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Mainstream, VOL LV No 20 New Delhi May 6, 2017

Modi’s Design to disdain Secular Values by denigrating Congress Leadership

Monday 8 May 2017

by Arun Srivastava

Neither Narendra Modi nor the RSS would be credited with creating a Congress-Mukt India; instead the honour should go to the Congress leadership for fashioning such a situation. The Congress leadership ought to have realised that the BJP was making a tactical shift from its earlier political line. While strictly adhering to its Hindutva ideological line, it has been consistently striving to project a Left-of-Centre economic shift. It had identified the middle class as its potential support-base.

There is no denying that for the middle-class and upper-class voters, frustrated and skeptical of the political moves of the Congress party, the BJP has been the most preferred choice. The blunders of insulting the Congress Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had simply reinforced the belief in this section that the Congress was not their caretaker.

Having alienated this vast mass of the Indian population, the Congress had to look forward to the rural poor support. But the over-emphasis of the party on reforms has also turned the leadership suspect in the eyes of these people. The most pathetic has been the inability of the leadership to identify it with their aspirations. The Congress leaders’ approach towards them was vague and their messages lacked clarity. The Congress heavily depended on Rahul Gandhi to reach out to the rural poor which he could not. He was found wanting. Simply spending some time with them was not enough. He had to make them feel that in Rahul Gandhi they see their better future. While Rahul remained a “Sahazada” for the rural poor and Dalits, the urban middle class ridiculed and mocked him. Ironically no one took him seriously.

Ironically, while the Congress could not grasp this mood prevailing among the poor, the RSS used it as a weapon to attack him. The Sangh and BJP were clear in their perception that smaller parties, even the Left, were not the real challenger to the saffron. Obviously in this backdrop the BJP must target the Congress, and particularly Rahul, with complete vengeance. They knew that resorting to this tactics would ensure that the BJP had won half the war.

Interestingly, Modi’s speech would not be complete without a jibe at Rahul Gandhi. Modi uses every possible opportunity, whether it is a public forum or inside Parliament, to attack and mock at Rahul. Through his intrigues Modi tries to send the message that Rahul is the only Opposition leader ought to be targeted. Obviously through his mimics he also tries to create the impression that Rahul is yet to mature. One thing is quite significant: Modi does not intend to allow any other Opposition leader to occupy the space of prominence.

Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections his speeches are of the nature of personality clash between the two. His attacking Rahul has got wider political significance and implication. During the Lok Sabha elections he had given the call to create a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”. But in reality he has been imposing the Congress on the Opposition. By attacking he intends to send the message that the Congress is the only party which can produce a Prime Minister. No other political party has got that potential. What is significant is even after the Congress was dissipated in the Lok Sabha elections, he continued to target Rahul. Rahul has been his punching bag for sending a message to the others.

In this context the remarks of the former Delhi Chief Minister, Ms Shiela Dixit, are worth recalling: ”Rahul is still not mature, his age does not allow him to be mature. He is what... in his forties. Please give him time. The Congress believes in development of the weak and marginalised. Rahul is the only one who has spoken about farmers.” Later she amended her remark. “I think he has come a long way. He is attending meetings and he is one person who is known to speak his mind. I feel it is good that he is natural but if some feel that it is not so, then one develops it on the way. The party needs changes in leadership on posts that have been occupied for decades. The whole thing is being kept on hold waiting for Rahul and this should happen after these elections are over.” But the fact remains that Rahul still needs proper exposure and grooming. Unfortunately, Modi intends to use this situation, a sort of leadership vacuum, to his advantage. His strategy has been to malign and discredit Rahul Gandhi as a competent leader.

It is said that India and its political system are witnessing a major modification. While it is witnessing a generational shift, the change in politics has been quite significant and profound than what it was a few years back. Generational change has always been there. Since 1947 India has witnessed at least three types of generational changes. Every change was engineered by the economic transformation. However since 1985-90, during the period of reforms and liberalisation, the generational change became more pronounced. Massive flow of capital transformed the approach and attitude. It got reflected in the political system of the country. The political language has changed quite a lot.

None would have expected Modi to say what he said about Dr Manmohan Singh. This change of approach, language and relationship has impacted the polity. Hitting back at Singh, who had described demonetisation an “organised loot” and “legalised plunder”, Modi had said: “He (Manmohan) had perfected the art of bathing under a shower with raincoat on” and so there was no blot on him despite all the scams that occurred during his tenure.

No doubt this was in “extremely poor” taste. The Congress also demanded an apology from the Prime Minister in the House. Undeniably this manifested Modi’s arrogance. He attacked Singh in the most unacceptable manner. Modi should have tried to find out the reason why the charges of corruption did not stick to Singh. In a country like India where the politicians have only one programme: to malign their adversaries, why none came out with clinching evidences against him.

Modi never tries to engage Rahul on the issues of serious nature. He knows that such an attempt would backfire and go against him. He simply throws jibes at him purely with the intention to embarrass him publically. The manner in which he mimicked Rahul’s earthquake joke is ample evidence of this attitude. It is beyond compre-hension that a person who is the Prime Minister of 125 crore Indians would stoop to such a low. The fact of the matter is that this was a part of his design to portray Rahul as a person utterly lacking in rational thinking.

An insight into Rahul’s speech would make it clear that he too seldom talked of issues, policies, problems and resolutions. He talks of plights and miseries of the poor, grassroots worker and farmer but is incoherent. True enough, he embarrassed Modi on many occasions but that failed to help either the Congress or Rahul politically. Rahul continues to be viewed as an apprentice. While the old guards and senior Congress leaders have turned inactive, Modi on the contrary makes the seniors and veterans of his party act according to his desires and dictates. Modi forced L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and other old guards in the BJP to retire from active politics and took command of the party. It speaks of his ability to manage the inner crisis.

Though they are pitted against each other, Rahul and Modi are more akin in terms of their unilateralism. Both like to be above and beyond their parties. Rahul conveyed this by tearing the ordinance papers promulgated by the Manmohan Singh Government on the tainted leaders. Undeniably Rahul is a politician with little political depth or skills. He is immature in his thinking and responses, and clearly unable to comprehend the complexities of India. He does not inspire even the youth. He is purely seen as ‘nice’, ‘a good chap’ not worthy to lead a fight against the BJP.

Lack of any credible challenge to Narendra Modi is quite visible. With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections close in sight, it can safely be said that the saffron brigade will not face a serious challenge. The challenge to the saffron demagogues will in fact come from the people as such. As the Opposition, especially the Congress, has not succeeded in throwing a credible alternative leader who can pose a serious challenge to Modi and draw the attention of the common people, this will help the BJP but certainly not to that extent which the BJP desires. The demagoguery of Modi will be a major impediment.

The demonetisation had come as a providential opportunity for the Opposition to present a credible challenge to Modi. But it was wasted. They failed. They engaged in irrelevant polemics. The petty personal interest of the leaders shadowed the much bigger issue. What we later saw was the personal determination of the people that made the political parties and politicians to speak out. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Modi manipulated the situation and executed his design in such a fashion that the Opposition could not come up with a serious challenge; instead it only belatedly bemoaned.

Rahul Gandhi was the only leader who spoke against demonetisation. His comments were often superficial; as a result Modi ridiculed him for his attack. Had his challenge been really serious, the situation would have been entirely different. A strong Rahul would have automatically sent the message to the people to unite, assert and challenge the hegemonic policies and demagoguery of Modi.

The Opposition not having a credible leader has been the major reason for the decline of the anti-BJP forces. The students of JNU have shown this bare fact to the people of the country. The manner in which the JNU students, under the leadership of Kanhaiya Kumar, fought against the fascist politics and mechanism of the RSS, sent without any ambiguity the message of projecting a strong leader and building a movement against the saffron agenda. Through their actions the students also made it abundantly clear that this was not an impossible task. No doubt the Opposition parties have some leaders of stature but they are heroes in their own States.

The Congress lost some precious time in coming out of the shell. Its leaders were so involved in intra-party bickering on the issue of change of leadership that they forgot the basic fact that for becoming a leader the individual should have supporters and cadres. The leadership must challenge the ruler and catch the imagination of the people.

That the Congress has lost the will to survive was clearly manifest in the installation of the BJP governments in Goa and Manipur. Though the BJP was rejected by the Goans, the saffron leaders managed to install the party into power. In Goa, the BJP had 13 to the Congress’ 17, and on the face of it, had no moral right to try to form the government. Many of its Ministers, including Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, had lost.

It was the same feudal mode of functioning that was responsible for the Congress losing the opportunity to form the government. The Goa Forward Party, that was formed by Prabhakar Timble and Vijay Sardesai on a strong anti-BJP plank, decided to play the part of the ‘Panjim chameleon’. Timble in protest quit the party. Incidentally Sardesai has been a Congressman and even held the office of the General Secretary of the State Congress. But he had a nasty relationship with the Ranes. After the results were announced three senior Congressmen staked their claims. They were Pratapsing Rane, Luizinho Faleiro, and Digambar Kamat. The Congress High Command and its representative, Digvijay Singh, favoured Rane. But he was opposed by Sardesai. The Congress leadership did not relent. Sardesai eventually turned to the BJP.

In sharp contrast, realising the intensity of the crisis and importance of realpolitic the central leadership of the BJP relieved Manohar Parrikar of his duties as the Defence Minister, who was involved in a major dialogue with the American Defence Secretary. With his departure from the Ministry many important deals have been put in the cold storage. But the BJP leadership took the risk. Modi intended to have Goa under its belt. The defence deals could be taken up at a later stage. Interestingly Parrikar had to be rushed as Vijay Sardesai had put the condition that he would work only under Parrikar and none else.

One development is quite significant and noticeable. Modi has been tactically projecting Rahul as his rival and challenger. His projecting Rahul as the Opposition leader is a strategic move not to allow space to any other leader. Modi is playing the most devious game. Rahul is the scion of India’s premier political family. He is honest and sincere. Though he may stay a night or two in the hut of a Dalit person and make politically correct noises, his action does not carry much reliability and acceptability. His major drawback is that he is not media-savvy. Rahul Gandhi may seem extremely well intentioned but does that translate to an effectual visionary leader? Like Modi he does not face challenges from his party leaders, yet he does not have complete control of the party apparatus. In sharp contrast, nothing can move in the BJP without the permission of Modi. He is surrounded by leaders looking to fulfil their own ambitions and political agendas.

One thing is absolutely clear: during these two years, Modi has lost most of his charm. The leader, who reinvented the BJP and trashed the Congress in 2014, has in recent elections failed to save the face of the organisation. Modi has been the vote-catcher for the BJP. But he is no longer so effective. Having lost six elections in a row in the last two years in Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry he could notch up success only in distant Assam. Which is why he put his entire might in Uttar Pradesh.

Even while the Congress is in a state of stupor, Modi is getting ready to play Robin Hood. Borrowing the idea from the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, Modi is contemplating to give away land to 300 million landless Indians by 2018. “The rich will be `encouraged’ to donate their land to the poor. But, the government’s top priority is to identify and distribute unused land that belongs to government departments and institutions.” The proposal to replicate the ‘Bhoodan Movement’ and launch Bhoodan-2 underlines Modi’s tactical shift from urban to rural. In 1951, Vinoba Bhave travelled across India persuading wealthy zamindars to donate a percentage of their land to the landless. Modi would use Bhoodan-2 as a game-changer when people queue outside polling stations to cast their votes in April-May 2019.

Modi had directed to set up a high-level committee last year. It was put in place on June 17, 2016, and is expected to submit its report by June 16 this year. The government is in the process of identifying unused government land. It is really sad that the so-called conscience-keeper, the people from the urban middle class of India, do not keep track of the work done by the governments. The State governments have already launched the scheme to find out vested land to be given to the rural poor. There is no new element in Modi’s programme. Its claim is that Modi Sarkar will work in close coordination with the States to put unused land to better use, since the matter falls under the State list of the Constitution; the power to enact laws relating to land vests with the States and not Parliament. It is purely a crude gimmick.

Modi had raised questions over how and why just 10 per cent of the population controls 55 per cent of the country’s cultivable land while 60 per cent population owns only five per cent. He must not pretend to be a naïve. Baring a few per cent, almost all the land-grabber landowners are members of his BJP. It is a matter of shame that these people, who claim to have the welfare of the poor at their heart, had donated non-arable, hilly lands under Bhoodan. This was a simple ploy to protect their lands from the eyes of the law-enforcing agencies in those days.

Bhoodan-2 will be supplemented by other proposals on land-pooling, land-ceiling and land-leasing. State governments, especially the BJP-led ones, will be encouraged to identify big land holdings by Gram Panchayats for the purpose. Bihar under the leadership Chhatra Yuva Sangharsha Vahini, an organisation of the students and youth, subscribing to the ideologies of JP, had launched a movement against big landlords in the seventies. Unfortunately during those years the Jana Sangh leaders did not support them.

Surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 18 States had found 14 per cent farmers were landless. A government survey last year noted about 69 per cent of agricultural households across the country possess less than one hectare of land. Another 17 per cent owned between just one to two hectares. Only 0.4 per cent of agricultural households possessed 10 hectares or more.

The greatest paradox of the contemporary Indian political system has been that the person, Narendra Modi, who hates liberal values, tolerance, pluralism and does not subscribe to the values of secular politics, has been striving hard to usurp the liberal and Centrist political space. No doubt this is the biggest moral strength of the secular values and ideology that even a person like Modi has to present himself in a Centrist mode and the fascist organisation, the RSS, has to endorse his image makeover. Modi and the RSS have come to realise that to rule it is imperative to behave like a Centrist and wear the mask of liberal ideas and values. Basically this is the reason that he has been trying to grab and adopt a socialist programme.

His love and hate relationship with Rahul is based on this principle. He intends to win over the liberal and democratic population committed to Centrist ideas and ethos. His targeting leaders of the small and regional parties would not yield the desired result. This can be accomplished only by targeting Rahul. The Centrist vote-bank of the Congress which had shifted to the BJP in the 2014 elections, would continue to support him only when it comes to realise the futility of the present Congress leadership to run the country. The most dangerous development that has been taking place during his rule is the gradual erosion and decimation of the liberal and Centrist values and ethos. It cannot be accomplished in totality unless Rahul is projected as a meek, confused and a naïve guy. Anti-saffron parties and secular forces must realise this propensity and do the needful immediately.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com

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