Ever since Narendra Modi came to power, analysts and pundits have never had respite from deciphering the ‘real’ Modi.
Is he the great communicator who can share his ‘Mann ki Baat’ with millions and galvanize voters when needed (by making them partners in his dreams of inclusive growth), or – like his illustrious predecessor Atal ji, with whom he is often compared and contrasted with – does he have many masks from which he can choose, to suit the audience and occasion?
Where Will Modi Go From Here?
The recent election results to state assemblies have lent a much sharper edge and urgency to this question. Where will he go from here? Does he really mean what he has said about “accepting the people’s mandate with humility”? Will we, in the days to come, witness a course correction and rejection of divisive policies? Or this too is going to be another jumla? Will the game of ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ continue to be played?
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The electorate in the states that went to polls have not only voted out incumbents, they have also spoken out loud and clear, that people are no longer swayed by hate speeches, crass appeals to caste solidarity and religious zealots spewing venom.
Issues related to their bread-and-butter are top priority. Gender justice, farmers’ distress and an economy in the doldrums – neglected by the BJP – has resulted in the humiliating debacle suffered by it.
The regional satraps, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, have hastened to bear the total responsibility for the loss. (Vasundhara Raje has maintained a more dignified silence).
But images of BJP party president Amit Shah and a saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath, refuse to fade away. The bragging and boasting continues to reverberate, and will haunt the BJP for some time to come. No one in the BJP seems to have the spine to ask why these powerful leaders have not found it fit to echo the words of the PM. Aren’t these strategists at the top not responsible – at least partially – for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?
‘Allowing’ Free Reign to Gau Rakshaks
Prime Minister Modi has managed to retain his clean image – but barely. He has not – till date – made an appeal to voters on grounds of religion or caste. At worst, he has hit out at the dynasts and Rahul Gandhi’s ‘not-so-soft’ Hindutva. But uncomfortable questions persist.
Doesn’t the buck stop with him? Can the motor mouths in his party continue to rampage without license from him? He has warned the cow vigilantes more than once, without much effect.
Does this mean that hooligans masquerading as gau rakshaks enjoy the protection of the ruling party and know well that the PM really doesn’t intend to bring them to book? When the UP government states that it prioritizes the investigation of cow slaughter over the ‘accidental death’ of a police officer on duty, claims that the BJP is a custodian of constitutional dharma, begin to ring hollow.
Allowing ‘NPAs’ to Thrive & Shunting Out Erudition
Narendra Modi will have to make some painfully hard choices in the days to come. So far, he has, for reasons best known to himself, allowed spectacularly non-performing assets in his team like the finance minister (FM), a free run of their domains. Despite serious health problems, the FM continues to be considered indispensable.
The RBI is in a mess because FM Arun Jaitley thinks that the central bank is just another department, subordinate to his ministry.
Successive chief economic advisers, and the hand-picked Niti Aayog chairperson have left rather suddenly, and found their tongue to criticise this government’s decisions like demonetisation, and a slapdash implementation of GST.
There are many other cabinet colleagues who have not distinguished themselves in the past four-and-half years. Some have have been shifted and shunted, others have fallen by the wayside.
In the process, the principle of joint responsibility of the cabinet has been in tatters. At least one minister has resigned, citing his disappointment with the manner in which even minsters are treated. The remarkably articulate foreign minister has effectively been grounded. She, at least, has had the grace to declare her retirement from electoral politics.
Modi Needs to Walk the Talk
None can deny that PM Modi continues to be more charismatic than any other political leader with an image unblemished with taints of personal corruption. At the same time, allegations of ‘crony capitalism’ and following pro-rich policies are gaining credibility. Even allies have joined the chorus initiated by the Congress, accusing the BJP of ‘blunders’.
2019 is knocking on the door. Time is of the essence. Forget the loose talk about ‘mukhotas’, Modi must speak up and walk the talk.
The Prime Minister of India can’t risk being identified as a partisan cadre worker. Modi has no choice but to reclaim the inclusive development agenda he mesmerized Indians with in 2014.
(Padma Shri awardee Professor Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic, food critic and historian. He tweets @PushpeshPant. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)