Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in his speech in Parliament on the President’s address, focused on the dynastic rule of the Congress as the root cause of corruption and compromise on national security, and, thus, set the tone for the next general elections due in 2019. The Opposition is exploring every possibility of putting together all political detractors of the Prime Minister, including groups and leaders who had an axe to grind against him for one reason or the other. The last Budget put forth by the Modi government has made a determined bid to reach out to the rural sector. The impact of the Budget will roll out only with time but the domestic scene in India is in the thick of political excitement about elections with the Opposition talking of alleged “intolerance”, lack of protection of the minorities, decline of law and order, farmers’ distress and the widening arc of unemployment caused by Demonetisation, in a concerted manner.
A disquieting trend is that the electoral polity is fast deteriorating in terms of the rise of sectarian, caste and community based rhetoric and attacks on the persona of the leaders in the rival camps. The Opposition is not able to take on the government on serious matters of development beyond the difficulties faced by business on account of Demonetisation and GST temporarily. It has consequently pitched on hyping such nebulous “issues” as insecurity amongst the minorities, poverty alleviation and human rights violations. In the recent Gujarat Assembly election, Congress sought to increase its tally by aggressively promoting militant casteist leaders of the Dalits, OBCs and the Patidars and achieved some degree of success—enough to lead the opposition to the strategy of trying to win over Dalits and Muslims elsewhere in the country. The focal point of the Opposition, however, is to somehow get the Muslim minority on its side. A new level of brazenness in this is reflected in the criticism of the idea of “nation first” propounded by PM Modi, discounting of public display of respect for symbols of nationalism like the exercise of freedom to hoist the national flag and singing of Jana Gana Mana and Vande Mataram and the strange refusal to uphold operations of the Army against the terrorists infiltrated by Pakistan into the Kashmir valley, purely for reasons of vote politics.
In India the challenge of governance at home, made more difficult by the long years of corruption, policy paralysis and lack of bureaucrats’ accountability, is testing the Modi regime. Prime Minister Modi has achieved a remarkable success in establishing the nation’s image abroad as a dependable and safe destination for investment and has, in the process, strengthened the prospect of improvement of domestic economy. He has secured international recognition of India as a regional power and this has opened up opportunities and avenues for it to enter into bilateral and multilateral economic collaborations. PM Modi’s key-note address at the World Economic Forum at Davos has been appreciated by our friendly neighbours in South Asia and the ASEAN Dialogue Partners and laid a new turf for economic and security related cooperation in the vast Indo-Pacific region.
It cannot be denied that the Modi regime has improved the quality of governance by cutting down red tape, sorting out the problem of lack of inter-ministries coordination and cooperation and firming up the process of policy formulation. Prime Minister Modi has pushed the country up by several notches on the graph of “ease of doing business” and substantially eliminated the notorious “Inspector raj” India was known for. In this year’s Budget, the government has consciously tried to extend its electoral outreach to a dominant section of the population represented by the farmers on one hand and the bulk of businessmen on the other. A good MSP is no doubt an attractive proposition for the agriculture sector but for checking the high incidence of farmers’ suicide the government would do well to identify cases of potential crop failure on the eve of the harvest with the help of the Collector and give some relief to the concerned farmer to pull him out of what is the desperate ultimate step on his part.
The Opposition has no real ammunition against Prime Minister Modi as far as the success of his foreign policy, both in economic sphere and in the domain of national security, is concerned. He has on all world forums enunciated India’s commitment to world peace and reiterated that this country looked for bilateral or multilateral agreements that ensured mutual economic benefit and convergence on threats to security. India has under his leadership managed to isolate Pakistan in the international community as a sponsor of global terror and consolidate the opinion of the democratic world against the Sino-Pak axis. Indians endorse India’s stand that there cannot be any talks with Pakistan unless the latter stopped cross-border terrorism against India.
PM Modi’s image as a leader of personal integrity and firm decision making stands by him. The call for unity of all opponents of PM Modi may yield a limited electoral gain because the Opposition’s ambiguity on such matters as the blatantly unfair triple talaq and its determined refusal to appreciate the Army for its successful counter-terror operations in J& K is giving a wrong message to the silent majority in this country. India has a history of even the poor opting for political stability, safeguarding of national security and national pride all of which works in favour of the Modi regime. The Indian electorate is politically savvy enough to vote for the larger good of the nation in a general election. The Opposition has to produce a matching narrative to get a different result next time.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau)