What a very bad week it has been for Narendra Modi. First came that victory in Gujarat that felt more like a defeat, and then came the news that the 2G scam may not have actually been a scam. The Prime Minister put on a brave face. He was seen smiling graciously at the wedding reception of Mr and Mrs Virat Kohli and at the festivities in BJP headquarters on the evening of the election results, but he must secretly not be happy at all. Politics is a tricky enough business without needing to be hit by two pieces of bad news in the same week.
On the day the results came from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, BJP spokespersons did their best to portray the news from Gujarat as a victory. ‘Jo jeeta wohi Sikander’, they said many, many times. But we who sat in TV studios analysing the twists and turns of the results knew that the Prime Minister would have been seriously worried that there were moments that day when it seemed as if the Congress was going to win his home state.
Us political pundits concluded, in the end, that if it had not been for the exceptional services rendered to him by Mani Shankar Aiyar and Kapil Sibal, the Prime Minister may not have been able to turn looming defeat into a fragile victory in the last days of the campaign. When he has a chance, he should listen to what the youth of Gujarat told TV reporters over and over again: jobs, jobs, jobs. This is what they want more than anything. Exactly this is true for the rest of India.
The Prime Minister believes his reforms have transformed the Indian economy and set it on the path to growth and glory. This is not true, dear Prime Minister, not true at all. The pursuit of ‘black money’ by corrupt and greedy officials has frightened most Indian investors (big, small and medium) into either fleeing our shores or hanging onto their money. If private investment does not pick up, there can be no new jobs because governments across the land are saturated to the gills already with too many employees.
The acquittal of everyone charged with bribery and corruption in the 2G scam would have come as a personal blow to Modi. He made this the fulcrum of his campaign in 2014. It is hard to find a speech during that election in which candidate Modi did not make a reference to 2G and to how if he became prime minister, he would ensure probity in governance. Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga. Voters sick to death of bribing officials for services that should be their right loved the slogan.
If Modi continues to be very popular, it is because at the top, where he sits, there has been a dramatic reduction in corrupt practices. This is not true lower down the ranks, and it is lower down the ranks that the average Indian deals with officialdom. Can BJP chief ministers bring transparency in governance before the 2019 general election? If they can, then there are good days ahead. If not, the BJP can look forward to some very bad days.
Meanwhile, no better week could have happened for the Congress party. Its defeat in Gujarat was so tenuous that it was treated not just as almost a victory but a sign that Modi is no longer invincible. Then came that bonus for the Congress from the special court investigating the 2G scam. The judge said that in seven years of daily hearings, he had waited in vain for ‘legally admissible evidence’. Nobody had come to him with it so he had no choice but to acquit all those accused of bribery and corruption in the 2G scam.
This ‘scam’ caused more damage to the Sonia-Manmohan government than any other scam because of its scale. Our former CAG, Vinod Rai, calculated that the loss to the people of India was Rs 1.76 lakh crore. This columnist expressed serious doubts about Mr Rai’s arithmetic even at the time when he was India’s hero.
But, the BJP’s senior leaders chose to believe that the chief accountant of the Government of India was an oracle, and they used what he said with great effect in the 2014 general election. Now another general election approaches ever closer, and judging by Gujarat, there is huge unhappiness not just among young voters but among farmers and small businessmen.
If Modi wants to win another term, he has to concentrate all his energies on getting the economy to boom. This would have happened already if he had done what he promised to do when he was just candidate Modi. He indicated then that he would move India away from statism and socialist economics. This is not what he has done after becoming Prime Minister.