If the Supreme Court had not declared last Friday afternoon that they saw nothing wrong with the Rafale deal, this would have been the worst week in Narendra Modi’s political career. The results from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh indicate clearly that the Modi wave has dissipated. This is bad news for a man who hopes to become prime minister again next year. Every political pundit has their own theory about why the Modi magic has died. Mine is that I believe Modi has behaved more like a messiah than a political leader.
Only a man who thinks he is above mere mortals could decide one fine November evening in 2016 to nullify nearly 90 per cent of India’s currency. A politician would have thought 10 times, consulted many economists, bureaucrats and political comrades before taking such a huge step. Modi acted alone. His ministers were kept in solitary confinement till he made his announcement. His move did huge harm to the economy and very little to bring back the elusive ‘black money’ the Prime Minister is so fixated upon. If the invalidation of our currency had caused the economy to at least grow fast enough to create those 12 million new jobs annually, the disruption may have been worthwhile. The opposite happened.
Big businesses were able to survive but not grow vigorously enough to create new jobs. Small businesses were so badly hit by the twin shocks of demonetisation and the GST (Goods and Services Tax) that some have been forced to close forever. The manner in which the Prime Minister announced the arrival of his new tax is another sign of messianic behaviour. Nobody celebrates taxes. But, messiah Modi decided he was doing something so special that a dramatic ceremony was organised in Parliament in July last year to announce the tax.
Political leaders face problems that messiahs do not for the simple reason that political leaders can admit to making mistakes. A messiah cannot. So Modi has chosen to stay away from pesky journalists by not holding a single press conference in the past four years. Instead, like a messiah, he has chosen to communicate directly with the people through a radio monologue called Mann ki Baat. These monologues have now been compiled into a book. If Modi had stepped off his messiah pulpit and looked at Indian realities with the eyes of a political leader, he would have noticed that things were not going all that well for his party. He would have noticed that it was wrong to be so disdainful, of the only party that can challenge him, as to declare that he wanted to build an India that was rid of the Congress party. He would have noticed that this has helped the Congress party instead of harming it. So much so that today the man who he scornfully called ‘naamdaar’ (privileged princeling) has now been reincarnated as his main challenger.
It is the nature of messiahs to be arrogant. And, an extraordinary degree of arrogance was on display in the campaign for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It was not just the Prime Minister and the BJP president who exhibited arrogance but even two-bit party spokesmen who turned campaigning into odious abuse. I am no fan of the Dynasty but when I saw a BJP spokesman shout ‘dacoit, dacoit, dacoit’ for each member of the family I was appalled.
Now that Modi faces his first real political defeat will he get down from his messiah bully pulpit and behave like a normal political leader? It will not be easy to do but he better start trying. If he continues to remain in messianic mode it can be safely said that winning another term will be next to impossible. Humility is something that ordinary voters like very much in those they elect to govern them. So when the Prime Minister, at the height of his popularity, called himself the Pradhan Sevak, or primary servant, of the people it enhanced his image hugely.
He remains popular. But, the slight tinge of hysteria that was evident in his speeches during this season of elections indicates that even he senses that the magic has gone. If Modi’s speeches were only tinged with hysteria, those made by the BJP president were not just hysterical but almost infantile. They verged on frenzied desperation. And, nobody picks up these signals quicker than the average Indian voter.
If Rahul Gandhi emerged last week as the only major political leader to have really done well out of this round of elections it is thanks to the BJP misreading ground realities in the Hindutva heartland. Telengana and Mizoram tell a different story. To lose in vital Hindi heartland states comes as a loud warning that Uttar Pradesh could go too. And, then for Modi, the chance of a second term is over.