A challenger with a national profile to take on Prime Minister Modi is not in sight.
The election season is here. Increasingly, the conversation veers round to the likely outcome of the 2019 poll. “Will Modi come back?” is now the oft-asked question by people of all castes and classes, whether at five-star gatherings or village chuapals or barbers’ saloons. And the answer, the Mahagathbandhan supporters please note, is, invariably, yes. Despite realisation that a lot of what was promised back in 2014 remains unfulfilled, there is a wide consensus that the voters will eventually decide to give Modi another five-year term, buying into his claim that he needs at least a decade to mend the broken system he had inherited for him to be able to deliver on his promises.
It is natural for Modi’s popularity ratings to have dipped after four years in government, but these are still much higher than anyone else’s in the Opposition who could be projected as the Mahagathbandhan’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Opinion polls, which mushroom every election season, endorse the fact that Modi’s own popularity far outstrips that of his party. Pointedly, the Congress’s ratings and that of its newbie chief, Rahul Gandhi, lag far behind, so far behind that only a miracle can help them catch up with Modi’s and BJP’s by 2019.
Two points that favour Modi’s comeback are obvious. One, voters have an ingrained disinclination to elect a khichdi sarkar. Remember that Indira Gandhi managed a grand return in 1980 despite all the sins of the Emergency only because the message had trickled down to the voters that the Janata Party leaders keep fighting—hamesha ladtey rahtey hain was the common complaint, though Morarji Desai did run one of the more accomplished governments in a most transparent manner.
The other important reason why the dice is loaded against the anti-Modi parties is that the parliamentary elections have become in many ways presidential. People elect a Prime Minister, not as much a party. Modi having acquired an all-India profile stands head and shoulders above the gaggle of regional leaders all aspiring for his job. Deepening of the democratic process between 1980 and now has meant that even the voter in the remotest part of the country is conscious about whom he wants to see as Prime Minister rather than who his local MP is.
To elaborate this point further, voters now make a clear distinction between state and national elections and wherever possible exercise their choice accordingly. A corollary of this is that even if the incumbent BJP governments in the states set to elect new Assemblies months before the general election fail to do well, it will not unduly harm the prospects of Modi in 2019. The only thing a good showing by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarth Assembly polls would do is that it would bolster its war-chest and generate some hope in the hopeless cadres who remain unimpressed by the leadership of “Rahuji”.
Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll by a news weekly seems to confirm the obvious. That the BJP will lose a number of seats, is common sense. The party can in no way hope to sweep Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, MP, etc., the way it did in 2014. A loss of up to 50-60 seats should not cause any surprise. Indeed, the opinion poll projects the NDA tally what was the BJP’s alone in 2014, that is, 281-282. Still, this will guarantee a second term for Modi, though he will now have to necessarily accommodate the allies whom he has accorded scant respect in the current term.
But more significant is the projected tally of UPA. A total of 122 in a House of 543 members will spell doom for the so-called Mahagathbandhan. The survey categorised various parties on the basis of current alignments, clubbing some under the UPA banner and the rest of the non-NDA squad under the “others” rubric. The Others would end up walking away with 140 seats, going by the opinion poll. Given that the largest group, especially when it still holds the reins of power, enjoys numerical superiority in the new House, and given the propensity of smaller groups to gravitate towards power, the most vulnerable to bolster the NDA numbers post-poll would come from the Others. Instead of another five years in wilderness, regional parties would prefer to have a share in power. Disarray and disintegration of the Mahagathbandhan in such a situation is guaranteed.
Meanwhile, Modi will make a mistake ignoring the harm the fringe elements associated with the ruling party can do to his re-election prospects. The menace of the loony brigade must end. The love jihadis, the cow vigilantes, and the loose-talkers must be put in their place. The English language media may not influence mass voting preferences, but its message still percolates to a large segment of the people. A hostile attitude towards it can be counter-productive.
HIDING GREED BEHIND PUBLIC -INTEREST
Professional protesters and other jholawallas have been crying themselves hoarse against the proposed changes in the RTI Act, arguing that the government was out to emasculate the citizen-empowering Central and State Information Commissions. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Behind the hue and cry lies the excessive greed and ambition of the commissioners, nothing more.
The sole objective of the proposed changes is to correct the distortion in the pay scales, allowances and service conditions of the information commissioners which were set by a panicky UPA government keen to woo the noisy NGO lobby. Therefore, any attempt to equate pay scales and status with the remit of the Information Commission is misleading.
There is a bit of back story behind the proposed amendments to the RTI Act. Former cop, Gurbachan Jagat, following superannuation, was appointed a member of the UPSC. After serving five years in the UPSC, a kindly UPA government appointed him the Governor of Manipur in 2008. Before taking up his new appointment, he paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Manmohan Sihgh and suggested that the pay and status of the UPSC members be made equivalent to that of the Supreme Court judges. Singh immediately obliged.
Aside from putting an additional burden on the finances of the government, the status equivalent to that of a Supreme Court judge complicated the official hierarchy. The Modi government reversed the decision, reverting to the status quo ante, that is, the status of a secretary to the GOI.
And this is exactly what it now seeks to do in the case of scores of information commissioners at the Centre and in the states. And those who stand to lose a few pennies are trying to equate the attack on their pocket to an attack on the very institution of the RTI. How disingenuous can you get?
A BAD PUPIL
Rahul Gandhi’s travels abroad to impress the audiences at home seem to end up in fiascos. For however hard they may tutor him to make his set-piece remarks, he invariably strays into embarrassing situations. This, despite the fact that he has a battery of minders in his entourage who make him mug it up in advance for his public events. His refusal to acknowledge that the Congress was behind the 1984 Sikh killings is the latest, aside from his attempt to equate the RSS with the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Anyway, the antecedents of the members of the entourage are quite interesting, with at least two drawing sustenance from a controversial business house. Of course, we do not intend to disclose their identity, but this is not unknown to the clued-in political crowd.