- Three years on, PM Modi, like Indira Gandhi, has become synonymous with India.
- Those who are privy to the manner talk of this PMO being the largest and the most powerful ever.
- When the polemics is aboare 'Modi versus all', he works the 'We versus the Rest' battle to his advantage.
If there is one thing that has changed since May 2014, it is the way India perceives its government in Indraprastha. Three years after the country's voters - okay, 31 per cent of the electorate, if you must carp - reposed their faith in Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister has only grown in strength. 2017 sees Modi far more in control of India than 2014, when he was, by his own admission, an outsider to New Delhi's power circuit.
But is it the NDA that is ruling India or is it Modi? Popular impression would suggest it is the latter and those who are privy to the manner in which this government operates, would second that. They talk of this PMO being the largest and the most powerful ever. Barring a few ministers like Piyush Goyal, Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, others occupy ceremonial positions.
The buck starts and stops at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg.
What this style of functioning, where most of the government work is monitored closely by bureaucrats in the PMO means, is that it puts all its eggs in the Modi basket. To draw a 70s parallel, it marks the DK Barooah-isation of the BJP, where Modi like Indira Gandhi, has become synonymous with India.
Narendra Modi is Indira Gandhi 2.0.
The 2014 mandate was largely driven by the middle class and the youth, with both segments disgusted with the corruption scandals that kept tumbling out of the UPA 2 closet and the lack of direction. Modi, with his 56 inch chest rhetoric and image as an honest politician, captured the imagination of this significant votebank. But instead of finding the support dwindling at the half way mark and anti-incumbency setting in, Modi has in fact, grown in strength. Post-demonetisation in particular, the poor of this country see him as a messiah, a Robinhood of sorts. That he has been able to communicate this to the people, even if not completely rooted in reality, is his biggest accomplishment.
Not that the government lacks in tall leaders, who have a proven political track record. Before he was announced as the PM candidate, leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and even LK Advani were seen as potential rivals for the top job. But making his moves with the aggression of a Virender Sehwag, Modi made the 2014 campaign about himself. The promise of Achhe din was like a personal undertaking given by Modi to the people of India. There were Advani and MM Joshi as counterpoints to AB Vajpayee in the NDA regime from 1999 to 2004. But three years after winning a historic mandate, Modi is like the Amitabh Bachchan of his government, occupying all the slots from 1 to 75 in his 75-member council of ministers and reducing most colleagues to political pygmies.
The same holds true for the BJP. Modi is BJP and BJP is Modi. Not in recent memory has India seen the PM as the mascot of the ruling party for every election - from Lok Sabha byelections to assembly elections to even municipal polls. The BJP fights every electoral battle on the Modi name and his success, barring in Delhi, Bihar and Punjab, has given him a Baahubalian halo, that of the invincible. Powered by an electoral machine that keeps its nuts and bolts in well-oiled condition, Modi commands the BJP army that thrives on the opium of heady victories. Won by hook like in UP or by crook like in Goa and Manipur.
The 'I' factor also marks the Congressification of the BJP. Where the party needs Modi more than the other way round. The BJP post-2014 is built on Moditva, a combo of the Modi model of centralised governance and Hindutva, where issues dear to the right-wing gain centrestage, even as the PM looks the other way.
But this highly centralised manner of working also comes with its negatives. There is little emphasis on system building. Style wins over substance. Widespread consultation seems to be largely absent and that takes away from the quality of the decision that is arrived at. There seems to be an apprehension in the minds of the powers-that-be that seeking counsel from a wide spectrum of people will show the government to be a confused and bumbling unit.
Take demonetisation for instance. The UP victory may have put the lid of any criticism of the move but the manner in which India was put to inconvenience and there is still little cash available at ATMs now, showed it was a decision that was not thought through. It claimed it will end corruption and black money but five months after the December 31 deadline, are we a more clean nation? No.
Or Swachh Bharat's tall claims. While Modi scored the brownie points talking about the mission from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the tardy implementation on the ground makes it a zero sum game.
Or the government's Kashmir policy. Even Army and CRPF officers deployed in the Valley admit the situation is dangerous, that the hawkish policy on the troubled state is unlikely to get India anywhere. That we as a nation are losing the battle to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary Kashmiri by labelling just about every youth as a stone-pelter, on the payroll of Pakistan-backed separatist groups. Here again, the demigod status of the PM and the presence of the aggressive and often abusive BJP-backed troll army on social media has meant inconvenient questions are not asked.
But this highly individualistic way of operating is exactly the way he functioned as Gujarat CM and he has only replicated the Gandhinagar model in New Delhi. The opposition is forced to attack him and the more it does, it confers the status of a victim on him. When the polemics is about 'Modi versus all', he works the 'We versus the Rest' battle to his advantage. "Woh kehte hai Modi hatao, Main kehta hoon bhrashtachar hatao," he says, dictating the narrative, giving his spin on why the "corrupt" opposition wants to remove him.
Now that the opposition knows what Modi's template is, it needs to tweak its way of opposing him. Textbook battles will not work against Modi. The momentum two years before 2019 is with Modi as he seems set to say "Main, Narendra Damodardas Modi ..." all over again.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:56 PM