3 Years of PM Modi: The Ground Beneath His Feet
NEW DELHI: Work on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Grand India Project (GIP), a tower that will wow the world once ready, chugs along nicely.
Perched on the heady height the structure has already achieved, PM Modi, the project’s visionary and nationalistic lead promoter, chief architect and master builder, finds his detractors relegated far into the distance, his tireless mind and body contemplating still newer heights, and a sizeable section of the electorate invested in his political ascent seeing in it the possibilities of its own deliverance. At least that is what the Bharatiya Janata Party and a voluble section of the commentariat would have us believe three years into the project launch.
All good then? Well, not exactly. A few recent, and other foreseeable, developments suggest that, perhaps drowned out by cheerleaders’ din, the scaffolding that has enabled Modi’s ascent may just be getting a little creaky. No, these have nothing to do with instances of institutional subversion, crackdowns on dissent and individual liberties, crude efforts to rework history, or rising hostility against Muslims. There are not agendas that detract from the project’s appeal. Fencing out liberals, secularists, leftists, beef-eaters, etc.,. is a USP, not flaw, of his GIP’s design.
The developments being alluded to are those that could end up disappointing PM Modi’s electorally-crucial ‘plus’ followers, the ones who saw him less as a Hindutva mascot and more of a credible good governance enforcer, someone who could be trusted to keep the GIP site safe and its execution and future corruption-free.
A 56 inch chest and a hefty demonetization premium were meant to ward off threats from left wing extremists, Kashmiri insurgents and their Pakistani sponsors. Instead, the situation in Kashmir has deteriorated, provocations from the Pakistan side continue, and a terrible tragedy has been audaciously perpetrated in Sukma.
These may not have sparked complaints of breach of promise yet but have certainly led to murmurs around the chest size’s deterrence value and the rationale for the demonetization premium. More of the same, sadly imminent given the obduracy and muddle-headedness marking the handling of internal security issues, won’t conceivably hearten Modi backers (or anyone else for that matter).
Trouble brews on another site, that of the Grand Uttar Pradesh Project (GUPP). Yogi Adityanath’s innings at its helm, after causing extraordinary excitement in certain newsrooms, has started floundering rather quickly. The excesses of gau rakshaks and anti-Romeo squads may not be hot button issues in UP’s current climate, but the extension of gau rakshak and other violence to (Hindu) dalits, policemen and police establishments has marked an uncomfortable crossing of line in several minds.
After all, immediate restoration of the rule of law was central to the Modi-Yogi’s duo GUPP pitch. The optics of that resonant promise being mauled by those considered close to the new project holders can’t be good, especially since UP is more in the national eye than before. Which sane home buyer welcomes the prospect of the builders’ henchmen running amok in their community?
To be accurate, Modi’s current positioning (and that of Adityanath in UP) remains enough to paper over the antics of the Hindutva Brigade. It remains to be seen though whether it will sustain if gau rakshaks and other sanskriti protectors continue to operate with impunity. If that happens, at some point, there will be the risk of a pattern of lawlessness and anti-Dalit conduct being read into their exertions - and questions around whether PM Modi and Yogi can check the streaks of exclusivism and high-handedness among their own flock. That can only dampen the overall pro-Modi mood, given the propulsion Dalit outreach efforts and a tough administrator image have offered it till now.
There are also potential risks of alienating two important constituencies in a business-as-usual scenario. The current pace of job creation and the on-campus shenanigans of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad are unlikely to add to PM Modi’s following among the youth, some of whom are his GIP’s loudest cheerleaders. And the continued demonization and often public humiliation of government servants in the name of tightening governance (being seen in UP particularly) - and their fears of being made scapegoats for the GIP’s slippages - can only cause heartburn among another influential group.
One also senses a creeping fatigue in the manner news of the recent spate of corruption charges against a host of opposition leaders has been received outside television studios and the social media. Without going into the merits of the cases being made out, there is an emerging feeling that PM Modi’s war on corruption is fuelled less by righteousness and more by vengefulness, especially since similar investigative zeal hasn’t been demonstrated when it comes to allegations of corruption and crony capitalism against those perceived close to PM Modi. The need for training the lens on corruption in high places is indisputable but whether the exclusive, relentless and often questionably-timed focus on opposition notables will add to PM Modi’s stature and credibility as an anti-corruption crusader isn’t.
Home buyers’ yardsticks for evaluating projects change with time. Their initial investment decision is based on project features and builder credibility but satisfaction levels during the execution period depend on the progress they see, and the final assessment - and reinvestment decision - draws on whether the home finally handed over matches the sales pitch.
And this is where the challenge lies for PM Modi. His GIP was marketed well in 2014, the progress reports being furnished suggest that the project is on course (hence, the endorsement in a series of assembly and local body elections) but come 2019, the electorate will take a call on something totally different: whether it has delivered a more habitable space. The realization that the project proponent’s energies were disproportionately spent on jazzing progress reports and the outcome is not a magnificent tower - but only a castle in the air - would be most disappointing.