Time Modi modified: don’t take democracy for granted

Time Modi modified: don’t take democracy for granted

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, performs rituals at Sangam, the confluence of the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna, at Allahabad. PTI

There is a brilliant saying in the Mahabharata by Duryodhana: “Discontent is the root of fortune!” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s setbacks in the assembly elections in the three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were the perfect gift for Rahul Gandhi as he commemorated one year as Congress chief. Not only does Rahul’s comeback in the electoral space matter, it’s a formidable proclamation that his party and he, who were being written off, will fight neck-to-neck with Modi in 2019.

For a man who came to power with a roaring win in 2014 with the first single-party majority in 30 years, what went wrong? Is the BJP’s ‘Vijay Rath’ slowly grinding to a halt? Is Modi’s call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ falling on deaf ears? I will not say the recent voting was pro-Congress, it simply looked more anti-BJP.

Since coming to power, Modi has used a ‘perform or perish’ mantra in administration. As they say, life comes full circle. It’s now Modi’s turn to face the same mantra, one that was mirrored in the recent poll results. Then again, Modi alone cannot move mountains and a nation’s policies and governance cannot be centred around the personality of one man.

As a nation with the world’s largest youth population — more than 600 million — India has massive transformative potential, an idea Modi has been selling since the day he took office. They are looking for change and will no more be prey to false promises. In building a larger-than-life image for Modi, the BJP’s star campaigner, the party has lost touch with the ground.

While Modi is busy marketing his idea of building a ‘New India’ by 2022, a corruption-free India, jobs to two crore youth every year, price rise under check and several measures for the benefit of farmers, has he forgotten that he has to face the nation at polls a few months down the line?

He may have created some massive ripples in terms of GST and demonetisation but unless his government takes some concrete steps to address the problems palpable at the grassroot levels — alleviating rural poverty, lifting up farmers, the unemployed, small traders and tribals and resolving urban and rural distress — a victory in 2019 looks like an uphill task.

When it comes to state politics, the game plan is different. No matter how phenomenal you may be at the Centre, when it comes to voting at the state level, the common man votes for the leader who is immediately accessible to him and who has shown his governance qualities through the work he has accomplished in his constituency.

A survey soon after the 2014 elections by the National Election Study clearly showed that more than half the respondents said that the party mattered but the top reason to vote was ‘good leadership’. This evidently showed that Indian voters might vote for the party, but the person at the helm matters the most to them. Yet, the math is simple — when a party loses favour with people, the leader’s personal popularity alone cannot pull it through. Congress learnt this lesson quickly. Rather than projecting just Rahul Gandhi at the fore, it changed its style of functioning by presenting a number of leaders, both local and central, such as Sachin Pilot for Rajasthan.

Also, in a bid to dethrone Modi and defeat the saffron party in 2019, the minor parties from different schools of thought and from diverse backgrounds have joined hands in support of the Congress. Possibly, the only viable path the Congress party sees to take down Modi is to make as many friends as possible, a tactful move that’s already showing results.

Over the last few years, Rahul Gandhi has been derided as ‘Pappu’, a novice in the game of politics, while Narendra Modi has staked a great deal on his personal equations with leaders of major powers. I wonder how Modi overlooked that when someone is ridiculed like that for long, people start to feel sympathy for him or her? Rahul Gandhi, despite being intimidated constantly, emerged each time and fought back heroically. He has been consistent in his opposition to Modi and Amit Shah and their brand of politics.

But do not underestimate Modi’s prowess. He knows full well that whoever is at the helm  has to overhaul a supremely complex, multi-layered and largely paralysed economy that has been subjected to limited microeconomic reforms. For now, with general elections looming large, the BJP top brass needs to quickly revise its line of attack. They cannot afford displeasure in the party caused by doubt, blame game and ill-advised adventures like demonetisation.

Nor can they ignore the power of democracy — the people give everyone a chance to perform. In 2014, Modi was full of promises — jobs, progress, development. Today, he is being questioned on the results. On the other hand, with Rahul having moved to the top, Modi’s attacks have ironically helped him automatically acquire the status of the main contender. Large crowds at election rallies are no indication today that the same people will be with you tomorrow. It is ‘perform or perish’. 2019 is going to start with varied possibilities. Take nothing for granted!

(The writer is an entrepreneur and former vice-chairperson, Nasscom Product Council) 

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