Year of campaign and conquest
The year 2014 is in its last week. Despite being a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I cannot help but decorate him with the ‘Politician of the Year’ award. I would like to put him on a high pedestal for having effortlessly slipped into the role of the conqueror from challenger.
For the Prime Minister, the year could be neatly divided into two halves. The first five months, he lead a blitzkrieg-like campaign. In the remaining parts, he has spent time consolidating his position in New Delhi. In today’s notebook we will discuss Modi tenure in the high offices of New Delhi and not necessarily reflect on his ability to govern India. As mentioned in these columns earlier, six months is too short a period to pass a judgment on the functioning of a government.
The year 2014 began with the collective leadership of the Congress, with Sonia Gandhi as party president and Manmohan Singh as head of government, falling apart. The induction of Rahul Gandhi as vice-president a year earlier with great fanfare at the party’s convention in Jaipur, did not prove to be of much help. The Congress were routed in the polls for the four legislative assemblies held between November and December, 2013.
The Congress failed to learn its lessons from the rout in the assembly polls. Instead of showing sensitivity to the genuine frustration of the people with rampant corruption, unbearable inflation, feudalistic arrogance of its representatives, leaving behind a chaotic national scene on the security and foreign policy fronts and a declining economy, the party worked more towards diverting the advantage of people’s anger from accruing to the BJP to the third force, Aam Aadmi Party.
While Congress strategists thought that AAP could play the role of shock-absorber, the civil society group proved to be an absolute non-starter in the Lok Sabha polls, where it harmed its interest, more than those of its opponents, especially in Punjab and Delhi.
By the end of last January BJP leadership had started to build-up its campaign around the persona of Narendra Modi. He was projected by the party as the leader capable of leading the nation out of the ‘morass’ that it found itself in. The people lapped-up the campaign and Narendra Modi led the BJP to an unprecedented majority in the Lok Sabha, the first by any political party since 1985. With much fanfare, Narendra Modi took charge as the Prime Minister, wherein he began efforts at strengthening his position as the leader of the party and that of the government. With Manmohan Singh as prime minister, the biggest casualty was the functioning of the parliamentary government. I had mentioned in these columns earlier that nowhere in the world does the chief executive of a democratic state act as a stenographer of the head of the ruling party. There are instances in history, even in Indian democracy, of powerful rivals of the political executive within the party. However, never has a prime minister been dwarfed the way Manmohan Singh was by party president Sonia Gandhi and her heir Rahul Gandhi. In order to protect the interests of those who were stakeholders in the party, the government failed to stop the scams and push welfare laws. Narendra Modi, on the other hand, was seen as the unquestioned leader of his party, who enjoyed the confidence of the people to end policy paralysis in the government. As the head of the government, he was expected to be not hostage to any extra-constitutional power.
To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has managed to prove so far that he is the master of his government. In managing to keep his seniors in party like Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi out of the process of governance, considerably sizing up the stature of his potential rivals like Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh and getting his protégé Amit Shah appointed as party president, the Prime Minister has shown the abilities of a shrewd politician.
On the question of government being supervised by extra-constitutional powers, as has been alleged by his political rivals, the Prime Minister so far has managed to keep the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) at a good arm’s distance. Though the Opposition has pointed out a sudden rise in the “social and cultural activities” of the Sangh Parivar, the truth is that so far Nagpur (where the Sangh has its headquarters) has been blamed for the activities of some fringe elements. Though there has been a prolonged logjam in Parliament demanding a guarantee from the Prime Minister against the activities of the right-wing loony elements, Modi has shown astuteness in not issuing a warranty card. He understands that in espousing the agenda of development and financial reforms, he is going to face stiff resistance from within this group too.
Therefore it suits him that numerous Nagpur progenies remain engaged in “acts of social and cultural” reforms, leaving the government alone on the more important issues of governance and financial management. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch have already expressed their reservation towards Modi’s flagship projects like ‘Make in India’.
The challenge before the Prime Minister is to keep a balance between ideological expectations of the Sangh and the physiological needs of an impoverished economy.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post