OPINION | Is Modi a liability for BJP in 2019?

OPINION | Is Modi a liability for BJP in 2019?

The Leader Falters: The NaMo sheen has worn off, and questions are being asked

Modi’s time is over

Assessing the status of Narendra Modi today is easy if one looks at only his work and its impact. He has been a non-performing prime minister, with neither the ability to understand what policy and programmes are needed nor any deep knowledge of India that he so aggressively claims to represent. An incapable administrator, he mixes up the priorities and needs of the State with his own. Modi has turned into a sorry figure.

But it gets difficult to assess Modi if one is influenced by the relentless, orchestrated, highly funded and unashamedly amoral projection of the image of a great, strong and delivering leader. It is carefully crafted, works through the political economy of a collaborating State and crony capitalism, masquerades as a ‘nationalist’ project and professes to work for majoritarian interests.

Many people have found it difficult to emerge from this grand illusion. This is where he still draws whatever support base he is left with. While his propaganda works, on ground his achievements are disappointing. As he builds on his great talent to remain divisive and his government underperforms (while the State usurps for itself a cocooned space of power and its misuse), fails to satisfy any of the aspirations of the majority, and makes a mess of institutions, trying to turn them over to individuals who will serve him, rather than the institutions and their mandates.

His elevation to prime minister was celebrated much by people, by administrators, by business-persons and by media. It is in this that lies the mess he has landed himself -- and the nation -- in.

This was an image designed around the oldest and most crass attractions of human beings -- strength, virility, patronage, lust for power, couched in the veil of benevolence, identity and religion. To most who voted him and the BJP to power, a carefully constructed image swayed them – an image based on a twisting of our two pasts, the construction of an imagined glorious past, then interrupted and destroyed by all that was represented by the immediate past, a past that we are to be ashamed of and troubled by.

This kind of image meant everything to everyone one – as most messiah-like images do. So, the poor got hope from imagery of a prosperous Gujarat, the middle class liked his projected ability to bring prosperity and benefits of the market, administrators believed a stronger State would save them from democracy and accountability, and the majoritarians felt their deepest prejudices and their notions of identity, pride and hate would find respectability and legitimacy.

It was only the rich, and big business, who read him clearly. For them, there was finally a leader committed to business, the market of politics and financial policy, open to the highest bidders. They went for him, and it has paid off for them.

The problem in this image was even more because Modi himself believes in his projected image. He sold various images -- the Gujarat model, the Pakistan destroyer, the Muslim vanquisher, the job giver, the saviour of the ‘weak’ majority, and so on. His reality, in complete contrast and now emerging slowly from the blinding lights of advertisement and media shrieking, has become his greatest weakness. His self-assessment has become his greatest liability.

Swachh Bharat fails, because the PM believes that just giving an order will deliver the programme, and that it is more important to sound out an initiative than to plan one. His economic policies benefit only a handful; and his dramatics, with steps like demonetisation, only show how cheap politics can hurt people and nations. His belief that only he can end poverty flounders as he has shown no understanding of the dynamics of poverty, of livelihoods, of the interplay between resources (natural, financial and institutional) and the conflict of the resource poor and the resource rich. He is therefore unable to handle the crises enveloping farming, labour, rural non-farm, small enterprises, small traders, and so on.

His policies, directed by his desperate desire to benefit his cronies in business and finance are turning into happy hunting grounds for the rent-seeking and profiteering behaviour of the economic elite, and the police and civilian bureaucracy. 

Where he does meet with some success, of course, is in the traditional government delivery programmes like Ujjwala, PM Awas Yojana, etc., but here his mismanagement of the economy has left him with hardly any money to sustain and scale up these initiatives.

The poor are disillusioned as Modi no longer offers hope of delivery from their unsustainable livelihoods, shrinking farm lands, inadequately rising labour wages, low administered farm prices, cash shortages, decline of local manufacturing and service units. The farmer has got nothing except promises; tribals feel cheated as their forests, lands and their identities are being overwhelmed by the industrialist, the trader, and the RSS; Dalits finds no resonance of their issues in Modi’s social or political priorities. Worse, the gains of their struggle for equality and human dignity have been reversed; the workers finds their prime minister in opposition to their needs, and their modes of struggle, like unions, being systematically weakened; the youth, easy to be lured by calls for ‘change’, feel cheated by the tremendous inequality and lack of sustainable and decent jobs; women are still looking for safety, an equal world and  sustenance in daily lives; and, finally, the BJP worker is no longer confident that Modi will deliver even the one thing he was capable of delivering so far – votes.

Caught with each of his pet initiatives faltering and with no ideological guide to help him, he is turning into our most disastrous prime minister yet. Modi’s time is over.

(The writer is a former Congress MP and Secretary, All India Congress Committee)


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