Across The Aisle: The familiar sound of the drums

Across The Aisle

Mr. Narendra Modi has come to a long path since 2013-14. Candidate Modi was all about Vikas (development). The bulk of the 31 percent of the electorate that voted for the BJP in May 2014 was swayed by the slogan SabkaSaath, SabkaVikas (Together with All, Development for All). There was another catchy slogan: Achhe Din Aane Wale Hain (Good Days Are Coming). Then there were the promises: Rs 15 lakh in the bank account of every citizen; 2 crore jobs a year; doubling the income of the farmer; minimum government, maximum governance; the rupee trading at Rs 40 to a dollar; a fitting (and final) reply to Pakistan; and many others.

Prime Minister Modi kept up the rhetoric. In his first Independence Day address on August 15, 2014, he proposed a moratorium of 10 years on all divisive matter. His exact words were:

“We have had enough of fights, many have been demised. Friends, look behind and you will find that nobody has got advantage from it. Except casting a slur on Mother India, we have not done anything. Therefore, I appeal to all those people that whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on the social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let’s resolve for once in our hearts, let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for 10 years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions.”

Great Start, Sharp Slide

That was a great commencement. Many anticipated Mr. Modi would be Prime Minister of Everybody. Alas, he did not remain successful to his word. He did not put down with an iron hand the depredations of gaurakshak vigilantes. He did not stop the activities of anti-Romeo squads, gharwapsi groups or khap panchayats. The Prime Minister did not go on air and publicly condemn such impunity. The outcome was growing mob violence, lynchings, and so-called honor killings. Average, decent people began to lose faith in him.

Although the Prime Minister rejected to hold press conferences, and the BJP had successfully tamed vast sections of the media, got editors and anchors sacked and ushered in the era of ‘handout journalism’, questions were raised in the media and critical editorials and op-eds continued to appear. Moreover, nothing could cease the intrepid social media from holding a mirror to the BJP-led government.

Markets are Merciless

The Prime Minister also greatly underestimated the power of the market.

It is the market that first known as the Prime Minister and his government. Markets do not like crude disruptions such as demonetization. Apart from the enormous pain and suffering that it imposed on millions of people and businesses, demonetization caused grave uncertainty, and markets dislike uncertainty and unpredictability in the government’s policy actions. When demonetization was followed by a poorly designed and inefficiently implemented GST, the markets punished the policymakers for their incompetence.

What followed was inevitable: the flight of capital, the slowdown in investment, rise of NPAs, deceleration in credit growth, stagnation of exports, farm sector distress, and exploding unemployment.

During this period, the BJP suffered a severe setback in Bihar. Although it scored a thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, it lost in Punjab, Goa, and Manipur. The BJP got its worse drubbing in a string of by-elections, including in states where it was the ruling party.

In my view, after being check-mated in Karnataka, Mr. Modi decided to shed the garb of Prime Minister of Everybody. He did not even become, once again, Candidate Modi, because the promises made by the BJP had become objects of ridicule and that option was ruled out. Mr. Modi seems to have decided to go back further in time and don the mantle of Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts), which was his USP in Gujarat.

Law for Temple Chorus

The sarsanghchalak (chief) of the RSS, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, blew the bugle when he called for a law to build Ram temple on the disputed site at Ayodhya, notwithstanding the case pending in the Supreme Court. Taking the cue, every Hindutva organization has demanded a law. Some have demanded an ordinance. A BJP MP has promised to move a private member’s Bill. The Shiv Sena has dared the government to bring an ordinance. A Dharma Sabha was convened on November 25 to demand a law. It was announced that the date for commencement of construction of the temple would be announced at the Kumbh Mela on February 1, 2019.

The president of the BJP has thrown helpful hints. Mr. Narendra Modi has maintained a deafening silence. There is a pattern to these actions. Everyone knows that nothing stirs in the BJP without the direction of Mr. Modi, no Hindutva organization moves without the nod of the RSS, and no major decision is taken by the RSS and BJP without an agreement between Mr. Bhagwat and Mr. Modi.

One can pray to Lord Ram before an election and seek his blessing. One can pray to Lord Ram after an election and offer thanks. But when the BJP places its total faith in Lord Ram to win the election, it is a confession that the people have lost faith in the BJP.

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