Last week we saw Rahul Gandhi back in action man mode. He used different forms of transport to get to Mandsaur to show his sympathy with the families of the six farmers killed in police firing. Breathless reporters followed in his wake to report that he ‘ditched’ his car, walked several kilometres, and rode pillion on a motorcycle to shake off the police. He proved that three years in Opposition have changed him not one bit. He still loves adventure field trips and still accuses Narendra Modi of being the Prime Minister of rich Indians and the enemy of the poor.
Was it rich Indians who won him Uttar Pradesh? If Modi’s support came only from his ‘fifty rich friends’, a Pew survey released last week would not have found that 83 per cent of Indians are optimistic about the economic situation. Who is advising the Congress party’s future president? Who is filling his head with stupidities? I have little sympathy for the Congress party but ask these questions out of real concern, because India has never more desperately needed a strong opposition party.
On account of its absence, a dangerous smugness has settled over the Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party in recent months. This season of smugness began with the spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh. In my ever humble opinion it was because of this smugness that it was so easy to impose Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister even if the vote was for change and development. The new Chief Minister of our most populous state has shown that his priorities are closing down the meat industry and unleashing his policemen on young lovers through anti-Romeo squads. If he had first cleaned up corruption in the police force these measures may have served to achieve whatever goals he has in mind, but so far they have led only to more corruption. India Today reporters recently recorded policemen admitting that they are using their new powers to make money by making false arrests.
Has the Prime Minister noticed that his handpicked chief minister has moved firmly away from his promised goals of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’? Has he noticed that ministers in his own Cabinet have delivered neither change nor development of any kind in the past three years? They have no reason at all to be smug but they are so smug that an encounter with almost any of them leaves me personally feeling that nothing has changed since the Sonia-Manmohan government lost power.
Like Congress ministers they flaunt their VIP status wherever they go and the sad truth is that unlike Congress ministers they are more insufferable because they are new to power. So they revel quite shamelessly in their newfound place in the world and strut about as if they were masters of the universe. Most of these ministers have done no more than continue with bad policies made by their predecessors. So even such a futile and retrograde law as the Right to Education remains in place despite it being painfully obvious that all it has achieved is to allow officials to interfere in the running of private schools without doing anything to improve government schools.
It is true that some ministers have done reasonably well but not a single one of them so well as to explain the smugness that has settled over the government. It is a self-satisfaction so pervasive that it overwhelms me every time I walk into a government office. In countries where officialdom has been downsized ministers do not surround themselves with armies of secretaries, peons and servants. Nor do they travel in cavalcades or live at taxpayers expense in houses so large that the only other Indians who can afford to live in such style are a handful of billionaires. The reason why these things must change is because they inevitably induce smugness and complacency.
It is true that the Prime Minister’s personal popularity remains undiminished but for this he owes much to our opposition leaders who look truly dismal and bereft of new ideas. Rahul Gandhi is today the most important opposition leader and he is still saying exactly the sort of things that brought our oldest political party down to its lowest ebb ever. His speeches sound as if they were written for the 2014 general election. Has he not noticed any mistakes made by the Modi government that could become issues that require more than field trips to Mandsaur and Saharanpur?
It has to be sadly admitted that it is because of the opposition parties looking so bad that the Modi government is able to show such complacency about its future. But it is worth remembering that for people who reach the pinnacle of political power, there is nothing more dangerous than smugness. It always distorts reality and it always leads to preventing real change.