By N.V. Subramanian (29 September 2014)28 September 2014: In some ways, Narendra Modi’s prime ministry appears more counter-intuitive than those of his predecessors. You would imagine that he would seek to make friends and allies in the ruling establishment to stabilize and strengthen his position. By that logic, he would placate his party colleagues in and outside the government and the extended Sangh Parivar which assisted him to gain power. He would wire the permanent civil service in his favour and give it a share of power as happened in the previous United Progressive Alliance regime. He would curry favour with the press, appear beholden to the fat cats of the financial world, and gush at big business.
Counter-intuitively, Narendra Modi has done none of these things.
The media loathes his guts. Every passing day of his prime ministry makes it more irrelevant. Industrialists are not crowding Delhi as in the past; the prime minister is said to have pulled up some of his more errant ministers who thought to cozy up to them on the sly. After last week’s bloodless massacre, which saw scores of mid-career officials transferred, the Central bureaucracy is alternatively terrified of and enraged with the prime minister. At a private dinner of Indian Administrative Service and Indian Foreign Service officers, there were powerful voices urging sabotage of the Narendra Modi government. One dialogue resonated above all else, and that was, “We have to break the prime minister before he breaks us. He has to be made to realize he cannot do without us.”
Nor is the sentiment in Bharatiya Janata Party circles in favour of Narendra Modi. Lok Sabha members from North India feel specially let down. Their group-talk follows this general pattern: “We thought we would make money and have fun in Delhi. No way. Modi has put a stop to all that. We literally drink milk and go to bed. We don’t know when this man will summon us for a late-night meeting. If we smell of alcohol, it is the end of us.”
This may be typical cow-belt exaggeration. But the fear of Narendra Modi is real. In their fears, he appears omnipotent and omniscient. In any other administration, you would expect MPs to be vying to become ministers; not in this dispensation. Junior MPs plead not to be recommended for ministerships. They consider it a prison sentence, with Modi being the fearsome head warden. Equally, senior members of Sangh Parivar front organizations are unhappy with the prime minister because he won’t slacken the purse strings for them. At one meeting apparently, he exasperatedly explained to them that he was answerable for every naya paisa of government expenditure; they left disgusted.
Over and above all this, the opposition won’t give him any quarter. If he succeeds in this term and wins another, the dynastic parties are finished for the next twenty years; there will be a generational wipe-out. The Nehru-Gandhis, the Mulayam and Laloo Yadavs and the Karunanidhis won’t stand for that at any cost. Hence the exultation at the victories notched in the Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat by-polls, which may be premature.
At the same time, Narendra Modi’s foreign policy successes are stirring envy at home and new competition abroad. The Chinese leadership cannot countenance a strong Indian prime minister who would once for all erase the ignominy of the 1962 debacle. Pakistan has already moved into reflexive obstructionist mode, with the Pakistan military stoking jihadi terrorism again in Jammu and Kashmir. And if India rises with Modi, the great powers shan’t be ecstatic; it will mean more multi-polarity.
Some of the opposition to rising India and Modi is inevitable and unstoppable. If the country’s rise is peaceful, as it is bound to be in India’s case, that would bring its own acceptability. But why would Narendra Modi wish to stir up so much domestic opposition to him after such a handsome victory? Perhaps the answer resides in two things. One is that by nature he is transformative; the status quo does not satisfy him. Second, India is in a political, economic, financial and military-strategic mess; this is all too apparent. Unless Modi cracks the whip, the system will not reform and deliver. But isn’t he making enemies in the system? Won’t the system strike back?
This writer is convinced that Modi has evaluated the risks and feels no threat to his position so long he can deliver. To deliver, he needs the system, which means the ministers, the bureaucrats, the party apparatus, and so on. He knows the system inside out; he is confident of dominating it. But he needs a bigger alliance with the people to win their recurrent legitimacy and to gain the cushion of time to deliver; hence his direct address to masses via new vehicles of communications like Teacher’s Day and the improvisation of older forms such as the Independence Day speech: defying expectations, he spoke in it of toilets for girls and admonished mothers who wouldn’t rein in their wayward sons.
Isn’t all this a big gamble; thrusting ahead on people power with a dysfunctional system and a mutinous crew? It is. But Narendra Modi believes he can pull it off. He works harder than anyone in government; he is streamlining the system; he is weeding out the corrupt and plugging the loopholes against bleeding the exchequer. He is imposing new moral norms on his ministers and setting right the warped steel frame of the civil service. The conviction of J.Jayalalithaa indicates the depths to which the country has fallen. Years from now, Modi’s ministers would be glad that he kept them on a tight leash.
Imperceptibly, the country is changing. Honesty and integrity count for more than ever in public life. The spread of communications, education, knowledge and awareness has diminished the hold of political power on people. Narendra Modi is alive to this vital change and his actions are complimentary. They are probably not as counter-intuitive as they seem.
The Congress – Government face-off that is now publicly evident in the
manner in which Baba Ramdev was received by 4 ministers at the instance of
the Prime Minister and invited for negotiations at Claridges Hotel – only to
be followed by the volte face of Police atrocity against 50000 innocent
citizens at Ramlila Maidan in the dead of night of June 4.
Some points occurred to me and I am sharing my thoughts aloud. This follows
articles by me (Sandhya), Smt Nancy Kaul and Smt Radha Rajan on this subject
at www.vijayvaani.com <http://www.vijayvaani.com/> and subsequent exchanges
with friends. Setting aside all emotions, I personally feel that the episode
– Whatever overt power she may still exercise over Congress and
Government, Sonia Gandhi is on a weak wicket, which is getting weaker,
though this may not be readily apparent as yet
– In fact, Sonia Gandhi may derive more power from the pusillanimity
of the BJP and some RSS ‘thekedars’ who primed Baba Ramdev to lead a
movement that was destined to be aborted [by them, for her] and thus help
Sonia to maintain her stranglehold over the Government via the NAC and the
Anna Hazare-Lokpal agenda – except that that is moving towards utter failure
– Sonia Gandhi’s Western support base has fractured and she knows
it, which is why she is desperate to ram Rahul Gandhi into the PM post, but
this desperation is making her and Rahul make costly mistakes [like Muslims
are surely going to perk up to the fact that Christian surrogates are being
primed for the post, and they will let their resentment show in some way.]
– The political establishment in London and Washington can see that
she is politically in the ‘diminishing returns’ mode and that Rahul is a
non-starter. So they are unlikely to invest energy in her. Just as they
dumped the unpopular Mubarak so that they could stay put behind the scenes
in Egypt, so they will not give momentum to her fight with Manmohan Singh
and the sections of Government and Bureaucracy that are uncomfortable with
Sonia and her behaviour.
– That leaves Sonia Gandhi with only the Church (Vatican and all the
rest) and their approach is muscular and aggressive, as if India is Latin
America, and this mistake will prove costly for her.
– Sonia is left with very poor allies who determine her agenda in
public [because she does not speak so as not to commit herself to a position
from which she may need to resile later; ditto for Rahul Gandhi]. These are
Digvijay Singh [who never recovered from the shock of his defeat in MP],
Anil Shastri who attacks her enemies via the Congress mouthpiece, and Kapil
Sibal who is actually a lawyer and not a politician. There is not a single
Congress stalwart batting on behalf of Sonia Gandhi today, and hence she is
not going very far. Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Government troubleshooter,
quietly slunk away when he realised the agenda has shifted from Government
to Congress/Sonia, and that should tell us a lot. Even P Chidambaram is
keeping a low profile.
These are my random thoughts on the events of the past week, and I just
wanted to put them across.
Civil and Uncivil Societies – By Ratan Sharda
I have been rather intrigued by the term ‘Civil Society’. I had a long argument with a dear friend of mine, a leading light in this ‘Civil Society’ movement. By calling citizen activists (the right word, perhaps), as civil society, aren’t we keeping out a large part of the society which is not ‘civil’ or rather which is ‘uncivil’ – probably with low education, low income, average life style, unaware of civilized society’s obsession with brands etc. etc. My friend explained to me, it is not so but this is the universally accepted nomenclature for citizen activists. But, contrast between the media coverage and deep sighs of ‘beautiful people’ at a Baba running amok brought out the difference between perceived ‘civil society’ and our majority ‘uncivil’ society of ‘average boring village and town and suburban dwellers.
Contrast the crowds that thronged media elevated Anna Hazare fest. Don’t get me wrong. With all due respect to the veteran crusader, the crowds were not as big as what Baba Ramdev brought in across Bharat. But, media was so taken in by presence of English speaking ‘beautiful people’ in their designer clothes and with it attitude, just right for good news sound bites, that it helped create ‘Brand Anna’ as next only to Gandhi ji. I am not even suggesting that ‘civil society’ (as I read this tag) should not be on road. By all means, they must come out roads, they can provide the requisite leadership and come out with good ideas.
I know of wonderful work done by Anna and I respect him a lot. But, the point I am driving home is not about personalities of Anna or Baba. But, rather the way they are presented to us by news coverage because of the crowds they attract. The followers of Baba who came from all over Bharat were a study in contrast. Rustic villagers, small town residents, or coming from distant suburbs of Delhi or Mumbai etc. They are the worst sufferers from tyranny of bureaucracy at lower level in their daily dealings and have no where with alls to pay their way through their chicanery. They came on faith that Baba will fight the mighty corrupt and they came to support this. So, there is hardly any coverage of the participants of this agitation. They can’t speak English, they dont come pretty on camera, so just keep camera on Baba – he makes colourful copy! Witness the way Baba Ramdev is harangued by media and the kid glove treatment Anna Hazare gets.
Now, you will understand why I am against the word ‘civil society’.
Was this contrast in two societies of India i.e. Bharat that flummoxed media and powers that be? When Congress flexed its police muscles, it calculated that these ordinary folks will not get sympathy and colourful coverage from media and will go home tails between legs. It forgot that this is the common ‘uncivil society’ that votes with its feet and not the beautiful ‘civil society’. Now, that shit has hit the fan, let us see this ‘police state’ mentality haunt them in coming months.
What I have noted above, does not at all take away the credit from media for standing up against corruption, giving live coverage to attack on innocent citizens in the dead of night. I am just pointing out the difference in approach to the two agitations. And making readers aware of this phenomenon of common man fight against corruption and civil society’s fight against corruption. The gap between Bharat and India as cliche goes, and our elite society’s perceptions.