Create an environment that is not only receptive to big bang reforms but also sees the urgency with which they have to be carried out.
There is an understandable amount of glee in the way the 24/7 ayatollahs are treating (or ill-treating, the more faithful would say) the BJP these days. They never had it so good since Narendra Modi won a phenomenal mandate in May 2014 despite their best and persistent efforts to sabotage his chance. India’s self-appointed conscience keepers had their favourite accused on trial. It would be very naïve of the BJP and its restive reserves of online supporters to cry foul though for two reasons.
One, it would be a massive understatement to say the 24/7 vigilantes have never been BJP’s friends. So if the BJP expects charity or even a little fairness, it must look elsewhere. Second, the BJP, its ministers, and chief ministers have made some serious mistakes that an unbiased media must be very critical of. If much of the mainstream media has overplayed it, there is little that the BJP can do about it. The best approach is to look inwards.
While the BJP spokespersons have a job to do, their defence of Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vinod Tawde, and Pankaja Munde (in Maharashtra) has been feeble. It is not because of their lack of articulation but because these BJP ministers seem to have committed at least one mistake each. The charge of impropriety sounds very credible in Swaraj’s case. One does not expect such a serious lapse of judgment in someone who had a prime ministerial ambition.
The charge of impropriety and secrecy even from the BJP sticks to Vasundhara Raje also. Chouhan, though he has somewhat redeemed himself politically by recommending a CBI probe into the Vyapam scandal, could have been more alert to the potential of this scandal to snowball into a fatal conundrum. The two Maharashtra ministers– both accused of awarding big contracts without calling in the e-tenders that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had promised soon after the BJP came to power—acted much like the previous Congress-NCP regime that voters in Maharashtra had booted out.
The opposition and media are right when they point out that the people did not vote the BJP and Modi in to continue the status quo. While it is strange that the Congress, of all the political parties, should have ethical issues with the present government, that cannot be a defence for the BJP and Modi. Modi promised change. He promised a different narrative. It cannot be said that there is no discernible change. However, the old sins of what we all cynically call ‘the system’ keep returning to create a perception that the real radical change is still not being effected.
Some of these controversies probably have no resonance with the people. However, they have the potential to slur the credibility of this government in the public esteem and derail the agenda of governance and development. It is therefore wise for the BJP to always keep in mind that they have to face the electorate in 2019.
In a way the controversies could not have come at a better time for BJP and Modi. This government is only little more than a year old and there is still time to unlearn, learn, and make amends. What is the way forward now?
On the charges of impropriety and corruption: let this be the final wake-up call before 2019
While financial wrongdoing has still not been proved in any of the controversies, the charges of moral corruption, impropriety, and a cynical continuation of the old ways look legitimate. Prime Minister Modi and the BJP leadership have made it clear that they won’t be taking in resignations of Swaraj, Raje, and Chouhan. This may be justified as political realism but some drastic corrective measures are in order. The BJP and Modi must use this opportunity to sensitise all BJP ministers and BJP state governments to the dangers of old school politics.
Despite these controversies and the lack of delivery on some counts, people are still invested in Modi’s promise of radical change and development. All BJP ministers, irrespective of their seniority and failed ambitions, must always be alert to the enormous responsibility the 2014 mandate has given. As the Minister for External Affairs, Swaraj has been excellent in making her ministry people oriented and responsive. She has also accepted with grace a Prime Minister who is keen to use his mandate and goodwill for him for greater international dividends for India. This must have been quite difficult for Swaraj and she deserves kudos for this. But the Lalit Modi affair should make her wiser—one error of judgement can besmirch all the good work and good will that she and her Prime Minister have achieved.
BJP’s state governments have to realign themselves to Modi’s agenda. If the BJP in Maharashtra or Rajasthan behaves like the NCP did when it was in power, it would be a betrayal of their mandate. There are human limits to how much the Prime Minister can interfere with and influence his party governments in states. It would also make Modi look like a control freak who micro-manages his state governments. Yet, the voters in states who voted the BJP in because Modi promised them change have every logical and moral right to link Modi’s promise with the performance of their state governments.
Get it right: the Congress-Left-MSM cartel do not like the BJP
The BJP must get this right at least now after the media hounds went after Swaraj and Raje but fell understandably mute when Lalit Modi brought in the Gandhi family. But even as the controversy was unfolding, over-enthusiastic BJP MP Kirti Azad created a new controversy by alleging that Swaraj was let down by the factionalism within the BJP. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh did well to step in and defend Swaraj. Yet the damage had been done.
Every BJP MP or MLA or party functionary from Mumbai to Jaipur to Bhopal to Raipur to Patna to Delhi needs to bear in mind that much of the mainstream media, pathologically anti-BJP, is all too happy to carry and blow out of proportion even unsubstantiated theories of factionalism, back-stabbing, and internal sabotage. They did it when Vajpayee-Advani ruled the roost. They did it when Advani ran for the Prime Minister’s office. They did it all those 12 years when Modi was Gujarat Chief Mnister. They did it when Modi was made the Prime Ministerial candidate. They did it when Modi became the Prime Minister. The BJP cannot afford to be a sitting duck in the way of this gigantic Congress-Left-media machine.
The BJP is much more democratic than every other party in India. It is natural, and even good, to have internal differences, and the BJP has had them ever since it was founded. But there are ways to address and discuss them, and going to the media which has no love for the BJP, is certainly not one of those ways. It’s time to set the house in order and stick together. Purging the BJP of all the impurities that it has acquired because of the general political culture of corruption set by the Congress may be a tall order for Modi.
Yet Modi has already changed the BJP in ways the party and even the RSS could not have imagined only a few years back. There is a definite upward mobility in the BJP for the talented. The party has managed to re-orient the national discourse on the themes of development and governance. The party and the government also seem to be in a better position under Modi to dovetail its essentially conservative character with the demands of modernity and also come out of the shadow of the RSS. So it is not too much to expect from Modi and the BJP that they would truly remember the clichéd but still relevant BJP motto—the party with a difference.
On governance: Deliver what you can. Keep talking about things you cannot deliver.
There is a perception that Modi has perhaps lost the initiative and momentum. The controversies over the last two months have played their part in creating this perception. Even before the controversies broke out there were mild murmurs voiced by the business about status quo. Modi’s incremental approach to change and reform is being critically analysed. The failure to get the amended Land Acquisition Bill passed and the GST introduced has raised questions about this government’s parliamentary skill and political capital. There is some merit in this perception. But there is a way forward too.
Like it must not have any doubts about the mainstream media’s pathological antipathy to BJP and Modi, this government must not nurture any illusions also about the intentions of the Congress-Left consensus. This consensus does not simply want the Modi government to perform and deliver on its promises because it knows that if Modi does deliver there is no stopping him from having at least one more term in office. Their politics has been comprehensively defeated nationally as well as in the states where they were powerful.
It is not their concern for the farmers and commitment to the development agenda that makes them oppose the amended Land Acquisition Bill and GST. They are simply opposing for the sake of opposition and because they do not like the fact that Modi is the Prime Minister. It’s time the Modi Sarkar got this right and looked for other ways to push its agenda.
Needless to say, the amended Land Acquisition Bill and possibly the GST introduction will not pass the parliamentary test at least till the NDA gets a majority in the Rajya Sabha. But this is not the end of the world. Ever since Modi took the office he has demonstrated that his is not a government that has a single-point agenda. In fact, not even the BJP insiders and sympathisers expected Modi to be so focussed on the social and welfare agenda.
Not many political observers have read Modi’s social agenda for what it is—a grand strategy to use technology, political capital, and symbolism, to consolidate the BJP among the poor and the upwardly mobile. Modi is essentially taking away the Congress vote and looking for ways to retain this constituency for the BJP. So the social agenda not only has the alternative appeal when the big bang reforms are not coming through but it also has the political quotient. Modi has demonstrated that his government will not stop functioning if he cannot get some big ticket reforms going. This is a clever strategy and must be continued.
At the same time the Modi Sarkar must not forget the big ideas and the radical reforms. Getting the Land Acquisition Bill passed is one thing and talking about it is another. There is no legislative embargo on talking about the need to have the legislation passed. Modi himself must take the lead here and keep the agenda alive by continuously talking about it. He and his ministers must keep explaining to the people why the land acquisition act is necessary to achieve other goals—Smart City project, Make-in-India, Skill Development, and agrarian reforms.
This would help create an environment that is not only receptive to big bang reforms but also sees the urgency with which they have to be carried out. Modi has to keep on painting a holistic picture as long as he does have the legislative support. Very few Prime Ministers before have had the ability and chutzpah to connect directly with the people the way Modi can. The biggest handicap Modi’s opponents have is that people want to listen to him, and have faith in his ability to deliver. Modi’s time starts now.
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