In 2009, both Manmohan Singh as well as Sonia Gandhi assumed that it was their popularity which fetched victory in the Lok Sabha polls. In reality, it was the antipathy of voters to L.K. Advani and those around him becoming the rulers of India which ensured a repeat victory for the UPA. Had Narendra Modi been chosen six years ago as the PM-nominee of the BJP, that party would have emerged the single largest in the Lok Sabha, although not close to a majority on its own. In 2014, it was the induction of Modi as the face of the campaign that ensured victory, where a repeat of Advani would have resulted in a Third Front government backed by Congress. Because voters were casting their ballots not for the BJP but for Narendra Modi, it was possible for him to fill the list of party candidates with new faces untainted by the dirt and grime of “politics as usual”. Instead, Modi appears to have been guided by the wishes of existing party bigwigs, almost all of them members of “Team Advani” (and who, barring the patriarch himself, had by now left Advani and attached themselves to the new standard bearer). Candidates who would never have had a chance of gaining the voter’s favour have been elected on Modi’s coattails, with the result that if in 2019 the BJP makes its 2004 mistake of repeating almost all of its MPs, more than half are likely to get defeated. And it was not merely in the selection of Lok Sabha candidates that former loyalists of Advani were given preference in the new government, but in the selection of individuals for the Union Cabinet and key “political” slots within the bureaucracy.
Why did Narendra Modi, the solitary winner of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, not bring in fresh blood into the Lok Sabha, instead relying on those who have been within the Raisina Road circuit for the past three, and even four decades? Because of his accommodative nature, and by not opting for change in matters of personnel and instead accepting continuity, Prime Minister Modi took an administrative risk, the consequences of which are only now becoming apparent. For his hold on the loyalty of the voter is far from secure. Given his political shrewdness, Modi would not have fallen into the error made by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, who thought that the 2009 verdict was a personal victory, when the major factor behind the victory of the Congress Party was voter antipathy towards an alternative Advani-led dispensation. In like fashion, the 2014 verdict was at its core a negative vote against Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, a wave expertly ridden by Modi and his message of change. Voters saw in Modi the polar opposite to Sonia-Manmohan, and cast their ballots for him. They also saw him as totally different from the man he had replaced, Advani. It was, therefore, an act of loyalty to his senior party colleagues for Modi to go against the widespread voter perception that he would usher in comprehensive change, and instead content himself on 26 May, and in subsequent days, by choosing a team composed largely of individuals who had been part of the Advani bandwagon. Those few had who backed Modi against Advani in the takeoff period of his ascent to national power — 2011 to 2013 — were themselves largely passed over in favour of those who had been Advani loyalists till it was certain (by the autumn of 2013) that the patriarch of the BJP was no match for Narendra Modi. It needs to be remembered that almost all of those who backed Modi during 2002 did so because Advani backed him. Had the former Deputy PM not done so, how many of those who supported him then would have remained by Modi’s side during those difficult days? And, judging by the way they deserted Advani when it became clear he would lose to Modi within the BJP, despite the patriarch being the leader who nurtured them into prominence, how many will remain with Modi, should the PM encounter severe turbulence? Not surprisingly, when it is factored in that the same civil service team was tasked with preparing the new budget as had drafted the older version, rather than point out the disasters perpetrated by P. Chidambaram, the BJP government’s first Economic Survey gave a clean chit to the former Finance Minister. Less understandably, its new economic advisor has lauded the (disastrous) monetary policy of the RBI.
Small wonder that the public have become impatient for visible change, which they would not have been were they informed of the truth, that the situation is dire, and needs years of remedial effort before Acchhe Din can dawn. Even after 7 Race Course Road got a new occupant, taxes have remained high, while more and more harsh laws seem to be on the anvil, rather than the many vexatious ones already extant getting consigned to the dustbin. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his generous nature and his accommodative spirit by treating the core of Team Advani with honour and giving them the same positions into which they would have entered, had the BJP won in 2009. It is now time for the former Advani loyalists in Team Modi to deliver for the PM, by implementing his promise of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”, rather than continuing on the stale path of past attitudes towards governance, which for long has been: “Rule of a few, by a few, for the well-connected few”, rather than Modi’s inspiring Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.