Within months, India would head for general elections, followed by the formation of a new parliament and installation of a new government. It could happen any time after the start of the New Year; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds the trump card as to when elections could be held between January and May. Modi’s government is into its fifth and last year, and his return to power in 2019 polls is a strong possibility; not because he did wonders as PM but because there is no credible leader to take on him, with a profile matching his carefully built persona over the past few years.
Modi won the parliament polls in 2014 at the height of a frenzy he built up across the country by a jet-set campaign touching down every state and reaching out to every community, giving hope that he could deliver. The four years of his governance has been a carbon copy of the previous Congress governments; high on promises to improve the lives of the suffering millions, low on meaningful action. His major contribution was the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime that was supposed to unify taxation systems in a chaotic market driven by tax evasions and loose style of functioning.
The singular failure on the part of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister is his failure to rein in corruption that had taken on massive proportions during the two UPA governments headed by Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister after the turn of the century. The backseat driving by the then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi might have helped in some respects, but corruption reached its zenith during the period; and both politicians and the bureaucracy indulged in a collective loot of the exchequer. That scenario progressively worsened under Modi, at the bureaucracy level. He failed to rein them in. From the level of village officer to top bureaucrats, everyone made hay under the permissive raj that perhaps had helped Sonia Gandhi the most. She’s out of the party’s leadership, handing over the reins to her son Rahul Gandhi, but cherishes her old practice of backseat driving, now at the party level.
No one suspects of Narendra Modi, a bachelor to be personally corrupt, as power itself is a heady potion for him. To be fair, no one had painted his predecessor Manmohan Singh too as being corrupt. The former professor-turned IMF economist had not allowed himself to be tainted at a personal level, though big scams like the Common Wealth Games fraud, the 2G Scam and the Coal Mines Auctioning fraud happened right under his nose. The needle of suspicion, in these acts, is on someone else, though.
Modi ran the government like the Congress PMs did. What he lacked was a reformative zeal. Changing the name of Planning Commission or giving it a new nomenclature by itself did not mean much. Nor did a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. India’s water bodies, for instance, lie as stinking as ever. Nor did the Ganges turn for the better, even as billions were sunk on it. In matters of social uplift, Modi spoke up for the poor; and so did Indira Gandhi in a more convincing manner. But, no meaningful action came to change the plight of the disadvantaged sections, other than some efforts here and there. Faced with the prospect of a new election at the doorsteps, he is trying to play new tricks to woo the disadvantaged sections: like giving the status of a Constitutional status/authority to the National Commission for Backward Classes; a longstanding demand that by itself might not make a major difference to the lives of the BCs or OBCs.
In fact, Modi won votes last time by promising to safeguard the interests of marginalized sections of the population like the SCs, STs and BCs. He hardly lifted a finger as is also evident in the parliament debate over the Constitutional status bill, wherein it was noted that the Supreme Court does not have even a single representation from the SCs, STs or BCs who formed 80 per cent of the nation’s population. Modi governed, and yet he has not governed in most respects. He has increasingly proven himself to be a bluff-master, providing fodder to the hopes of India’s poor, but leaving them in the lurch, as Indira Gandhi had famously done. The Constitution status bill that was eventually passed by both houses of Parliament is seen as another ploy by Modi to buy the votes of the poor.
Modi’s governance leaves much to be desired. For one, his ministry is bereft of talent. He kept men with mettle at a distance, and certainly out of government. Arun Jaitley as finance minister was a flop; and Modi has frequently changed the railway and aviation ministers. Both the ministries suffered as a result. Nitin Gadkari was seen to be doing a good job, but he is also seen to have profited from the trust the RSS had reposed on him. There was no transparency in the way national highway contracts were awarded, and it jelled well with his image in Maharashtra as being a politician with questionable means. What good Nirmala Sitharaman would bring to the defense sector is anybody’s guess. Perceptions are that she’s not cut for the job.
Not that India did not have talented men with proven experience and expertise. E Sreedhran, who pioneered India’s Metro projects, for one. An administrator of great integrity and talent, his services could have been used by Modi to set the Railways in order. Instead, he was kept at a distance or allowed around simply as an adviser. Had Modi created a second line of efficient ministers, his hands would not have been tied as has been the case in the last four years. It was fine perhaps to run Gujarat the way he did; other ministers having had to act as mere rubber stamps for the chief minister. India needs be governed at a more efficient level. Modi must concede failure on this front when he approaches people for the next round of elections. If he wins the 2019 polls again, he must change his style of governance.
Big talks or oratorical skills alone will not take a leader far. Modi has to rise from the level of a pracharak or concede defeat and stand aside. He cannot, and should not, fool the nation for all the time. His relevance today is also because of the somewhat rudderless nature of the principal Opposition, namely the Congress party. A sad fate for a party that has an all-inclusive approach to matters. Rahul Gandhi is yet to prove he has the grit and determination to lead India from the front. Feelings still persist he is not cut for politics. He’s made of a different mettle. He lacks the cunningness that makes today’s politics tick. His good nature is to his disadvantage. The drama he enacted in Parliament the other day, walking up to the PM’s seat to hug him out of context, and then making the situation funnier by a wink, was among his undoing(s) as a leader. There’s more to leadership.
But, who else fits the bill? Not a Mamata Banerjee, though she’s trying her best to be PM. When she was Railway minister at the Centre, she abdicated her responsibility and spent more time in Kolkata doing politics to rev up the prospects of her Trinamool Congress. The Railways suffered immensely. She’s doing the same as chief minister in West Bengal now. She’s here in Delhi at the drop of a hat, rallying forces against PM Modi and the BJP-led governance. No need to stress again and again that, as a result, West Bengal’s interests are suffering. The Centre cares two hoots about her rants, is prone to delay every file she sends to Delhi from Kolkata, and this makes a further mess of West Bengal’s development.
An arguably irresponsible politician, she has no time to govern West Bengal. Her attempts, a la the CPI(M) to use the Muslims in the state as a vote bank, might sooner or later backfire. She could be between the Devil and the Deep Sea. Outside of her state, she has no fan following. If she addresses a rally in, say, Hyderabad or Haryana, hardly anyone would turn up. She neither has charisma nor charm. She has an image problem across India. Yet, she’s using precious government money to foot the bills for her frequent Delhi trips to unseat Modi.
Ahead of 2019 polls, Narendra Modi might be having a laugh, imagining a political weakling to be set as his rival at the national hustings for power in Delhi. And, what better to say of the brood of southern satraps dreaming of becoming PMs! Where would these selfish politicians take the nation to? Modi, at least, had the RSS-induced discipline in his style of functioning.