By Cynthia Stephen
When the Modi campaign juggernaut swept the country in the last general elections (Was it really held just less than two years ago?), emotions ran high, encouraged by media hype, the anti-incumbency wave and euphoria generated by the saffronisers who felt that their bid for power had finally been realized. His post-victory visit to the banks of the Ganga and the high-voltage ceremony on the river’s banks was an eye-filling spectacle in the best of Bollywood traditions. It took some more sober number crunching to show that the Modi government had taken a majority of seats with just about 30% of the popular vote overall – and thus was more due to a fragmented opposition and its petrified campaign response than any real up-swing in the popularity of the BJP.
After the initial 4 to 6 months’ leeway we all began to look for new policy directions, investments in social sector and industry, and an improving profile in the world. A new-look cabinet was sworn in and was expected to start implementing the government’s poll promises.
What did we see instead?
A PM who started jet-setting all over the world, and has probably logged the highest-ever flying miles in Indian political history in the shortest time. The event management that characterised the poll campaign was also seen in the organization of events in the US and UK, Australia and other places where there is substantial Indian diaspora.
A sense of flamboyant defiance was evident in these events since the US and UK had earlier not been too welcoming of Modi due to the taint on his public record caused by the Godhra incident. France has the most to be grateful for, as Indian Air Force orders saved the failing French aeroplane manufacturer Rafale by giving it a boost with the order for its fighter planes. And Modi asserted this by forcing public embraces on a reluctant French president, whose body language left no one in any doubt of his dislike of the same. Footage of Modi pulling Mark Zuckerberg aside when he came between Modi and the video camera during a visit to Silicon Valley went viral.
The affair of the monogrammed-suit with Modi’s name woven into it in golden colour thread did serious damage to more than the hard-won sartorial image of Modi, earned with his large collection of natty multi-coloured short-sleeved kurtas and sleeveless waistcoats worn over slim-fitted Churidars.
While Modi was on his whistle-stop tours around the world, from one world summit to another, at home the plot was coming unstuck.
Electoral fiascos in Delhi and Bihar, saffronite Sangh Parivar types with rubber-mouths who made amazing statements and got away without even a rap on the knuckles, babas who were accused of raping the minor daughters of their devotees, swamis and sadhvis who made outrageous remarks on public platforms in the full glare of the media only to be defended by insiders to the government, lynchings of innocents from the minorities, the withdrawal of University scholarships which is the mainstay of disadvantaged 1st-generation literate youths attempting to acquire higher education forstered an "Occupy UGC" campaign, use of excessive force against poor protesting Dalit students ultimately caused the suicide of a brilliant young scholar of Hyderabad Central University snowballing into a country-wide university ferment, violent repression with water cannons of peaceful protesting students in the height of a Delhi winter, vicious attacks by policemen in plainclothes on photographers, false accusations of anti-national activities and sedition charges against the elected student representative of JNU – the list is endless.
The Home minister and his officers react to a fake tweet from a twitter account saying it is Hafeez Sayeed’s and Hafeez Sayeed himself put out a tweet saying “Alleging me (sic) for #JNU based on a fake account in my name is a prime example of how Indian government fools its own people”. We agree.
As an article in the Hindustan Times points out, JNU, the premier University in the country, has alumni all over the world and at all levels within the bureaucracy in India itself. Further, it has projects with any number of universities the world over. What message will be conveyed to the world of government, policy making and big business if ill-informed boors are allowed to mess with the administration, academics and student body of this important institution in India?
The Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Chief Economic Advisor of the government are in polite disagreement on the state of the economy. And the metrics of the GDP are now being tweaked to show growth still around 7+ percent. This, when oil prices - the biggest component of India’s foreign exchange bill - have been on the downslide ever since the Modi government came into power. The slow-down has been creeping for three quarters, and the growing NPAs of the nationalized banks have finally come out into the open.
And no marks for guessing who the biggest offenders are : some of the most well known industry leaders are part of the list, according to a report by PwC commissioned by ASSOCHAM. Some of the most stressed loans are by leading players in the mining, telecom and infrastructure sectors. “Mining ban in some Southern states, cancellation and re-auctioning of telecom airwaves, and uncertainty in the allotment of natural gas from the KG D6 basin to the various industries” are some of the reasons mentioned, citing uncertainty in the volatility of regulatory mechanisms. Clearly this involves almost all the major players in Indian industry.
The most telling instance is the fact that the GST bill is yet to be passed in Parliament, despite there being broad consensus on its contents. The only reason for the delay is the lack of capacity of the government’s political managers to work with the opposition to get the work done on the floor of the house. The lack of political finesse in the team and their inability to overcome their propensity to score political brownie points against the Gandhis is the main reason for this, according to Manmohan Singh who came out with a strong critique of the Government on February 13.
Overall, the Modi team has been covering itself with embarrassment at all levels. The fiasco of its inept and ham-handed response to a series of protests in various institutions of learning in India, from the FTII to the IIT-Madras to the HCU to JNU over the past several months shows that the cabinet ministers have not learnt much from the outcomes. Indulgence in brinkmanship with issues involving young people in the country’s premier educational institutions can only have a negative outcome for the government. For a democracy in which the demographic dividend is just kicking in, the NPA government has to tread cautiously, since its popularity graph has been headed steadily south for the past year. With major electoral battles coming up in crucial states during 2016 and the all-important UP in 2017, time – and the tide- appears to be running out for the Modi government in Delhi.
The author is an independent writer and policy and social researcher based in Bengaluru.
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Correction: The earlier version pegged the cost of Modi's suit at 'one-crore'. This has been corrected.