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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Nov 11, 2017, 12:54 AM; last updated: Nov 11, 2017, 12:54 AM (IST)

Modi’s headgear changing act

S Nihal Singh
Will it bring back Gujarat?
Modi’s headgear changing act
Poor Fit: The stature of a PM ought to be more than just a keeper of party interest.

S Nihal Singh

CONTRADICTIONS between Mr Narendra Modi the Prime Minister and Mr Modi the street fighter are becoming more glaring by the day. After winning the 2014 general election, he discarded the convention set by his Congress predecessors that senior Central leaders, in particular the Prime Minister, did not campaign in Assembly elections.

 Mr Modi has lustily intruded into Assembly elections for two reasons. He believes he is the best campaigner for his party, which is true. More importantly, he is keen to capture a majority in the two Houses of Parliament sooner rather than later to advance his and the Sangh Parivar’s political agenda.

 What has lent an edge to Mr Modi’s contradictory pulls in the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections is the embarrassing frequency of visits to the two states to bag one state from the Congress and retain the home state of Gujarat.

These elections are taking place after the highly unpopular demonetisation decision of a year ago and how the GST has adversely affected some industries in view of the haste with which the measure was adopted. There is a pronounced nervousness in the PM’s camp on Gujarat, with a more articulate Rahul Gandhi leading the campaign and the contours of Dalits and Patidars combining with the Congress against the long arms of the BJP.

 Mr Modi might well sniff at conventions but it is vital to separate a Prime Minister from his ruling party to govern the country. He can sport a Himachali cap one day and a Saurashtra turban on another, but his impartiality in running the country is inevitably affected by the insults he hurls at the Congress and other Opposition parties.

 Let us envisage how Mr Modi’s double act will influence the nation’s polity. The GST, for instance, is a good measure brought in in haste, leading to a loss of thousands of jobs and much suffering. Demonetisation was, on the other hand, a reckless venture most economists criticise whether one agrees with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s description as a “loot” or not.

The GST has led to many jokes and jibes, with Mr Gandhi leading the attacks. With Mr Modi hurling insults at him every day, it is fair political game. In the larger perspective, it will give a bad name to a good idea. Congress governments have tried to introduce it in the past without success. It is obviously good to have a uniform goods tax structure across the country.

Mr Modi’s obsession with electoral politics and speeding the BJP’s march to majorities in Parliament are having an adverse effect on the democratic structure. Take, for instance, the speculation over truncating, if not avoiding, the winter session of Parliament. It speaks for the BJP’s cavalier attitude towards parliamentary democracy. It is more important for the ruling party to win the Gujarat election than to sit and debate issues in Parliament.

Thanks to the Election Commission, Mr Modi has had a bonanza run in Gujarat bestowing crores of rupees worth of goodies, including the running of a brand-new modern ferry service. One has to remind oneself that it is the Prime Minister, not a chief minister, acting as Father Christmas before the festive season.

Mr Modi the iconoclast might get better of the system, but the ruling party needs to be reminded that healthy conventions are the lifeblood of a democracy and need to be buttressed, rather than wiped out. There might be more advantages for the BJP to try to secure Gujarat than listen to speeches in Parliament but a democratic PM should enforce his party members’ attendance in Parliament.

Do Mr Modi and his principal political aide Amit Shah have a larger plan to subvert democracy? It would appear not because they are concentrating on Stage 1 of their plan to fold almost all states into the BJP palm. No one doubts that as the plan progresses, the RSS will be in the driver’s seat.

In other words, Mr Modi is reaching a fork in his political career after he crosses the Stage 1 hurdle. Is he a true disciple of the RSS which nurtured him into adulthood or does he have a mind or will of his own to assert the country’s interests above the claims of an ideology of mishmash Hindutva? He showed his prowess as Gujarat’s CM but that is only one constituent state not a whole country with its diversity and ethnic and religious leanings.

Thanks to the opportunistic mores of Indian politics, the BJP is receiving defectors from other parties with open arms. Defectors bring their own problems and are ready to defect again if not offered adequate compensation in ranking. Previous establishments have tried to resolve the problem, without success and the BJP’s open door policy to defectors serves it fine in its consolidation phase.

Mr Modi’s cap-and turban-changing exercises are plain for everyone to see. He is the ultimate campaigner symbolising his empathy for his local audience as he expresses his rage against the Opposition. Has anyone computed the expenses involved in the journeys his official plane makes from one election rally to another?

There are many chinks in the Indian practice of democracy, inevitable as the system works itself out. Constitutional amendments are the ultimate weapon. Will the BJP have the patience and sagacity to build a consensus before broaching the next amendment? The BJP Rajasthan Government has already burnt its fingers in trying to enact a law protecting civil servants. As usual, the BJP was in a hurry.

A question being asked in the Capital’s political circles is whether Mr Modi has lost his mojo because he keeps repeating his mistakes. A battle of name-calling with Mr Rahul Gandhi does more harm than good. And the question that needs to be asked is whether his audiences are tired of listening to the same speeches with few variations asking them to condemn the Congress.

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