An image-making exercise for a political leader is highly intricate. It can be sustained and improved upon in the public eye, provided there are no gaps in promises and performance. BJP leader Narendra Modi captured the people’s imagination when he shifted from Gandhinagar to New Delhi with his tarnished 2002 image as Gujarat Chief Minister. The people still wonder how he managed to transform his public image so dramatically.
His strength then was all sorts of promises he held out to the people at electoral rallies in 2014. He clicked with the people since they were looking for drastic changes in the light of stereotype working of the polity under the Congress leadership. Also, they were looking for the leadership profile that was charismatic and forward-looking, and not cast in a traditional mould.
Let me recall a Latin proverb that states: an army of stags led by a lion would be more formidable than an army of lions led by a stag. To say this is not to debunk some outstanding Congress leaders, both in pre and post independence India. Even the present Prime Minister looks mediocre vis-à-vis those stalwarts. What could be the reason for the paucity of talented leaders these days?
A simple answer is that the country’s political atmosphere, over a period of time, has got vitiated to such an extent that most capable persons these days prefer to shun politics like a plague. Not that we don’t have promising young persons in our midst. But they get marginalized by undesirable and petty operators and power-brokers. Today, the politics of expediency rules the roost with the result money power amidst the mafia syndrome has come to the fore. Politics is no longer a means to serve the people, but to make money and grab power.
In this context, I wish to recall the words of Ian Bremmer, the President of the world’s leading political risk consultancy, Eurasia Group. He said in May 2019 that “Modi is India’s best hope for economic reform”.
Surprisingly, according to “The Print”, Bremmer has changed his position and has said that India under Modi is the fifth biggest political risk of 2020. The reason for this, according to him is: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spent much of his second term promoting controversial social policies at the expense of an economic agenda”. He further talks about the “impacts of such policies”, with “intensified communal and sectarian instability, as well as foreign policy and economic setback”. Those who are well versed about Shaheen Bagh related events, would not dispute these observations.
The Eurasia report discusses how since PM Modi’s re-election in 2019, opted for “contentious” social agenda. Bremmer and co-author Cliff Kupchan tell us about how Home Minister Amit Shah is responsible for this “radical policy shift”. The authors have said how the protests have “spread around India due to citizens’ fear of India” (under the BJP government) losing its “secular identity”. It also states that regardless of growing protests, “Modi will not back down”.
This assessment comes as a rude shock since the Eurasia Group had been bullish about India’s prospects since Modi was elected in 2014.”
In his article for Time, he has said: “Narendra Modi was India’s best hope for economic reform. Things have changed”.
I am not sure whether we should call the latest phase of economy as synonymous with “policy paralysis”. However, the Union Labour Ministry data released in May after the Lok Sabha election shows that 7.8 per cent of all employable youth “were jobless”.
It must be stated that low private investment has been a major concern for the Modi government despite its efforts to revive the economy. Private investment is said to be at “a 15 year low in the quarter ending June 2019”. It cannot be denied that the country is faced with “economic chain reaction”; “loss of jobs means less money in the hands of people leading to less consumption which, in turn, affects production in factories. When earning goes down, inflation shows upward trend. And retail inflation affects the aam aadmi directly.
The BJP leaders have blamed the Opposition parties, the Congress in particular, for fuelling protests and accused them of spreading “lies and rumours”. Since the BJP government at present has adopted one-India line agenda of “no going back”, one cannot be sure whether any purpose would be served by taking a position on sensitive social issues and economic slowdown. I keep my fingers crossed and try to keep my hopes alive for PM Modi’s promise of acche din (good days) for the economy.
Interestingly, for the international community, the dominative narrative of India under PM Modi, rightly or wrongly, has been a story of economic success, not on account of religious violence and repression. Looking beyond, I firmly believe that amidst all sorts of socio-economic problems there is enough resilience among our people who can tackle successfully the non-glitter zone of the Indian divide. Still, the country needs today a sharp sense of direction and a focused response to the uplift of the poor and the downtrodden.
Of course, democratic institutions are expected to be fair and seen to be fair. The credibility of the system of governance in recent years has suffered since it has been misused for partisan gains. I am of the view that time has come for PM Modi to evolve a credible system of governance and make our democracy function efficiently and transparently for the greater good of the people, both Hindus and Muslims. This is the one way to handle Tsunami type socio-economic problems.
I still have firm faith in PM Modi, even though I believe that Amit Shah is not the right choice for him. As for PM Modi, he has to show the courage of conviction and guts to set the right pace for the Indian polity of tomorrow. Also, PM Modi ought to appreciate the basic truth that Indian democracy cannot be run as someone’s and any political party’s fiefdom.
I must say PM Modi has of late acted firmly and decisively on the question of tackling corona- virus (covid-19) in India. He has also taken a major initiative to mobilize SAARC leaders to plan a joint virus fight. My regret is that he has not done much to revive the Indian economy. I hope sooner or later he would realize that healthy economic growth is the only way to strengthen India’s place in the comity of nations.
Over to PM Modi. It must be said the definition of liberal democracy is incomplete unless it gets translated in social and individual contexts. So, democratic governance has to be broad-based with a focus on the promise of justice, liberty and equality in order to make all sections of the people feel secure and contented!