At a public event for the release of my new book, Anticipating India, in Mumbai on May 6, I was asked if, now that I had anticipated the rise of Narendra Modi accurately, could I also list the five meteorites that could impede his government. I wasn’t able to name five right away. But I mentioned a couple, not knowing they were already lurking around the corner. Frankly, I have also been in the business far too long to not be conscious of the perils of falling in love with the “anticipating” business just because you got a few things right. The beauty of Indian politics, after all, is that it has its set, predictable patterns by now, but it can also make you look stupid.
The first two meteorites were easier to foresee because they conformed to a set pattern. I had said the first distraction (I choose that word carefully — distraction, not danger) Modi will have to deal with will be the fact that the ideological empire of Nagpur will compulsively strike back. Not merely in terms of the embarrassing but frivolous glory of cow’s urine/ dung, desi ghee, Vedic research type of thing, but even substantive issues. The second, that it is one thing to have a mass leader win you power in a presidential-style election. But the personality cult it unleashes will be difficult to shake off. And sycophancy is not the monopoly of one political party or coalition. Both of these have confronted Modi in his very first week as prime minister and are testing both his statesmanship and patience. After winning such a clear, affirmative verdict, the last thing he needs is to fritter away his freshly earned political capital with needless and irrelevant controversy.
The first and the silliest was initiated by Jitendra Singh, the new Union minister of state in the prime minister’s office and the department of personnel and training, and elected to the Lok Sabha from Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir. He will now make history as the minister who grabbed the first headlines in this cabinet, in spite of his low rank and relative anonymity. He said the process of discussion on the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution had already begun, with talks among the various stakeholders. This had many immediate consequences. First of all, it brought Omar Abdullah, down and out, a new life, almost like a batsman after a fielder drops a skier. He was back on Twitter, where he spends most of his time, but now with an argument that impressed even his fellow Kashmiris. Which stakeholders was Mr MoS talking to when nobody continued…