For all the apocalyptic warnings and the hyperventilation of our press, Prime Minister Modi has ruled as a moderate. While press coverage and attention has been heaped on the latest outrage perpetrated by a small and uncontrollable lunatic fringe of his party, (a fringe that always has and always will exist), the Modi Prime Ministership has to date been moderate, restrained and as much a battle against the far-right elements of his own group as against the opposition on the Left.
However, I fear, that through their visceral hatred for Modi, the opposition is creating far-reaching damage to our political system — damage that will live on long after the current government is gone. The strategy of the Opposition is now clear: Frustrate the Modi economic agenda and beat him where he is weak on the social agenda.
On an economic front, Indian voters have clearly cast their lot with Modi’s “aspirational” economics, hoping that rapid growth will improve their lot after decades of a failed Marxist-socialist agenda. They have rejected not just Congress’s corrupt pseudo-socialism, but also the even scarier populist ruinous economics of the Aam Aadmi Party on the far-Left.
Unfortunately, economic progress has been blocked with the Congress and its allies effectively shutting down parliament and not allowing any legislation to go through. They have cynically calculated that its is better to subvert democracy than to allow an economic agenda that would benefit millions of voters (who would then be permanently lost to them).
If you think it is hypocritical that those who otherwise claim to be the defenders of our constitution, are the ones subverting democracy, then hold your breath: the agenda on the social side is even more cynical and dangerous.
The Opposition has rightly identified the far-right elements in the NDA alliance as its weak point, even though they represent a miniscule part of the governing party. Hence, the endless hyperbole on how India has overnight morphed into an rabidly intolerant nation. Suddenly, anything with a saffron tinge is suspect. The national media, hungry for sound bites and sensation, has unfortunately been taken along for this ride.
The bet seems to be to consolidate the minority vote and simultaneously turn the moderate Hindu vote against the NDA by creating a constant sense of national crisis. In a breathtaking act of political hypocrisy, the Congress and its allies are creating a sense of deep polarisation and fear amongst the very minorities they are claiming to defend.
Simultaneously, instead of addressing the grievances (real or imagined) of the Hindu voter, they are being made to feel constantly under siege. The BJP’s success had been in consolidating the “Hindu” voter who has certain insecurities. Rightly or wrongly, they worry about creeping Islamisation of the nation, they resent their millennia old tradition of openness being labelled as backward and intolerant, they suspect the Congress “tolerance” to be little more than vote-bank politics, and most of all, they resent being talked down to by the English-speaking drawing-room intellectuals.
A great democratic nation finds a compromise and a way to hear out these grievances. Unfortunately, in the current climate, there is no debate. Anything approximating a Hindu grievance is treated as the latest example of intolerance. Moderate voices on the Right are being shouted down and labelled extreme and the far-right elements given a megaphone. The nation is being socially polarized by the very people that claim to be against polarization.
There is a chance that this kind of obstructionism will work. Maybe, the electorate, disappointed by Modi’s inability to get things done economically, and tired of the constant state of siege in the nation, will turn en-masse back to the Congress. However, the likelier outcome is that the Congress is a spent force, and Rahul Gandhi, an uninspiring leader. Congress doesn’t seem to be able to do more than play the role of spoiler.
Instead, chances are that the alliance that Modi has assembled will fracture. Some economically frustrated voters, will move further to the Left and embrace the fanciful, unrealistic economics of an AAP, which any rational economist will guarantee will end in economic ruin.
The socially insecure voters, tired of being ignored and demonised, will then be ripe prey for an actual racist demagogue on the far-right. An Indian Donald Trump.
The only solution that I see here is for Prime Minister Modi to work harder to be a ‘uniter’ in the face of these divisive forces. He can take a stronger and more vocal stance against the extreme elements in his own party, and simultaneously make a direct appeal to people and call out the Opposition for what they are – hypocritical, divisive, scare-mongers. There is time still.