As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi enters the second year of his second consecutive stint as PM of the world’s largest democracy, it’s report-card time for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre.
However, without getting into the ritual of mapping the success or otherwise in quantifiable terms of a government that was voted to power with the largest mandate since former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s landslide victory in 1984, let us see in more holistic terms how the contours of Modi 2.0 are shaping up and the story thus far.
Imagine all that was at stake when a nationwide lockdown was announced over the coronavirus pandemic, on the night of March 23. It was a humongous administrative challenge, asking a nation of 1.3 billion not to step out of their homes for the next 21 days.
Today, if India has one of the lowest coronavirus casualty rates in the world then credit has to go to an early imposition of movement restrictions in the country. No wonder, the vast majority in India believes that unfortunate as the tales of human miseries and socioeconomic crises are, the lockdown was indeed a stitch in time
Thereafter, the lockdown had three more extensions spanning over a total of more than 70-odd days. While bringing the economy to a grinding halt, this also resulted in a crisis that the world’s second-most populous country had not seen since its independence: Human migration.
One of the lowest casualty rates
The sufferings notwithstanding, it is a fact that the nationwide restrictions on public life and movement were largely successful in achieving their end: Slowing down the rise in the number of positive cases of coronavirus as much as possible.
Today, if India has one of the lowest coronavirus casualty rates in the world then credit has to go to an early imposition of movement restrictions in the country. No wonder, the vast majority in India believes that unfortunate as the tales of human miseries and socioeconomic crises are, the lockdown was indeed a stitch in time.
And this has really been the story of the Modi-led dispensation at the Centre: People keeping faith in the government and embracing short-term miseries with the hope of long-term gains.
The demonetisation drive in November 2016 being another case in point. Even though around 200 people lost their lives across India in the aftermath of demonetisation; even though people had to spend hours queuing at automated teller machines to withdraw a few hundred rupees; and even though the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) later revealed that almost 99 per cent of the banned tender in the form of 500 and 1,000-rupee currency notes had made its way back to the RBI, the vast majority still believed that with demonetisation, Modi had struck at the heart of hoarders of black money.
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Biggest political capital
Arguably, PM Modi’s biggest success as the occupant of the highest public office in the second-most populous nation in the world has been this ability to enlist the support of the man on the street as an equal stakeholder in most of his radical policy decisions.
The debates will continue over the efficacy of these measures, but so far as the masses are concerned, BJP — and particularly Modi — have been given a clean-chit for now in terms of intent. This has been Modi’s biggest political capital.
This ‘mood of the nation’, so to speak, reminds one of former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a National Emergency in 1975. It was a draconian measure by all means, aimed at establishing Indira’s unquestioned authority as the political power-centre in an audacious challenge to constitutional propriety and democratic ethos.
Yet, for some, Emergency was Indira’s justified crusade against an entrenched political order steeped in corruption and nepotism.
Current political paradigm
Indira eventually lost the 1977 General Elections because of the ability of a united and potent Opposition to convince the electorate of the need to tide over her fascist designs.
That way, Modi 2.0 marks the beginning of a long process of assessment, wherein, the PM and his party’s political vision statements will be judged vis-a-vis losses and gains on the ground. As of now, it’s advantage BJP, though not quite game, set and match.
For BJP and its top leadership, India’s current political paradigm presents a rather tricky scenario and that’s primarily in view of the huge vacuum created in national politics owing to a Congress in disarray.
As India’s oldest political organisation continues to flip-flop with its almost existentialist dilemma over the leadership issue — falling back on Sonia Gandhi after projecting Rahul Gandhi for more than two years as the party’s future — it has only allowed BJP the kind of free bandwidth to propagate its tune unhindered that few political parties in independent India’s history have ever had.
But this is also fraught with its inbuilt frailty.
Buoyed by a brute majority in Lok Sabha (Lower House of parliament), a gung-ho saffron brigade pushed ahead with its sensitive agenda such as abrogation of Article 370, having the controversial practice of triple ‘talaq’ deemed illegal and gaining a favourable legal pronouncement to build a Ram Temple at the controversial site in Ayodhya.
Checks and balances
But close on the heels of pulling off these constitutional and legal coup of sorts came the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Ctizenship (NRC) that raised serious questions over alleged attempts to marginalise the minority Muslim community in a country of more than 200 million Muslims.
The nationwide protests and demonstrations that followed were clear indicators that with CAA and NRC, BJP had bitten off more than it could chew. And that’s the beauty of India: There are enough checks and balances in spirit as there are written chokeholds to guard against any attempted constitutional overreach. Ignore them at your own peril!
Looking ahead, Modi 2.0 will be all about patience and perseverance: Patience in keeping all political hyperambitions at bay; and perseverance in grinding away with policies that go a long way in building a more inclusive India.