Last week I met an ardent supportfifth columner of Narendra Modi. I asked him how things were going. He thought I was asking about the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and without a moment’s hesitation said that the BJP would win both states. I explained that I was really asking his views about the state of the nation, to which he said, “Look things are not as bad, not even economically, as you media people are making out. As for the publicity you give Rahul Gandhi these days, I really don’t understand that at all. What is he offering the country except more of the same?”
As one of a handful of columnists who has openly supported Modi in the hope that he will deliver on ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’, I found myself brooding over this conversation with the ardent supporter. Are things really not as bad as they have seemed since GDP growth fell alarmingly? And are we in the media going overboard on Rahul Gandhi? I was still brooding when a TV journalist rang to ask if I would give her an interview on what she called Rahul Gandhi 2.0. I told her that I was happy to comment on his political ideas but not on his dog’s vaunted tweeting abilities. I never heard from her again, and that evening prime-time on most news channels was devoted to Pidi, the performing dog. This reflects more poorly on Indian political journalism than on Indian politics.
What should worry the Prime Minister is that Rahul Gandhi is attracting so much notice without a hint of renewal in the Congress party or his ideas. To mock Modi for demonetisation and GST is not enough. Nor is it enough to arrive in Gujarat and hope to win a few extra seats by luring newly minted caste leaders into the fold. An old, old Congress tactic at election time. Other than this, he offers voters not a single new political or economic idea. And yet the Congress seems to have more steam in its engine in the Prime Minister’s home state than it has had for a very long time. Why?
Could it be because in recent months mud that always seemed to slip so easily off Modi’s shining image has started to cling a little? And, could this be because there has been too much emphasis on the wrong things? Personally, I believe it was a mistake to celebrate GST with that freedom at midnight drama in the Central Hall of Parliament. Clearly those who advised the Prime Minister to celebrate our new tax have never paid taxes in India or they would know how complicated and cumbersome this is. The truth is that GST has made it even more so, and people who cannot afford to hire tax experts are facing serious difficulties. If the Finance Minister wants to make it easier for Indians to do business in India, he must seriously consider one rate or two instead of six. This needs urgent attention now, when the economy is not exactly taking off.
On the political front, the BJP has shown a remarkable ability to win elections but has focused too often on some very wrong things. Instead of ‘love jihad’, it should have concentrated on the real jihad that is being waged by Islamists from Kashmir to Kerala. Instead of unleashing murderous goons in the name of saving cows, it should have done something to improve the unhappy lives of our sacred cows. Instead of almost closing down the meat industry, on which Muslim and Dalit communities depend for jobs, BJP chief ministers should have done more to improve standards of hygiene and humaneness.
The Prime Minister has tried to remain above all this but he cannot because both he, and his party, know well that without him there would not have been a full majority in 2014 and will not be one in 2019.
So when the heat and dust from the current round of electioneering dies down, the Prime Minister needs to do some serious introspection. There are things that have gone very wrong in the past three years and they need to be rectified. No matter what the World Bank’s latest report says, the economy is not booming yet. As for the political arena, no matter how rosy the picture looks from the smoggy environs of Raisina Hill, it looks very different from other points of vantage. It is for this reason that Rahul Gandhi has acquired a new lustre despite having nothing new to offer.
Three years on, it is no longer possible to blame everything on 70 years of Congress ‘misrule’ as BJP spokesmen are wont to do every time they have their 15 minutes on national television. A course correction is needed, and it must be made soon. Even Modi’s most ardent supporters know this.
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