Year endings are simultaneously about a burial and renewal. The past is buried with a mellow acceptance of failures that were once stoutly denied. And there is creeping excitement about renewing life’s challenges, beginning afresh.
Every year, this week between Christmas and New Year’s Day has a strange duality about it.
As 2018 draws to a close, Prime Minister Modi must be counting his losses. After an untrammeled run of 18 years, over which he did not lose even once to the Congress party, he was trounced in three states, all together. Coming in the wake of a near-loss in his home state of Gujarat, stunning reverses in several by-elections and administrative fiascos in CBI and RBI, Modi’s Teflon has suffered a hairline fracture in this receding year.
Learnings from PM Vajpayee’s “Musings” on 31 Dec 2000 & 1 Jan 2001
I am reminded of 2000 when Modi’s political guru, then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had logged in a bad day at the office. He was smarting at epithets labeling him a “counterfeit moderate” or “closet Nehru-ite”. Parliament was in turmoil, Kashmir spiraling out of control, Pakistan boorishly recalcitrant, and Ayodhya festering, with calls for a forcible construction of the Ram Temple. Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same in our timeless land!
Vajpayee had retorted by penning his political “musings” as his eyes feasted “on the verdant environs of Kumarakom resort on the banks of the sea-sized Vembanad lake in Kerala”. He had exhorted India to realise that “the wrongs of the past cannot be righted by a similar wrong in modern times”.
I reckon the time is ripe for Prime Minister Modi to articulate his musings, and try to alter the narrative of defeat before the stiff elections of 2019. May I suggest that he pitches tent at Kurukshetra on the midnight of 31 December, exactly at Ground Zero where Lord Krishna gave Arjun his updesh (sermon) in the Mahabharata. Perhaps Modi will get equally lucky, and Lord Krishna will deliver him the following Ten Commandments from the New Bhagavad Gita Circa 2019.
First Commandment: Thou Shall Pivot to Moderate, Centrist Politics
Vajpayee mused that “glorious though our past was, a more glorious destiny beckons India. However, its realisation calls for a radical shift from contention to conciliation, from discord to concord, and from confrontation to consensus and cooperative action” (emphasis mine). Unfortunately, Modi’s BJP has broken that centrist consensus. Its instinct is Hindu-majoritarian. It speaks in warm-n-fuzzy clichés, but polarises, often via a deadly, silent acquiescence in violence. It morphs highly sensitive issues, from military strikes to the J&K insurgency, into a triumphal, bullying “nationalism”.
But in 2019, it must pivot back to Vajpayee’s conciliation, concord, consensus and cooperation.
Second Commandment: Thou Shall Concede That Pandit Nehru Is Not in the Fray
Modi’s visceral dislike of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi leads him to folly. His Storm Troopers invent lies and half-truths to prove that all of India’s “failures” can be traced to four decades of “that family’s rule”. Yet when he speaks of India’s greatness – whether in nuclear science, space, industry, or agriculture – he comes across as a leader trapped in perennial contradictions, since all his chest-thumping actually celebrates initiatives started under “that family”.
In any case, somebody needs to tell our Prime Minister that Pandit Nehru died in 1964 and Indira Gandhi in 1984, so hello, please get your opponents and battlefield right for 2019.
Third Commandment: Thou Shall Break Silence on the Ram Temple
Vajpayee mused that his government “will accept, and is Constitutionally bound to implement the judiciary’s verdict, whatever it might be”. But under Modi, there is a gathering threat of an ordinance to nullify any judicial verdict, even as the prime minister keeps a studied silence. That would be as disastrous for India’s plurality as the destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992. Modi should put a firm and unambiguous end to such a politico-legal misadventure.
Fourth Commandment: Thou Shall Break Silence on Followers’ Violence
Even as his political supporters have murdered and lynched Muslims under the garb of “cow protection”, Modi has been quiet. But he must now resolve to set up Special Investigative Teams (SITs) to bring the guilty to a swift and visible justice, in every incident. He must also “unfollow” hate mongers like @AmiteshSinghBJP, @samivarier and several of their ilk on Twitter.
Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Allow Fair Discourse in the Republic Now
Modi should call an immediate halt to proxy political campaigns, run every evening, via incredibly acerbic spokesmen on complicit news channels. He should organise special workshops to give them lessons in civil discourse; and put an end to orchestrated untruths on WhatsApp.
Sixth Commandment: Thou Shall Stop Rewriting History With Falsehoods
Modi’s “intellectuals” should stop rewriting history; they need to concede that Maharana Pratap did not vanquish Akbar at Haldighaati in the 16th century. And yes, Lord Ganesh was not a product of ancient Indian plastic surgery; 5G internet was not invented in the Mahabharata; Swami Vivekanand was never a Hindutva icon; and Sardar Patel was never a Sanghi (RSS activist).
Seventh Commandment: Thou Shall Stop Practising Voodoo Economics
Modi shall instruct his Finance Ministry to quit voodoo economics that creates phantom disinvestments (one government entity buying another to give the illusion of a “real” sale) and spurious back-series of GDP data. He should stop dodging the jobs crisis by inventing “pakoda employment” numbers, or using unrelated Mudra and EPF data. Modi should admit the grievous error in not fixing public sector banks at the peak of his political power in 2014/15. His buddies should stop forcing RBI to print huge amounts of new currency.
Eighth Commandment: Thou Shall Quit Giving Lollipops to Farmers
Modi should not mislead distressed farmers with lollipops of doubling income and higher MSPs. He should craft a bold policy of “one-time loan relief” followed by genuine agricultural reforms, including income transfers, rural infrastructure investments, contract farming, GM crops, and direct linkages with the food retail industry. He should smash monopolistic mandi/market structures that create huge rents for middlemen.
Ninth Commandment: Thou Shall Show Genuine Faith in Free Markets
Modi shall have faith in free, competitive markets in 2019. He will abolish price controls, stop harassing taxpayers and angel investors, enforce international awards, respect the rights of foreign investors, appoint non-IAS regulators, and induct specialists from the private sector. He will heed the cries of small and medium enterprises reeling under the twin onslaught of Demonetisation and GST. He will stop celebrating specious Ease of Doing Business (EODB) “achievements”.
Tenth Commandment: Thou Shall Stop Hatchet Jobs by “Agencies” …
Finally, Lord Krishna finished his sermon thus: Go and get a sense of humour, all ye BJP rulers. A tiny smile goes a long way in disarming political opponents!