Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
IN 2010, when the Sunday Guardian weekly was launched by the eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani and the accomplished editor M J Akbar (who is now Minister of State for External Affairs in the Modi Council of Ministers), there were very few newspapers and magazines that were sympathetic to Narendra Modi,then Chief Minister of Gujarat. At that time, Ram Jethmalani was among the very few distinguished names in India who were openly in favour of Modi becoming the BJP nominee for the Prime Ministership of India, this despite a close friendship spanning four decades with L K Advani, the then front-runner for the role. Even business houses were chary of being openly identified with Modi.
When the Sunday Guardian brought out a 20-page special supplement in 2011 that showcased exactly why Narendra Damodardas Modi would make an excellent Prime Minister, several of the business houses now fawning over Prime Minister Modi refused to give advertisements for the special issue. They were clearly nervous of attracting the ire of Sonia Gandhi, who would have frowned against any friendly portrayal of a political leader whom she attacked on a daily basis, even going to the extent of calling him a “Merchant of Death”. However, It must be said that the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) under Modi worked with the efficiency of clockwork, which is why Modi enjoyed an all-India reputation for effective governance. After the 2014 victory of the BJP in the national elections, a small social media group clustered around Modi rushed to claim credit for the victory.
The fact is that they were irrelevant in the final result, which was 70% caused by the extreme unpopularity of Sonia Gandhi and 30% by the image of Modi as an effective CEO of his state. This unpopularity was why your columnist had stated in 2011 itself that the Congress Party would be well advised to hand over the presidentship of the party to Rahul Gandhi, and even the Prime Ministership. Had Rahul taken charge at that point in time, and presented to a youthful nation a fresh set of faces in the Union Cabinet, the score of the party in the 2014 polls would have entered three digits. Indeed, now that Rahul Gandhi has finally overcome the obstacles placed in his path by senior leaders of the party anxious that they continue to hold the reins of power through the continuation at the top of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress Party has abruptly emerged as a challenger to the BJP in a way that it was not from 2011 onwards. Indeed, from 2013 onwards, it was obvious that the party would cede power to a BJP led by Modi in the coming polls.
This columnist had forecast 300 Lower House seats for the party in the polls, and despite often poor selection of candidates, that level was almost reached. However, since then it has been a slow downward slide,such that it is becoming likely that the government which comes to power in 2019 will be a coalition. Should the BJP not substantially improve the quality of governance and its delivery to the people, the way would be open for the Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi to reach around 130 seats, thereby giving it a chance at leading the next coalition. The BJP needs more than 220 seats to succeed in forming a coalition government, about 90 more than what the Congress needs. However, in a change of mood that is nothing less than spectacular, the overwhelming bulk of the media in India have recognized in Modi the qualities for which Sunday Guardian had batted for him all the years that it has been published.
Television channels compete with each other to adulate the very individual whom they used to vilify while he was Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat. Most spew venom against Rahul Gandhi, calling him names and casting doubt on even his intellectual competence in a manner that shows the depth of their admiration for Modi. As for newspapers, almost all the columns are devoted to showing how wonderful Modi is and how terrible Rahul is, each newspaper competing with the other to show that it is the staunchest advocate of Prime Minister Modi. It has been a bit bewildering for those at the Sunday Guardian, to find themselves in a crowd where till 2013 they were almost alone in their defence of Modi and their confidence that he would make an excellent Prime Minister. As indeed he has. The problem facing the Prime Minister is not that he has done an outstanding job since 26 May 2014. He has, despite the fact that several of his ministers are way below average in their capacity for administrative excellence, while the fact that Prime Minister Modi has retained almost all the civil servants who were favourites during the Sonia-Manmohan era has affected the speed and quality of delivery of results.
Although Modi comes up with innovative ideas, his may be compared to a military where Airman Modi conducts deadly bombing runs on obstacles to growth through his relentless push for better standards and implementation, but thereafter the Ground Force ( comprising of his top officials and ministers) shows themselves to be less than effective in taking advantage of the superb initial effort put in by the Prime Minister. Among the problems is that the officials around Modi are mostly Old School, and rely on other Old School friends to fill top jobs. To take the example of the Finance Commission, the Chairmanship of this has gone to a superannuated civil servant who in his political avatar switched from Congress to regional parties and now to BJP, all the while enjoying the cool shades of power. Although highly regarded by several corporate houses for his friendly mien, Nandu Singh has not thus far shown much of a capacity for innovation.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.