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Beneath the hullabaloo

One of the tenets of the democratic feudalism that governs our polity is that we do not attack the Dynasty.

Written by Tavleen Singh
November 17, 2013 11:52:56 pm

One of the tenets of the democratic feudalism that governs our polity is that we do not attack the Dynasty.

Narendra Modi said some very important things in his speech in Chhattisgarh last week,but they escaped the notice of political pundits and did not make newspaper headlines or TV prattle. Unless you actually watched the whole speech,you would not know that he said anything other than that if Sonia Gandhi was sick she should give Rahul charge of fulfilling the election promises the Congress made in the last general election.

One of the tenets of the democratic feudalism that governs our polity is that we do not attack the Dynasty. Political leaders rarely do this and us political pundits do not either. But nobody appears to have told Modi this,so he treats them as he would any other political opponent and nearly always it is his comments on the ‘shehzada’ that make headlines.

Last week,I found this particularly annoying because of the significance of two economic points that he made. He talked of how Sonia and Rahul had in their rallies in Chhattisgarh gone on about how much money “we” have sent from Delhi,and then asked two questions — Was Chhattisgarh standing before Delhi with a begging bowl? And,whose money was it in the first place,did Rahul bring it from his uncle’s house that gave him the right to talk this way?

Let me explain why I think these questions are important. The leitmotif of the economic policies that Sonia and the Prime Minister have espoused in the past 10 years has been what I call the Lady Bountiful approach. We cannot give the people electricity so give them laptops instead. We cannot give the people clean water so give them cheap food grain instead. We cannot create an economy that generates real jobs so give the people MNREGS instead. When Modi taunts his audience into admitting that they do not have a begging bowl in their hands,he is actually explaining in populist language what has gone wrong with India’s economic policies. Without saying this in so many words he is managing to say that our economic policies have not empowered people to lift themselves out of poverty. On the contrary they have kept people mired in poverty and got them accustomed to freebies and sops.

When he criticises ‘Madame’ and the ‘Shehzada’ for behaving as if the money that Delhi gives state governments is because of their personal generosity,he is drawing attention to another glaring malfeasance. On account of our deep reverence for the Dynasty we have allowed Congress finance ministers to put into the national budget a long list of welfare schemes that bear the name of one or other member of the royal family.

In the villages of Rajasthan some weeks ago,I was puzzled by people telling me that the sarpanch had “gone to Rajiv Gandhi”. It did not take long to discover that what they meant were the Rajiv Gandhi centres that dot rural Rajasthan. It is still possible to meet people in villages who tell you that Indira Gandhi is building houses for them as part of the Indira Awaas Yojana. It is wrong for the national budget to be used to create false impressions about political leaders,but since opposition leaders in Parliament have never objected at Budget time,this malpractice has thrived.

As for us political pundit types,we know that to criticise the Dynasty is a cardinal sin and that those who dare to commit it get labelled and black listed. What this means is ostracism in Delhi’s halls of power,and few hacks dare to take this risk because they could find their ‘high-level sources’ drying up before their eyes. These rules of reverence for the Dynasty remained,believe it or not,when the Bharatiya Janata Party got its one and only chance to rule India. Atal Behari Vajpayee transferred his admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru to his heirs. Throughout his tenure Sonia was treated with the deepest veneration.

Modi does not show such regard,so when he mentions the names of Sonia or Rahul in a sneering way,it is these comments that grab headlines. This is a shame because from a political viewpoint what is more interesting is the manner in which he is getting ordinary Indians across the country to understand an alternative vision of India.

A vision in which electricity and clean water will be basic rights and not favours from government. A vision in which poverty alleviation is given as much weight,in the formulation of economic policies,as creating a rich and prosperous India. These are not easy ideas to convey to people who are much more concerned about whether they can afford to buy onions the next day than they are about abstract economic ideas. But there are signs that Modi is getting his message through.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh

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