Grip over govt, party

Grip over govt, party

Modi is still doing a tight-rope walk with the RSS; and since the Sangh gave him unstinted support in the election, he has to tread carefully.

Having made a break from his divisive and controversial past with his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s main challenge is the sky-high expectations he has aroused. Moderating them is easier said than done. Delivering on the promises—smart cities, bullet trains, creation of jobs and infrastructure--will take time.

He has to sustain the hopes he has aroused to retain the support of the people, if he is not to start losing momentum. With his Red Fort speech, he, with his incredible ability to connect, did precisely that.

In the last weeks, people, even as they gave him time, had begun to crib about the price of tomatoes, the PM’s invisibility, and lack of impact of the new government. His August 15 address has regenerated momentum as well as hope.

It will be also left to BJP’s new president Amit Shah to grapple with the ground realities of Indian politics like caste and religion and use “saam daam dand bhed” (the craft of realpolitik) to ensure that the BJP grows in strength  in the states going to the polls in the coming months.

Whether Modi can maintain the momentum he started will depend on the party’s ability to wrest states from the Congress and its allies in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, which go to polls in the next few months.

Shah delivered the BJP 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats and this made it easier for Modi to get Shah, with whom he enjoys a rare rapport, installed as party chief. In all likelihood, Shah will use the same winning recipe in the state elections, and has already knuckled down to constituency-level planning with the BJP’s state teams to go for the jugular.

In his two major speeches since he took over as PM - one at the BJP’s national council to formalise Amit Shah as BJP President, and then from the Red Fort - Modi gave an inkling of what has occupied him during the last two and a half months. Modi’s first weeks, he said, were engaged in getting “saaf safai”(cleaning up) done.

He had been stunned, he said, at the disarray in the government structure he inherited, with ministries run like fiefdoms, some of them litigating against each other in courts, whereas the government was meant to be an “organic” entity.

He has insisted that bureaucrats—as also ministers—report to work on time every morning. He is believed to have called up a minister to question why she was late to office every day, as it set a bad example to her entire team.

With his protege Amit Shah firmly in place, Modi exercises a complete grip over the party today. In the Cabinet, he is more than the first among equals, taller than his ministerial colleagues, who cannot even appoint PAs of their choice without clearance from the PMO.

Being an “outsider” to Delhi, as he has described himself, he is relying heavily on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who enjoys his confidence and is familiar with the power equations of Lutyen’s Delhi, and moving through his half a dozen race-horse ministers.

Toilet revolution

Soon after taking over, Modi had insisted on the government offices being cleaned, and from the Red Fort he flagged off a five-year plan to rid India of filth in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary the country will observe in 2019. It has the potential to electrify India, as do the construction of girls’ toilets in all the schools in the country.

The toilet revolution will have a spin-off effect on girls’ education, particularly of those from the deprived communities, their health, anaemic levels, their weight and thereby the weight of the babies they deliver and consequently the levels of malnutrition in the country.

With bureaucracy in awe of him, his political colleagues quiet, the party under his belt, a new executive-judiciary balance in the offing following the enactment of the law to appoint judges, and with media allowing him a honeymoon period, Modi has already put in place the systems he wanted, which have given him a free hand in a very short period of time. 

However, the information flows are not what they used to be during the UPA rule and except two or three senior leaders like Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javdekar, BJP leaders no longer talk freely with media persons in Parliament’s Central Hall. With the RSS, he is still doing a tight-rope walk, and since the Sangh gave him unstinted support in the elections with its cadre working round the clock for Modi’s victory, he has to tread carefully.

On the economic front, one of the reasons why Jaitely’s Union Budget was dubbed a “UPA III” Budget, disappointing industry and foreign investors, was because the FM decided to move cautiously, mindful of not antagonising the swadeshi lobby within the RSS.

The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is on the warpath against the labour reforms proposed by the government. The government is already under attack for its decision to open up defence and railways, up to 100 per cent to FDI, and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has opposed the trials of genetically modified crops.

Modi seems to be pursuing a policy of give and take with the Sangh. He is making them happy by steps like the inclusion of Savarkar and Syama Prasad Mookerji in the film telecast by Doordarshan on August 15, ending the Independence Day speech with Vande Mataram, visiting Pashupatinath temple in Nepal etc. The new BJP team announced by Shah clearly carries the stamp of the RSS.

But economic reformer Modi has also opened the door wide to foreign investors in the manufacturing sector, when from the ramparts of the Red Fort he exhorted them to come and “Make in India”.

 He sees this as the only way to generate employment, but he associated it with nationalism by selling the dream of a “made in India” being hailed by the global community.

(The writer is a political commentator)