by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
After watching Narendra Modi in action as Prime Minister for 19 months, it is difficult not to marvel at the conflicting qualities, and ambiguity, in him! A reference to “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is unavoidable. Narendra Modi, as a matter of fact, appears to be a strange combination of a karmayogi, the strong man of action, and a picture of indolence. This dichotomy in Modi that has paralysed most of his ministers and bureaucracy so soon after his stunning electoral victory in May 2014. And now, as the curtain is about to drop on yet another washout session of the parliament, the astonishing mismanagement of affairs at the top has, ironically, turned the table on the Congress, last year’s loser. The smart cookie of yesterday now seems pitiably outsmarted.
The swings in Modi’s fortunes are just mind-boggling. Earlier last week, he and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, after signing billions of dollars worth agreements, went to Varanasi where the two watched aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat to the chant of “har har Mahadeo” and “Modi, Modi” by the crowd. And, before the week ended, another crowd was yelling “Modi teri tanashahi nahi chalegi, nahi chalegi”, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi marching down the road to the Congress headquarters and later to the Patiala House court which granted them bail in the National Herald asset-grab case. In just a few days, the Congress, reduced to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha last year, seems to be turning the table on the ruling party.
Ironically, most of the ‘credit’ for it rests with none other than Modi’s ministers. Whenever abroad, Modi has performed like a rock star. Be it at New York’s Madison Square Garden or in Silicon Valley on America’s west coast, he has etched India’s signature on the mindscape of the US in big bold letters. Among the Indian diaspora everywhere, he is a cult figure. Among western leaders—be it America, Europe or Japan—he is a reliable ally. And, increasingly, even hostile neighbours in Beijing and Islamabad are finding in Modi the Indian leader they could perhaps do business with.
But Modi in inexplicably unable, or unwilling, to synchronise the political actions closer at home. His reputation at home, as it were, rested on a host of future expectations, the most critical of them being that the drought of jobs begun from the second UPA spell would finally disappear. But the economy reached a tipping point, and job creation was conditional upon a new generation of reforms, most of which required cooperation of the state governments and the Council of States, or Rajya Sabha. Job creation depends on investment—both public and private. Investment began drying up after 2010 as reforms were stalled, mostly because of the obduracy of BJP, the then chief opposition party. And now is BJP’s payback time. The Modi government is being accused by the Congress and assorted opportunity-seeking parties of “vendetta”, but vendetta requires two sides, not one.
The fact that Congress would stonewall every move initiated by the BJP-majority Lok Sabha was obvious from day one. But Modi refused to recognise this elephant in the room. There was no major progress in fulfilling Modi’s electoral pledge to ensure development of every sector; yet the fringe elements of his party started behaving as though they’d been mandated to set their own agenda, and that they were free to spew venom. Neither the BJP and nor the Modi government learnt any lessons from the humiliating defeat in Delhi in January 2015. No wonder that the BJP got routed in the Assembly election in Bihar in November 2015.
Liberal in his conduct abroad, Modi, however, maintained his brooding ill-humour in his own dealings with the Indian minorities and the Opposition parties particularly when the Parliament session is on and he is keen to get his reform agenda through. The trust deficit recently escalated beyond all bounds. While Modi met Sonia Gandhi to get the GST bill passed in the Rajya Sabha, he looked the other way when the charges against the Gandhis for alleged criminal irregularities in the transfer of ownership of Associated Journals Limited, the company owning National Herald, the Congress newspaper, were being pressed by a private complainant. Initially, the BJP took the stand that it had nothing to do with it. But soon the entire bandwagon of the ruling BJP started swimming with Dr Subramanian Swami. What added fuel to the fire was the allotment of a government bungalow in the Lutyen’s Zone by the Modi Cabinet. It was a political blunder by the hardliners in the Modi government because Finance Minister Arun Jaitley publicly maintained that he had not seen the National Heral case documents. But it gave Sonia Gandhi a grand opportunity for staging some sort of an action replay of the game that the late Indira Gandhi had played in 1978 by turning a foolish detention of her by the police under the then home minister Charan Singh into a nationwide cry to bring her back to power. “Indira lao, desh banchao”. Small wonder, then, that Sonia Gandhi has not forgotten to remind the nation that she is “Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law”.
As if this face-off was not enough, the NDA government stepped up the offensive at all levels. At Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP-appointed Governor spun a web of conspiracy patently aimed at replacing the Congress government by a BJP government through age-old horse-trading of MLAs. And, in the midst of it all, a CBI team of investigators raided the office of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s chief aide, triggering a volley of personal abuses for Modi from Kejriwal. It escalated as Arun Jaitley, regarded as the most liberal face in Modi’s inner circle, was dragged into controversy for alleged corruption in the Delhi Cricket Association when he was in charge.
Modi is a very calculative, sharp and has a fore-sight. He has learnt it hard way during his 13 years in office in Gujrat. Either he is playing to a plan and his ministers and party has no clue or he is still an outsider to the Lutyen’s Zone. But he must also know that politics is essentially adversarial and it is not an arena for giving a bloody nose back to the guy who gave you a bloody nose before the last election. It is not an endless circle in which two parties are engaged in the sport of getting even with each other.