Capital Grapevine  
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

After fixing broken plumbing , Modi stuns Opposition with poll-eve measures

Only a couple of months separate the prime minister from a fresh mandate. Soon after taking office in May 2014 Modi had appealed to the Opposition to allow the government to function for four years and to `play politics in the last year before election’. And now he has begun playing politics in right earnest --- though the Opposition, which did not heed him, started creating all manner of obstructions from day even one as he engaged in fixing the broken plumbing of the governing system. Small wonder, then, it is now scurrying for cover.

The ten percent quota in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker in the general category showed how he had obliged a reluctant Opposition to fall in line. Despite insisting that the proposal was `yet another ~jumla~, they still found it hard to oppose it, the extraordinary vote in the Lok Sabha with 323 ayes and three noes testifying to their helplessness, nay, hopelessness. They feared the constitutional amendment could yield electoral gains for the ruling party, yet they lacked the courage to oppose it.

Now, we are told, the government is set to come up with many such `master strokes’ in the few remaining months before the model election code is enforced. The much talked about universal basic income scheme could be a real game-changer. Recall how the then UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav feared the unveiling of such a sop on the eve of the 2017 UP Assembly poll. It is different that the BJP pulverized him and his new-found `bua’ Mayawati even without the UBI, deflating the pompous Yadav to such an extent he did not recover his public voice for a long time.

Imagine if the same UBI, which Yadav had feared could be his nemesis ahead of the last Assembly poll, is actually unveiled on the eve of the upcoming parliamentary poll. The poor and the disadvantaged voters getting an assured monthly `dole’ of, say, Rs 2,000, every month in their Adhaar-linked bank accounts could do the trick for Modi, especially on top of all the goodies which he has delivered in the last four-plus years, including cooking gas, household electricity, millions of subsidized homes, toilets, village roads, etc.

The real problem with the city-centric commentariat, especially the media, is that its gaze is confined only to major urban centers. And since it rarely, if at all, stirs out deep into the interior, it has no way of knowing how the lives of rural women have changed thanks to the provision of LPG-fuelled ~chulhas~ and easy loans for their men who are largely self-employed vendors or craftsmen providing small but essential services to the people. Let us leave the farmers’ plight for a moment because it is a long-running saga of misdirected freebies and an intrinsically skewed agriculture policy.

Due to the focus of the government on improving the lot of the poor, especially in small towns and villages, the urban-based middle class, which had all along constituted the Jana Sangh-BJP’s core base, did feel neglected by its first party of choice. Demonetization and GST too hurt this segment of the electorate. But the troubles caused by the twin shocks are well and truly behind it. Indeed, the government has begun to address its grievances. The ten percent reservation is the first of many steps in a conscious effort to win back its trust. The easing of the GST norms and raising its threshold for small and mid-level businesses too is meant to bring round the sullen trading community. Indeed, the ten percent reservations assuage the fears of the people who felt that a major chunk of the cake was earmarked for the reserved categories. Now that it too is getting its own protective net, it will have less reason to feel complain.

Admittedly, quite aside from good governance, winning elections also entails managing popular perceptions. Here again, despite manufactured scams and scripted rhetoric expressed through the ubiquitous social media handles for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress dynast has offered little evidence for him to be taken seriously. Learning the basic tenets of Hinduism from the likes of Shashi Tharoor, he of the sweat equity fame, cannot establish embellish his self-proclaimed credentials as a ~ janeudhari~ Shiv Bhakt. He continues to muddle through various challenges presented daily in a nation-wide polity. For instance, his party unit in Kerala openly defies the Supreme Court in the Sabarimala case while at the party MPs from the State are barred from sporting black bands to protest the surreptitious smuggling of two women in the dead of night by the Marxist government into the temple complex.

Whether the Shyam Pitroda-monitored internet groups, which unleash a daily volley of canards against Modi, without in any way denting his image for absolute probity, can transform the image of Pappu to an adult politician capable of offering mature leadership remains to be seen, though post-Assembly poll the joy of the `kept’ Delhi media to celebrate the arrival of their messiah did not surprise anyone. However, Modi seems to be acting according to a game-plan which is being implemented in stages in order to mesmerize the country, to convince it that a second five-year term is in everyone’s own interest.

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A self-denying lament

There was a minor storm in the media’s teacup the other day over an editorial in a Kolkata daily which, as is its wont, excoriated the Modi Government for its alleged clamps on the freedom of the press. Ironically, the newspaper itself is proof that such fears are grossly exaggerated. For, its lay readers realize how twisted it has become in its news coverage, distorting any and everything to hit out at the Modi Sarkar, while turning a blind eye to the doings of the Mamata Banerjee Government. Having become a virtual extension of the AICC, sensationalizing mistakes of the Centre, real or imaginary --- mostly imaginary ---, it has ceded a lot of ground to its rivals. Nonetheless, it was rich for it of all the media outlets to lament the so-called fetters being put on the free press.

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Business trumps yoga

Yoga guru-turned-entrepreneur, the bearded and saffron -robed, Ramdev, says he is no longer sure whether Modi will come back after the next general election. Whether he was talking as an astrologer or as a yoga guru is hard to tell, but he was certainly talking as an entrepreneur whose business has grown from a few hundred crores of rupees annually to nearly Rs. 10,000 crores in the last four years.

Since a businessman is prone to hedge his bets, fearing trouble should the wrong party come to power, Ramdev casting doubt on Modi’s return makes sense. He is keen to protect his business interests, especially against inquiries into the grant of hundreds of acres of land by the BJP governments in Assam, Maharashtra, UP and Uttarakhand, etc, just in case a non-BJP government came to power.

However, if Ramdev is not fearful of his business interests, the question he should answer is: Will he or will he not campaign for the BJP as aggressively as he had in the last election? Otherwise, we will be right to conclude that his primary business interests have come to overshadow his yoga persona.