Fifth Column: Modi did not need to sound defensivehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/fifth-column-narendra-modis-farewell-speech-lok-sabha-lok-sabha-elections-2019-5576716/

Fifth Column: Modi did not need to sound defensive

Modi did not need to sound defensive at all in his speech. His achievements are many and anyone who travels in rural India can see them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Lok Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi. (LSTV GRAB via PTI)

Last week the Prime Minister made what could be his last speech in the Lok Sabha. He tried to sound feisty and fighting fit but sounded defensive and vulnerable. This was because he wasted time listing the failures of Congress prime ministers. This was unnecessary because they are history and you, Narendra Modi, are the first Prime Minister in 30 years to be given a full mandate by the people of India. Recent polls indicate that a full majority will be hard to get next time and we may even be in for a spell of rule by a government of what you correctly called ‘mahamilavat’. Mega-adulterated goods.

Adulterated is an unusual word in politics but not a bad one for the leaders in the coalition that seeks to defeat Modi. This ensemble does not include leaders with shining records. Half of them have entered politics not for reasons of public service or through a political process but because their Daddy or Mummy bequeathed them political parties. Those who do not come from the hereditary stream mostly have serious charges of corruption against them and yet this caboodle dominates the narrative for 2019 because the ‘secular’ left media is on their side. Modi failed to discover that in national politics the media’s support matters.

In a recent interview he said he had been unable to please ‘Lutyens Delhi’. His handful of supporters in the media spit the word Lutyens out as if it were singularly responsible for all Modi’s failures. The truth is that Modi’s failures are of his own making. I noticed that in his long speech last week he did not mention demonetisation once. Nor is this mentioned any more on the campaign trail. Could it be because it marks the exact moment when Modi began to falter? It was a seriously bad idea and was one of the main reasons why the economy began to slow down. The other reason was Modi’s failure to understand that for jobs to be created you need masses of private investment from rich Indians and he should ask himself why this did not happen. In the last years of the Sonia-Manmohan government, Indian businessmen were treated like criminals and major projects put on hold or closed down. This happened even as huge welfare programmes were created to give every Indian cheap foodgrain and unemployed rural Indians dole in the guise of guaranteed jobs. Had this money been spent on creating real jobs in rural India, it may have changed the face of this country. This is what people like me hoped Modi would do. He chose instead to digitise the welfare programmes he inherited with the idea of making them less leaky but without noticing that it would cause immense suffering for people who lived many kilometres away from the nearest bank.

Having said this, it also needs to be said that Modi’s great achievement is that he has managed to drag India, kicking and screaming, into the digital age. This is no small achievement, but its benefits will only be felt long after the coming election in which Modi could be defeated for one reason and one reason alone: jobs. Whatever his officials tell him about how well his schemes to ‘start up’ India are doing, the truth is that unemployment today is higher, according to reliable recent data, than it has been in decades. This is why political leaders in the coalition that hopes to defeat Modi are strutting about so smugly these days.

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Modi has other achievements that he can be proud of. The Swachh Bharat programme has been a spectacular success. It has changed social behaviour in huge swathes of rural India. Those who mock Modi for spending so much energy on building toilets have forgotten that open defecation is the cause of many horrible diseases. These are diseases that permanently stunt and disable children. So if rural India today has thousands of districts that have managed to end the disgusting practice of open defecation, it is a major achievement.

The point I am making is that Modi did not need to sound defensive at all in his speech. His achievements are many and anyone who travels in rural India can see them. There are roads where none existed before, gas connections and electricity available to people who never dreamed such things were possible and there are pucca homes where once there were mud huts. These are real achievements.

As someone who has criticised him in this column for his mistakes, let me admit that when I compare him with those who seek to unseat him, he looks good. In the name of ‘secularism’ we have in that maha-caboodle leaders whose politics are founded on caste, creed and a sickeningly obvious desire to be in politics for personal gain. They make Modi look like a real leader.