By: Ravi Sinha
Signs of fatigue for an outgoing government are nothing new in India and we as a nation have time and again been witness to this. In recent past the government of Manmohan Singh has been a case in point. A look at the Indian democratic polity post the independence suggests that bigger the mandate, the more chances of collapse since the bigger mandate also amounts to even bigger expectations.
The Narendra Modi Government that came to power with a landslide victory, however, is a reverse case study as the fatigue is quite visible in less than two years. It definitely raises a question mark over the future sailing, if not survival, of a government that is led by a man whose self-obsession is well known to refer himself as a man with 56-inch chest.
Conflicting messages and confusing overtones are the signs of a weak government. It was supposed to be India’s strongest government ever. Why then is so much of contradictory signals coming out of the power corridors today? Has Modi Government lost its way out? Why has the very same media that till recently idolized him as messiah of development started questioning over non-performance? Or simply, the is man himself unable to accept his loss of invincibility?
There is no denying that the incumbent government is no more the same Modi Government after the face loss in Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections. The by-elections and municipal body elections in many parts of the country, including his own turf Gujarat has further eroded a myth around his invincible image.
What is wrong with Modi Government? Why are Indians recalling the same maligned Manmohan Singh as the much better Prime Minister who was cursed by the Indians till recently? Why is social media more sarcastic to Modi today than even Manmohan Singh who fell victim to a larger publicity blitz & design of opposition?
In order to understand the direction, or the lack of it, one has to get into the pain points of Modi Government. The first and foremost reason why Modi looks like a liability than asset, of late, is the intellectual bankruptcy of the government. Even one of the Party Vice Presidents, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe was recently caught on the wrong foot when he admitted that Congress Party has better talent pool and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is finding it tough to revamp the Union Cabinet with the kind of people around.
This intellectual bankruptcy is coming into the way of smooth functioning of both the government as well as the party. However, what aggravates the crisis of the government is “ignorance with arrogance”. This second weakness of Modi Government is as lethal as the first one, if not more. The government is too top heavy in its decision making with PM along with Finance Minister and a few non-government players, including Amit Shah standing larger than their shadow.
The party sources maintain there is an inherent fear among the ministers and no one thinks he is allowed to speak his mind even when asked to. The order and diktat flows from top to bottom.
This is not just state of affairs within the party but official sources maintain that the worst victim is the bureaucracy. There is a clear fear-factor that forces the officials to fall in line, even though the line drawn by the government is directionless. No wonder, many of them just come to office with their intelligence not driving them to take any independent decision.
For example, no one knows who recently forced the government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) to Photoshop Modi inspecting Chennai relief, only to embarrass the government when exposed.
More importantly, with less experience of office and more ego at its helm, this government has failed on the critical front of floor management of the House. It has also completely failed to engage with the opposition parties on critical issues that dampen the governance today. “My way or high way” might work for you as opposition party but once in the office the government has to communicate & connect with even those whom they might despise otherwise.
This ignorance with arrogance is not only affecting the functioning of the government but is also the root cause of third and probably most vital failure – the fiscal mismanagement that is blocking the real growth potential of the country. At a time when the international crude oil prices have hit the lowest level with $30 per gallon, there is no relief to the Indians, nor is it helping the Indian economy with repeated hike of excise duty.
It is noteworthy that the reasons of flipping Indian economy during the UPA II Government’s tenure-end was crude prices touching all time high at $147 dollar per gallon. Today, the government’s understanding that hike in excise duty is the way forward to manage current account deficit and put the economy on fast forward track can at best be described as poor economic sense.
There is a clear lack of understanding that the key to economic revival is to increase the demand in the economy, which can be done only through lowering the prices of petrol/diesel and corresponding decrease in the prices of all essential commodities, that could also strengthen the purchasing power.
Fourthly, since the government is increasingly getting directionless, they are resorting to the so-far tried and tested formula of overpromise that brought them to power. Most of the policy announcements of Modi Government look like an election speech. Even some of his pet projects, like Smart City, Housing4All and Swachh Bharat have proved to be non-starters for all the practical purposes. The RTI filed on these programmes and other critical reforms suggest there is no blue print yet ready even though the government has done all it could to make it seen as “already done” through media trial.
Fifth reason of Prime Minister Modi giving impression of governance fatigue is media, or its over-use. TV, Newspapers, Radio, Twitter and what not! Modi Government has gone so much into over-projection that under-performance is naturally being compared in the collective consciousness. When the governance turns into event management, then media might be a direct and indirect beneficiary; the public is definitely a loser. And the government is even bigger a loser as it loses credibility in collective consciousness where everything is being seen as advertising.
Sixth problem is that the over-use of media in this government is also pampering the fringe elements in the government to strive for their share of limelight. As a result, there are repeated communal overtones & intolerance that is plaguing the Indian society today. The BJP and its ideological mentor RSS has always advocated for most of the issues that the motormouth elements in the government are today championing. Yet, the damage that it has done to the credibility of the government is immense. Perils of being in the government!
The BJP could not have come this far banking only on the cadre-based votes that it traditionally has. The Brand Modi that the campaign managers so successfully created was meant to translate into aspiration and definitely not communal ambition. The youths and many first-time voters are today feeling cheated.
Seventh, but probably not the last, itch of the government is Selfie-driven foreign policy. The kind of seriousness that India’s foreign policy needs, especially at a time when challenges are many, it has been compromised for cheap publicity. In its self-obsession the Modi Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular seem to forget the fact that country needs serious investors to invest and not the Selfie-type business class that wants back-door policy incentives on the virtue of “Selfie with PM”.
Modi’s deliberate and often imposed friendship with world leaders is also not doing any good to the diplomatic image of India. The kind of seriousness that is needed for international diplomacy is definitely missing today. As far as Pakistan and terrorism is concerned, the failures are all too obvious. The image of the government is further dented because when in opposition the same Modi talked like a “one-man army with 56 inch chest” whenever there was any issue with this hostile neighbour. Today, for some inexplicable reasons he has taken a complete “U” turn.
In conclusion, more than three years to go and the mandate with massive majority is with the government. But what can be vouchsafed at this point of time is that never before in the history of India an incumbent government became so unpopular in the initial two years, though there are many instances of last two years being nightmare to the outgoing governments. If well begun is half done, then bad begun is probably never done.