Modi’s ‘new normal’
By Poonam I Kaushish
The old order has yielded to the ‘new normal’. A power paradigm of baggage-free governance, growth and development. With both Swaraj and Jaitley bowing out of Government on health grounds, lateral entry of career diplomat and ex Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and axing of 40% 2014 Ministers Modi has set the tone and tenor, style of functioning and sent a powerful statement of change and evolution. Of National ambition and rural aspirations, the new NARA.
Of course, there are greater expectations than 2014.To fulfil his vote of faith, NaMo will need to reach out and tap the best resources, enlarge his catchment area to defend the interests of the Indian State, advance goals of growth, development, national security and stability.
Clearly, the Prime Minister values specialised skill, knowledge and hard work has brought in fresh talent on his terms, rewarded performance and sought to achieve the right political balance without compromising on key target areas with representation from all States in his 58-strong Ministerial Council which is a combination of political gladiators who have recently proved their mettle in battle, expertise, experience and committed to his cause and will help BJP expand its base.
The five takeaways from Election 2019? One, we have entered the ‘Fourth Party System’ or Progressive Era (domination of the Republican Party from 1890-1920 in US which saw political reform, ended political corruption and widespread social activism ) in Indian electoral politics whereby the post-1989 era of political fragmentation has ended as 2019 reconfirms the trends we saw in 2014. The BJP has replaced the Congress as the central pillar around which politics revolves, a ruthless machine with an aggressive take-no-prisoners style of politicking in a permanent political campaign mode.
Two, a new dynamic has been set in motion with the induction of BJP President Amit Shah from the backroom to political centrestage. The Home Ministry is raw power —- something Shah has been enjoying since he and Modi formed a formidable force in Gujarat since 2002. Questionably, what will be the power dynamics between him and the Prime Minister vis-a-vis centralisation and concentration of power? What will it do to the lines of accountability that run between Government and the people?
India badly needs administrative reform namely drastic makeover of bureaucracy, police and rule of law functions. As things stands, the Indian State lacks Iqbal resulting in a free-for-all and rule by law. Another vexatious issue is strife torn Kashmir where terror rules the roost despite many militants being eliminated. Elections will need to be held soon to restore normalcy. Alongside all eyes are on whether the BJP Government will fulfil its poll promise with regard to Articles 370 and 35(A).
Three, the Prime Minister will have wide latitude to reshape relations between his Party’s politics and Hindutva moorings as elucidated in its manifesto. Some analysts wonder whether NaMo’s India would inch towards a more “ethnic democracy”, which requires the mobilisation of the majority in order to preserve the ethnic nation. Towards that end will it replicate the contentious National Register of Citizens outside of Assam, pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill or implement its project of rewriting textbooks etc in the second term as desired by the larger Sangh Parivar, only Modi can answer.
Politically, there are several strands of nationalism operating in India at the moment. The first is Hindutva or a majoritarian stance on how Indian society should be governed in the future. The second is a more abstract nationalism that emphasises India’s sovereign territory, patriotism, and loyalty above all. The third is a muscular, outwardly-focused nationalism which centers on India’s role abroad.
Will Hindu nationalism become the default mode of Indian politics and society? India’s rightward shift is clearly part of the Saffron Sangh’s wider trend where the nature of nationalism is being redefined and cultural identity is being given renewed emphasis.
However as Hindutva might not be palatable to all Indians given the country thrives on social, ethnic and linguistic diversity with democracy being the glue, Modi adroitly used muscular nationalism by asserting India comes first followed by being a nationalist or a Hindu. This nationalism was in full display post Pulwama and Balakot retribution and voters fell for it by voting him back.
Four, growth and development. Modi cannot afford to get off to a slow start and has hit the ground running. In his first Cabinet meeting he extended the Rs 6000 PM-KISAN scheme to all farmers across the country and enhanced scholarships for wards of police personnel martyred in terror or Maoist attacks under the National Defence Fund including PM’s Scholarship Scheme.
His first challenge is a course correction of the economy. Be it job creation, inflation or farmers distress. So far NDA1 adopted a cautious approach as it did not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha, with the status quo remaining the same one has to wait and watch how Modi proceeds. Undoubtedly he will continue his pro-business agenda, but the real question is whether it will be pro-business or pro-market?
Besides, the next five years need to be spent addressing very basic problems. Roti, paani,kapada, makaan, sadak aur naukri. In his first term Modi ably used Government resources to provide basic amenities, toilets, electricity connections, gas cylinders and direct money transfers. Today, he needs to give more impetus to see these projects through.
Recently a Harvard economist asked why, despite the complete absence of democracy, China does well economically while India, with its all its democratic credentials, has done so poorly. He seemed to be echoing Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal words who had called India a ‘soft’ State and attributed the difference to a strong Chinese State alongside a weak Indian State. The Dragon country has been a rising power since the seventies due to its disciple, hard work and no-nonsense approach, while our nation is no match in any of the above.
Five, the composition of the new Cabinet shows that Modi has not only ensured a regional balance, with a focus on states where BJP did well in the polls but also intends continuing the winning spree by inducting Ministers. In UP where the Party won 62 seats, the State is represented by eight ministers apart from the Prime Minister while three States —— Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand which are scheduled to go to the polls later this year have got 11 Ministerial berths.
Pertinently, the six month honeymoon of Modi’s new term will be closely watched for how he tries to balance the confidence of his largely Hindu base, some of whom want to further nudge India into a more Hindu state, with the fears of India’s minority groups, even as he reached out to them by espousing sabka vishwas. And the want-instant-result Gen X which want jobs and a better quality of life.
Undeniably, Modi’s task is not enviable. The burden on him is enormous given our fickle and unforgiving voters. Much is expected of him. Will this ordinary-chaiwallah-turned extraordinary Prime Minister be able to rise from being a good leader to a statesman? Redefine politics and deliver? His track record shows that he can and will.
In sum by the term Modi’s term ends in 2024, a quarter of the 21st century will already have gone by. The electorate has presented him a historic opportunity. Will he make India a Ram Rajya? Come out smelling of roses? Time will tell. —— INFA