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Modi wave: the tide is turning

Jagdish Rattanani, Oct 16 2017, 0:03 IST
Sensing the mood, the prime minister is today aggressively trying to defend his government. But he has a tough sell, as the national mood moves from blind acceptance to active scepticism, if not plain derision. Reuters.

Sensing the mood, the prime minister is today aggressively trying to defend his government. But he has a tough sell, as the national mood moves from blind acceptance to active scepticism, if not plain derision. Reuters.

It is too early to know if it’ll be the road downhill for the Narendra Modi government from hereon, but the tide is turning and there are signs that the BJP leadership itself is alarmed at how swiftly the ground has shifted. The “56-inch” self-congratulatory prime minister continues to remain the raconteur of rosy scenarios, except that a dwindling number of people are buying his picture because the canvas is already blotted and soiled.

The ill-effects of a host of rash moves like the rushed implementation of the GST, the harebrained scheme of demonetisation, the non-action on black money and corruption, the lack of direction on ballooning non-performing assets of public sector banks, have come together to give us fewer jobs, lower growth and a weak outlook.

Coupled with tall tales and big promises, they make the picture look even grimmer as public patience wears thin, particularly since the nation has been giving, and forgiving, in allowing the BJP the benefit of doubt in all its adventurous initiatives. The party stands damaged and Modi himself more so.

Sensing the mood, the prime minister is today aggressively trying to defend his government. But he has a tough sell, as the national mood moves from blind acceptance to active scepticism, if not plain derision.

The immediate test of Modi’s standing will come in Gujarat, which goes to the polls in December and where the political ground has also moved, thanks to the frustration of the trader community with GST, the ‘patidar’ agitation, and a state leadership that has little political standing. Opinion polls have predicted a BJP landslide. The BJP still pulls the crowds but there are also reports of the kind seen on October 7 that people started leaving the meeting even as the prime minister spoke.

The Congress had its share of the story by playing the image of a newspaper tweet that reported the walkout. The newspaper deleted the tweet but the Congress played it up on its ‘#DaroMat’ handle. This gentle jab by the Congress is new, again an indicator of some change in the air.

At a larger level, what is happening is a remarkable about turn -– pent up energy from the ground is rising to challenge the narrative of the establishment, puncturing particularly the prime minister in the unlikeliest of places and on the unlikeliest of platforms – erstwhile supporters, stand-up comedy performers, fact checkers, poets are adding their voices of protest, subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle.

The force of this tide appears to be such that the bhakts and trolls are unwilling or unable to contain the damage; having honed their skills and spent their energy pelting stones and heaping venom on soft targets, these voices stand defanged in the face of what appears to be growing and disparate voices coming out to express their discontent at the state of affairs. This is a delayed release of piled up anger, and it carries the potential to explode and unleash forces that can challenge and alter the political landscape significantly.

Unqualified leaders

Today, more and more people are engaged in scooping out nuggets that leave little doubt that the party and the person who have come to lead this nation in the 21st century are uniquely unqualified to do so, a combination of ignorance, arrogance and the steadfastness of belief that any policy is good just because it is untried, untested, even wild.

A clip doing the rounds particularly stands out for what it tells us about the thinking that is at the root of this government’s missteps — the complete subjugation to the idea that myth-making, fairy tales and a muscular presentation are what makes for progress and power. This is a clip from May 2, 2013 at an event in Mumbai organised by the Indian Merchants Chamber and the All India Business Council. Modi tells the audience of the time he had advised the then prime minister Manmohan Singh to launch a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. And he admits, quite candidly and shockingly, that no one will travel on the train.

He knows that, he says, but argues that India must have the train to “show our strength to the world,” to show that “we are no less,” a position that might fit the textbook definition of a pretender. In his prepared remarks of that day in Hindi, the assertion that no one will travel on the bullet train ends with an exclamation mark. The text also compares the need for a bullet train with the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, speaking again of a show of strength and its significance, although the video clip that shows him speaking does not have the R-Day reference.

What is worse, as the election season nears, the lure to sell more promises, combined with an undue focus on selling the message, will land the party in more of the same: run with a rhetorical flourish, pack a punch, go for the jugular. This strategy to dominate works when there is a sense of listlessness and inertia in the incumbent. But now, the BJP is the incumbent.

Equally, Indians may tolerate excesses, but they will do so only for a limited time and with a limited agenda. When loud talking becomes an end in itself, when power is centred around a few, and responsibility is given the go-by, initial acceptance will turn to fatigue and then anger.

This is because the DNA of India is democratic; India can progress only through an “innate belief in democracy” and not through “dictatorship” or “a powerful person who believes in concentrating power at one place”. And guess who said that. Was it not Narendra Modi, mouthing punchlines for a ‘Time’ magazine cover? Old habits, they say, die hard!

(The writer is Editor, SPJIMR)

(The Billion Press)

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