Timing can be very important in politics. Now, whatever the right or wrong of the constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh, it could not have come at a worse time for the return of civility to the relationship between the Government and the Opposition. This is not to suggest that the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh had the divine right to continue in spite of it being reduced to a woeful minority. No, far from it. But only to stress the point that sometime it is wise to climb down in order to win.
Let us concede that Rahul Gandhi is determined not to make things easy for Narendra Modi. That being the case, why would you give him an excuse, even a fig-leaf of an excuse, to justify belligerence? Since no-one senior or junior to the Prince can muster courage to tell him that blind opposition cannot win back power for the Family, it is a given that in the coming Budget session he will use the Arunachal bomb to torpedo the session. Why, play into the hands of a congenital disrupter and make governance that much more difficult?
To go back a bit into the Congress history, it should be noted that whenever the party has found itself out of power it has refused to behave responsibly. For the first time ever out of power during the 1977-79 Janata period, Congressmen hijacked aircraft, instigated communal trouble and encouraged chain-snatching on the roads of the national capital only to impress the voters that the non-Congress parties do not know how to rule. The slogan on which Indira Gandhi, the Emergency Empress, returned was: Chuniye unhen jo raj kar sake (Elect those who can rule).
Her grandson, in his own crude way, is desperate to prove that Modi cannot deliver. And in pursuit of that anti-people objective you have seen how his foot soldiers have conducted themselves inside and outside Parliament. Therefore, the question is why give him the thinnest of excuses to throw Parliament out of gear? That his politics of disruption is not winning any converts is another matter. (A recent opinion poll said that only 11% would like Rahul to be Prime Minister. More than 60% still endorse Modi as PM.)
But Modi has to work to remain popular. And in order to work, he will have to find a way around the Inheritor’s intransigence. How will he do it? Certainly not by giving him a cause for confrontation. Whatever the emergency in Arunachal—and it was essentially the desperation of the out-of-power faction of the Congress to replace the one in power—the Centre needlessly jumped into the fray. It would have been better if the two Congress factions fighting ethno-centric power games were left to slug it out in the open and thus decimate each other’s chances of retaining power.
Indeed, the bad timing in Arunachal only reinforces the contention this column made previously that since the advent of BJP in power it has ceased to use imaginative political skills to retain the initiative, to blunt the onslaught of detractors. The suicide of Rohith Vemula was mishandled. Had Vemula’s stipend not been stopped seven months before he ended his life, he would have been still alive, protesting against the hanging of Yakub Memon.
But that aside, two instances of terrible timing, which resulted in avoidable embarrassment for the ruling party, were first the bid to amend the draconian anti-development land acquisition law and second the National Herald case. Yes, the land law needed to be amended. A guilt-ridden Congress, which had, for decades, most recklessly dispossessed the poor and marginal farmers to give grossly subsidised land to the corrupt builders and crony capitalists, had now made land acquisition, even for roads and airports, near impossible. The Government would have succeeded in amending the law had it done so within weeks of coming to power when the Opposition was still nursing its wounds. It wasted a lot of time and allowed its enemies to seize the propaganda initiative.
As for the National Herald case, Subramanian Swamy may have prevented the humongous land grab by the Family, and may in fact have obliged them to bring out some sort of a publication, but the Gandhis need not have been summoned in the court in the midst of a parliamentary session. That only gave them another reason to disrupt Parliament. Had Swamy sought another date from the court, the opportunity for the Gandhis to grandstand, to create tamasha would have been minimal. Bad timing, you would concede.
But the question is where have all the political managers of the BJP disappeared? They had done an excellent job while in the Opposition. Though nobody would admit, the truth is that after coming to power, they live in awe of Modi; nobody takes the initiative, nobody offers advice lest it be misunderstood. A sense of paranoia pervades the corridors of power. When a government or a party begins to function in silos, with each silo keeping it to itself, it is bound to reflect in the poor quality of leadership. Modi slogs all through his waking hours, which, one has it on good authority, is nearly 19 hours, for oiling and greasing the rickety system of governance.
To expect him to anticipate all troubles and offer clever strategies to resolve them is not fair. A team of political managers adept at strategising and neutralising the Opposition belligerence is absolutely necessary. However clever and dedicated Amit Shah might be, he is new to New Delhi—and its wiles and guiles. In fact, both Modi and his fellow Gujarati can profit immensely if they begin to delegate and trust their colleagues. Delegation and trust can get the timing right and help blunt the challenge of Mr Disruption.