THE ASIAN AGE. | S NIHAL SINGH
Does Mr Modi have a roadmap beyond the victory post-2019?
How has the Republic fared with Prime Minister Narendra Modi steering the country towards the general election of 2019? It has been a mixed record, with the willingness to take decisions trumped by ideological blinkers and a propensity to think of the virtues of Ram Rajya.
The Sangh Parivar leadership has not quite reconciled itself regarding how far to take the concept of Hindutva in ruling a heterogeneous and multi-ethnic country. And Mr Modi has to engage in battle with the Sangh Parivar to win his hand in the cause of governance each time.
Two major decisions merit attention — the sudden move for demonetisation of a huge chunk of our currency and the hasty introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.
The first decision was Mr Modi’s own prescription for the evils of black money and it has badly misfired, slowing down the economy, while the GST, an essential measure that earlier Congress governments had failed to bring in, was imposed somewhat post-haste.
The demonetisation scheme was essentially Mr Modi’s idea, and although he talked it up as a kind of poor man’s revenge against the rich, the poor suffered the most. There has been no suggestion of apology on Mr Modi’s behalf on slowing down the economy and its numerous other consequences.
Given the fact that Mr Modi’s is a cohesive government, compared to the loose coalition headed by Dr Manmohan Singh, it takes much less time and debate to take decisions, a welcome relief. Indeed, the alacrity with which New Delhi can take decisions on certain major issues comes as a major boost.
In the field of foreign policy, Mr Modi has built on the country’s record, considerably enhancing ties with Israel and becoming the first Indian PM to unreservedly welcome Israel into the hall of nations. Mr Modi has decided that India’s defence and geopololitical links with the Jewish state are important enough to be concentrated and the risks minimal as the Sunni monarchies are also reaching out to it. In any case, Mr Modi is due to pay a visit to the Palestinian territories soon.
The question that needs asking is whether the Prime Minister has a central idea of what India is all about. In looking at the future prospect of a Hindu Rashtra, this aim is bound to be distorted because the very premise of a Hindu
India is wrong. How far will the new framework be imposed is something that remains to be seen.
There is a businesslike characteristic about the present Narendra Modi Cabinet and there is certainly the feeling that its members are being tested in their jobs. A few have lost their portfolios. Among the heavyweights, finance minister Arun Jaitley and home minister Rajnath Singh are the most self-assured.
Does Mr Modi have a roadmap beyond the victory post-2019? Judging by his exertions in Davos and elsewhere, he is rustling up plans for a major internal manufacturing spree on the basis of abundant foreign investment. But circumstances have to be propitious for such investment because men with money and resources have options.
In this conflict in his mind over the kind of India that is desirable, Mr Modi seems to have decided to concentrate on the mechanical, rather than the ideological, aspects of ruling India to run the country’s affairs. There is enough work to be done in a variety of fields, with reforms in the judiciary only one end of the problem.
The essential point is that the Modi government has not fully grasped the enormity of the problem he faces in changing the direction of giving India a Hindutva facelift, which is contrary to the direction set over 70 years of its independent existence. And the Sangh Parivar is adamant that it should be brought about.
Essentially, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are now concentrating on the prospects of the 2019 general election, with the state parties in play and the wooing of such regional parties as Chennai’s AIADMK.
Indeed, the clear objective since it came to power in 2014 was to consolidate its electoral hold in every way it can and it even deprived the Congress of victory in states like Goa and in the Northeast by some clever footwork. For the BJP, everything comes after the results are in.
Is there chemistry behind the rise of the BJP? The Congress had lived a long political life in a democratic framework, thanks to its leadership calibre and the nationalist cause that it espoused. But the Congress was turning careerist and getting flabby. It was revived in quite another sense by Indira Gandhi, who lived to see a brief glorious phase of the Bangladesh war.
When the time came, the BJP was waiting in the wings, the first time achieving power in a coalition under Atal Behari Vajpayee, until Mr Modi claimed a majority of his own in the 2014 election.
Is the room for major reforms over? It would seem so because the Modi government is heavily engaged in ensuring a victory for the party in 2019.
What the Modi administration is reluctant about is to open old wounds. The kind of Hindutva that should be brought about will no doubt be the subject matter of much debate and will go through its various layers of authority to be adopted. It would appear that Mr Modi has given himself some room in which to manoeuvre, should the Sangh Parivar luminaries prove to be difficult.
In Gujarat, he had shut the Parivar out of the state’s economic agenda. But as Prime Minister, he cannot seek Gujarat’s shelter as the stakes are much higher in his present job. It is the first time that the Sangh Parivar has the option of building a Hindutva India.
The country will enter a new phase after the 2019 polls, and it will be an entirely new ballgame.