With Narendra Modi completing two years in power at the Centre, there is little for the country to celebrate about. While economy is stagnant and inflation is beyond control, banks are reeling under NPAs, writes Harish Gupta
The Narendra Modi Government is soon going to complete two years in office as in 2014 midsummer, Modi’s NDA swept to power on the crest of great popular expectation. Yet, in what can be described as its late youth, the Modi government still fails to inspire confidence; rather, it resembles a dissolute person who refuses to learn from experience.
As it approaches ‘midlife’, it becomes more and more brazen with institutions and rules. Much of it centres on Modi’s hatred for the Congress, the main opposition party, beginning with his invective that he’d like to see a “Congress-mukt (or Congress-free) Bharat”. His irritability to the presence of the Congress even in far-flung and minor states was evident last year when the Union Government, assisted by the loyal Governor of the border State of Arunachal Pradesh, laid out an elaborate plan to topple its Congress Government with the help of ‘dissident’ MLAs. The plan succeeded but not without the smoke and mirrors of a conspiracy—complete with the Governor attempting an assembly ‘floor test’ in a five star hotel, the Union Cabinet holding meeting on a Sunday to recommend President’s rule under Art 356, and it being revoked as soon as Kalikho Pul, the main dissident leader, had obtained the required number to form the next Government. A last word on this adventurism is yet to the written as a Supreme Court ruling is expected anytime.
After ‘liberating’ Arunachal from the Congress rule, the Modi administration turned its attention to Uttarakhand where it turned out to be fatal this time round. At the end of a 50-day-long tug-of-war between Uttarakhand’s Congress chief minister Harish Rawat and the Centre, it was Rawat who had the last laugh. Following a powerful intervention by the High Court, and a robust judgement of the Supreme Court that stuck to the knitting of the SR Bommai Case (1994, it held that promulgation of Art 356 is subject to judicial scrutiny), Rawat not only regained his Chief Minister’s seat but dealt a powerful blow to the BJP.
Modi’s obsession with the Congress is now affecting his clarity of judgement on issues that are less personal and of more immediate concern—like a stagnant economy, a retail inflation which is proving more stubborn than earlier projected, and a banking system reeling under NPAs or non-performing assets. It is at this juncture that Subramaniam Swamy, BJP’s one-man army against the Congress, has entered the fray. He has begun a vilification campaign against RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. He is known as a crusader against inflation and respected globally for his nose for coming economic crises. But Swamy’s vitriolic outburst against Rajan, that he be “sacked”, is both offensive and puzzling. Why did the Prime Minister, who had seemed to hold Rajan high in his personal estimation, did not discipline Swamy? Is it because Swamy was targeting a man put on as high a pedestal as that of the RBI chief by the Congress? If so, it is a pity because the BJP lacks economic talents and Rajan is not only a renowned central banker but a tough sheriff to control the loot of banks by crony capitalists.
However, having seen the Congress humbled to 44 Lok Sabha seats after the 2014 general election, there was little need for even a ruling party wedded to a ‘Congress-free India’ to act in a tizzy. With 57 Rajya Sabha members having retired last week, 14 of them from the Congress, the party’s strength in the upper House may even dip low enough for the BJP to finally draw level with it.
Besides, Congress is out of power in all but six of the 31 states, while two others, Kerala and Assam, are poll-bound. Instead of lying low for the present due to tactical reasons, the administration is actually giving local and regional parties enough provocation to rally with Congress in future. A recent example of a past critic of Congress turning a new leaf is the ease with which the two BSP members of the Uttarakhand Assembly hugged Congress MLAs, their rivals, before the floor test of Rawat’s majority at the Dehradun in the Assembly.
Modi and his advisors are perhaps hoping that Congress president Sonia Gandhi might get mired so deep in the Augusta-Westland controversy that, in a parliament with a near-silent opposition bench, it will be cakewalk in the next three years till 2019 poll. Pro-Modi activists are perhaps drawing parallels from recent history, particularly with the effectiveness of the 1989 campaign against the late Rajiv Gandhi in the thick of the Bofors payoff allegations. But the inherent reason for the Congress rout under Rajiv lies not just in the scam report but in the more compelling fact that the party was without any major ally when the crisis was taking shape. Despite getting a massive mandate of 411 Lok Sabha MPs, Rajiv Gandhi’s advisers allowed the Left to join hands with the BJP and messed up every issue; be it Shah Bano, Babri, Sri Lanka’s Tamils or Bofors. The final nail in the coffin came from forces within the Congress.
The BJP under Modi is also drifting towards a similar alienation. In Bihar last year, and West Bengal now, the Congress is winning friends. If the BJP can put up an impressive performance in Assam as the results are declared this week, it will be due to its alliance with AGP and Bodoland People’s Front. In the Uttar Pradesh election next year, the chances of a Bihar-style anti-BJP mahagatbandhan depends on just how much Modi can avoid confrontation. On the day of election, voters after all prefer achievers, not swaggerers and hyper-combatants.
-- The writer is Editor, Lokmat group