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SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN | 4 NOVEMBER, 2015

BIHAR POLLS CRUSH THE BJP FIG LEAF OF DEVELOPMENT, UNDERCURRENT OF 2014 NOW IN-YOUR-FACE

BJP hoardings in Patna


NEW DELHI: With much at stake in Bihar’s assembly elections, now in their final round – and with his vacuity of vision exposed --Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows he has no recourse in sustaining his leadership than setting citizens against each other.

PM Modi’s political career could have been terminated in 2002 when he was just beginning the first of many innings as chief minister of Gujarat. As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agonised in public over brutal communal violence in Gujarat and resolved within inner councils to hold the then Chief Minister of the state to account, Arun Shourie as a minister in the Union Cabinet is believed to have advised differently.

There is abundant surprise then that Shourie should today be among PM Modi’s most vocal critics from within the ideological fold.

What has changed? And if Shourie was capable of loyalty that defied reason when PM Modi urged on the violence in Gujarat, what could possibly account for his disillusion now?

Personal pique at being denied a position of authority in the Modi dispensation is a possible explanation, one that for obvious reasons the BJP prefers. Manifest incompetence – and a Prime Minister’s failure to find a political formula different from 2002 – is probably another.

Development was the gloss PM Modi applied over an incurably divisive persona during his presidential style election campaign last year. It was a transparent overture to the business lobbies and those of infirm convictions, an assurance that he alone held the key to open the pathway to prosperity clogged by Congress misrule.

Intensive micro-management of constituencies provided the substratum on which Modi won his parliamentary majority. An unsubtle play on sectarian loyalties was the key to sweeping BJP victories in the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar battlegrounds, where the Prime Minister’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah fashioned a variety of stratagems to splinter social coalitions formed over the years. In that milieu of strategic confusion, the high voltage, insistent rhetoric of the development messiah drowned out all sceptical voices. It was key to this strategy to trigger a storm of innuendo around the so-called “love jihad” -- about Muslim designs on gullible Hindu girls – that was a lethal ingredient in fomenting the Muzaffarnagar riots in September 2013.

Since assuming office as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has withdrawn into make-believe, of imagined foreign policy triumphs, while talking up the development agenda through fanciful slogans.

A year-and-a-half into his tenure, the agrarian situation remains bleak. His government has no strategy to mitigate the damage a deficient monsoon has caused to livelihoods across vast parts of the country. Financial inclusion was a hugely hyped programme bearing Modi’s personal signature -- in fact, the first time he stepped out of his foreign policy bubble to try and deliver on development promises. And of the 70 million bank accounts begun as part of the scheme, at least 50 million remain inactive.

Meanwhile, a global expert body has deplored the disappearance of healthcare from the government’s policy priorities, even as the celebrity fervour fades over sweeping streets in the cause of universal sanitation, and Bollywood’s reigning king, Shahrukh Khan, adds his voice to the protests over the intolerance seeping into everyday life.

The higher education sector is in a state of unrest over appointments made, unmade and yet to be made. Leadership positions have been destabilised but fresh choices deferred because a sufficient number of credentialed persons do not exist to implement the ideological agenda the government is committed to.

Beleaguered research students in the universities meanwhile, storm the citadels of higher education to protest arbitrary decisions withdrawing even the minimal financial support they enjoyed.

This recounting of development failures does not yet begin to reckon with rapidly snowballing expressions of condemnation of the growing climate of intolerance, from writers, scientists, historians and even individuals such as N.R. Narayanamurthy, the info-tech billionaire who has been an icon of the entrepreneurial spirit Modi seeks to foreground within his development agenda.

So what went wrong? The simple answer is: nothing. The BJP and its leader are merely implementing an agenda that has been long in formulation. What was an under-current during the 2014 campaign is now overt and in-your-face. The gloss has been wiped off and the development pretence exploded.

The ideological masters of Hindutva dictate that reservations as an element of social policy have to be banished. In PM Modi’s rhetoric, the damage potential here is transformed into active incitement of insecurity among the poor and the marginal who have a stake in reservations, an accusation that his political opponents intend to withdraw their benefits and gift-wrap them as a gesture of appeasement to India’s Muslims.

PM Modi’s loyal servitor and BJP president Amit Shah, fights back against growing premonitions of electoral disaster in Bihar by suggesting that a neighbouring state, Pakistan, has a vital stake in ensuring the Indian Prime Minister’s defeat. Another senior party member declares that a victory for anybody other than Modi would mean that all would be compelled to consume beef, in violation of a supposed taboo of the Hindu faith.

When the Haryana chief minister M.L. Khattar blurts out what is lurking deep in his mind – that those of the Muslim faith would have to earn their place in India by accepting the dietary norms he dictates – Shah reprimands him not so much for propagating hatred and ill-will, but for complicating the BJP’s campaign strategy in Bihar.

Incitement is perhaps the only element of clarity and consistency in this incoherent babble from the ruling party. And just to ensure that the message is clear, the Prime Minister has darkly hinted at a terror module nurtured in Pakistan, nestling within the safety of Nitish Kumar’s administration in Bihar.

Once on this pathway, there is seemingly no retreat. The BJP and its leader will just have to keep raising the heat of their rhetoric, quickening the pace to remain where they are. Without a resolute political response, the Bihar elections could well be the threshold at which the illusion of development is transformed into the reality of endless disorder.

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