K Advani’s old charge about the Congress’s pseudo-secularism.

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, there were intemperate outbursts by several party men, which included calling Rahul Gandhi a ‘joker’ and describing unnamed functionaries as ‘rootless wonders and spineless creepers’. Following Sonia Gandhi’s counsel against ‘public acrimony’, such exasperated comments have died down. However, party spokesman Manish Tiwari’s belief that the Congress made the mistake of neglecting the middle class and the corporate sector, and former finance minister P Chidambaram’s observation that the government erred in ‘taking the foot off the accelerator of reforms’ are significant pointers. It is worth recalling Sen’s comment in this context to the Wall Street Journal earlier in the year that the Congress is ‘certainly not pro-business’, which Tiwari thinks is not the right attitude since it apparently hurt the party. It is unlikely, however, that any other Congressman will go along with Tiwari since being pro-business is not something which most Indian politicians will like to say about themselves or their party.

Except Modi. Although his attitude is not surprising in view of the BJP’s longstanding reputation as a Brahmin-bania party of traders and upper castes and the urban middle class, this stereotype has been overtaken to some extent by Modi’s emphasis on development driven by the private sector.
Besides Modi, the former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee had wooed the business community to invest in the state in his last days in power. But, it was a line which did not have the approval of his party, the CPI(M), as subsequent comments by fellow-travellers like Prabhat Patnaik showed. It now has to be seen whether Modi can sustain his hold on power. If he does, it will disprove Sen’s contention that ‘lots of people who are pro-business ended up voting for people whose communal and divisive policies they don’t like’. If he stumbles, then Sen’s doubts will be proved correct.
Amulya Ganguli

Amulya Ganguli

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