In his election campaign Narendra Modi has adapted to the needs of time but his policies may be no different from his predecessors
By Shivam Vij
How do you choose between two bad options? Worse, the choice is about the government. You have to elect fellow citizens to run your country. Their decisions will directly impact your life. And all you’ve got is two bad choices?
One desperate way of dealing with this dilemma is to play these two against each other. Since you have a choice at all — unlike in, say, a military dictatorship — you choose one and replace it with the other every five years.
Perhaps that is the mistake the Indian voter made in 2009 it re-elected the Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi-led Congress back into power in 2009, as a reward for apparently good governance. In 2004, Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister after the Congress responded to the then Vajpayee government’s arrogant ‘India Shining’ claims by asking: what did the common man get? “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?” went its counter-slogan.
When the common man re-elected Manmohan Singh into power in 2009, his government became far more arrogant than merely claiming that India was Shining. It couldn’t care less about India’s shine, and even less for the common man. It even stopped pretending to be nice.
This has been felt by the common man most critically in inflation. It may seem that the biggest issue in the 2014 general elections in India is Narendra Modi. It is not. It may seem the biggest issue is corruption. Nope. It is inflation.
The common man thinks, rightly or wrongly, that the rising inflation, especially how food prices have soared, is caused by corruption, in which the Manmohan government has been brazen.
In 2009, after the Congress won a second term, the BJP looked lost in the woods. It was so listless that its mothership, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) asserted itself over the party, something it had found increasingly difficult when Vajpayee was the prime minister. How does the BJP go from there to seeming like a contender for power in just five years? Because of Narendra Modi? No, because of the Congress.
Be it corruption scandals or popular anti-corruption protests or public anger over violence against women, the Manmohan government has typically responded by first ignoring that there is a problem, then trying to solve the problem by brazen bulldozing (police action even killed one anti-corruption protester in Delhi). When that backfires they take to fake appeasement which is not only too little too late, it’s not even genuine.
Narendra Modi is a disaster, an authoritarian once described by social scientist Ashis Nandy as a “textbook fascist”. But can anybody in his right mind say that the Congress should be given a third chance at power?
The Delhi intelligentsia insists Narendra Modi is not going to become prime minister. If you go state by state and see how many seats his party is going to win, it does not become a contender for power. But people say so often that he won’t become prime minister that it betrays their anxiety. It is quite possible that the BJP manages to build a ‘wave’ in UP and Bihar and surprises everybody. The Lok Sabha election results tend to be the opposite of what the Delhi intelligentsia expects. They thought Vajpayee would win in 2004 and that Manmohan may not win in 2009.
Given that we are stuck with the Congress-BJP binary, those of us who are not fond of Modi may have to see him as our prime minister and this should only serve to remind us of the urgent task of creating and encouraging a viable third option.
If Modi becomes PM he won’t be able to rule India like he ruled Gujarat, because there he is unchallenged king and in Delhi he would have coalition pressures to deal with. India has a way of balancing things. “Indian society is centrist in character, rejects extremes,” a young RSS ideologue tells me.
Like the changing colours of a chameleon, Narendra Modi has moderated himself. No longer does he taunt Muslims, instead wants them to come attend his rallies to wash off the taint of being ‘communal’. No longer does he make ‘Mian Musharraf’ an election issue. His comments on Pakistan best illustrate how Modi has become a moderate. In his speeches he has not been indulging in Pakistan-bashing. Blaming Manmohan for not securing the country’s borders, he takes the same line on Pakistan as the BJP: no talks until terrorism exists. Similarly, if he were to become prime minister he would happily change that tack to pick up threads Manmohan would leave, just as Manmohan picked up Vajpayee’s threads.
Just like the Indian government’s Pakistan policy, one hopes India also has a continuum and if Modi were to become PM, it would be business as usual.
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi.