Congress’ bad loser behaviour
Not unlike the rival fronts in fray in Bihar, it seems even the psephologists are sharply divided on the outcome of the poll. A couple of opinion polls give the NDA a clear lead, while a few others do tilt in favour of the so-called Grand Alliance. As they say, the voter is keeping it close to his chest and would let you know what he thinks only when the ballot boxes are opened and votes counted on 8 November.
But given the low invective and filthy abuse that seem to have become the staple of the campaign, the danger is that the Bihar poll might leave the national polity further dysfunctional. Already, the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress are hardly on talking terms, locked as they are in what seems to be an unending antagonism. Should all the name-calling and bad blood now on display on in Bihar congeal into hostility, governing the country, and not just Bihar, might get harder still. The need to tamp down the tu-tu-mein-mein, therefore, cannot be exaggerated.
Admittedly, the people have given responsibility to better their lives to Narendra Modi. Regardless of the bad-loser behaviour of the Congress leadership, the onus still lies with the PM to somehow lessen the confrontation, so that the undivided attention and energies of the government are directed at improving the dreary lives of the masses. Rahul Gandhi and other clueless leaders bent on spoiling things for Modi will, in the final analysis, not be held accountable by the voters. Modi will be. For, he was given a full and clear mandate.
In other words, the PM must devise ways to defang those knowingly and purposively creating obstacles in the path of good governance. Or he must be prepared to be penalised for not having the requisite skills to get round the wilful spoilers and pitch-diggers. Unfortunately, the PM, by his tit-for-tat response to the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Nitish Kumar, not to talk of that full-time joker in the pack, Lalu Yadav, may have already shut the door on a possible détente.
Yes, last time we were witness to such a red-hot confrontation was when Indira Gandhi was in full bloom. She was guilty of injecting the venom of personal animosity and hostility in the polity for the first time in what was until then a rather placid politics when she split the Congress in 1969. But Indira Gandhi was fortunate insofar as the national polity was still dominated by a single party; the Mandalisation phenomenon was still some years into the future. Besides, she had well-mannered and civilised leaders in the vastly emasculated Opposition. Whatever the provocation, you could not expect a Morarji Desai or an Atal Behari Vajpayee to be anything but correct and proper.
Now, you have the 44-year-old Gandhi scion playing the match-disrupter to the hilt. Whether Modi is right or wrong, confrontation is set to remain the default position of the Rahul Congress. Probably the reason why Modi sounds so acerbic, so harsh in his own response to the Gandhis is that he is aware that regardless of what he does the mother-and-son duo is determined not to play ball with him, the duly elected leader of the people who was given the keys to New Delhi for full five years. Therefore, the PM will have to find ways to get on with governance despite the hostility of the Gandhis.
After the Bihar poll, delivery of good governance can no longer wait. People may be already getting impatient. He might think he has done fine thus far, making those incremental changes, toning up the systems, eliminating political corruption, at least at the very top, opening up various sectors of the economy to higher foreign investments, bringing inflation down, deleting obsolete laws from the statute book, etc. But, in a vast country with a substantial portion of the people still under the poverty line, unless the ubiquitous aam aadmi experiences and feels the change, it will be hard to convince him that the government is doing well. The viciousness of the Lalus and the Rahuls should not be allowed to deflect him from his mandate of delivering acchhe din.
Of right and wrong charges
How bitterly polarised has politics become can be gauged from the kind of vile abuse heard on the campaign trail in Bihar. BJP president Amit Shah has been called narbhakshi, that is, man-eater by Lalu Yadav. Not to be left behind, Lalu’s good wife, Rabri Devi, has called Shah jallad, that is Hindi for executioner. In comparison, Shah is rather mild, merely dubbing Lalu chara chor, that is, fodder thief. Though in a mischievous attempt to establish some sort of equivalence the Nitish Kumar government was quick to register cases against all three, the truth is that the only valid description that can stand the test of law is chara chor.
Remember that Lalu stands duly convicted in one of the several cases in the Rs 850-crore fodder scam and he is barred from contesting elections for six years. Court proceedings in other cases are still on. (By the way, no court has ever convicted Shah of any crime, regardless of the vicious propaganda by his rivals.)
But it is the peculiarity of our electoral system that a man who is legally barred from contesting elections can continue to play the chief arbiter in his party and also lead its campaign. For, Lalu’s sentence is merely suspended till the appeal is disposed of, but the conviction stays intact. Isn’t it time the Election Commission took a look at this absurd situation? Someone disqualified to contest elections, shouldn’t he be barred from participating in the electoral process altogether?
A problematic success
Here is a poser. How many can name a Jitendra or a Biswajit movie? Now, how many can name a Dilip Kumar or an Amitabh Bachchan movie? We are convinced quite a few will remember Devdas, Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam, etc., featuring Dilip Kumar, as they would recall Zanjeer, Deewar, Mukaddar-ka-Sikandar, etc., of the senior Bachchan. But if you find it hard to recall any of the Jitendra movies, though he featured in many more than even Dilip Kumar did, it is because none left a mark on you.
What are we driving at? Well, if his critics are chafing at Modi’s foreign visits, it is because he seems to be making a huge success of them. It is not that Manmohan Singh did not go on state visits. He did. And quite a few times. But whether he went abroad, or stayed at home, being such a low-key, even dull, person, hardly anyone noticed.
In spite of knowing that his foreign visits rile his critics, Modi has chalked out a full schedule of high-octane visits in the coming weeks. He will be in the UK on 12-13 November, and address a rally at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium. From Britain, he will fly out to Turkey for the G-20 summit on 15 and 16 November. After spending a couple of days at home, Modi will again be airborne, this time to Malaysia for the East Asia Summit and the India-ASEAN summit in Malaysia. That will be on 21 and 22 November. Next, he will hop across to the neighbouring Singapore, spending three days there from 23 to 25 November. While in Singapore, he will also address a rally of people of Indian origin. Again, there is a good chance that he may attend the UN’s climate change conference in Paris scheduled between 30 November and 1 December.
With such a crowded calendar of foreign visits, it will not be surprising if even a section of the ordinary people came to believe that he does travel a bit too much. Modi needs to guard against that perception gaining ground.