COMMENT NATION POLITICS
By Prem Chandran
The systems in India are going for a toss, corruption is increasingly at its worst, and the scenario is going from bad to worse. This, despite the nation’s leadership being in the hands of a leader who has a record of being not corrupt, and having no family to promote other than the Sangh ‘Parivar’. The perceived strengths of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have not translated into action or made a difference to the way the nation is degenerating on many fronts from around the start of this century.
Corruption has largely reduced at the Cabinet level in Delhi, and this is well-acknowledged by one and all. But, what of the rest of India? What of the loot so exemplified in the rising NPAs of public sector banks, which are losing their strengths, and much of their funds having been looted by mischievous businessmen with considerable help from top bank officials, and kept in tax havens abroad. Does the Enforcement Directorate getting back some Rs 1,350crore worth of diamonds and other valuables of Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi this week mean much, considering the larger picture of loot of billions from Indian banks – the very same banks nationalized and made part of the nation’s wealth by Indira Gandhi as prime minister?
Modi came to power in 2014, riding the crest of the anti-corruption sentiments in the country, and based on his promise that he would change the scenario for the better. The UPA II period ended with a profusion of scams – the coal block allocations scam, the 2G Spectrum, the Commonwealth Games scam and the VVIP helicopter scam. Loot of public money was at its worst, and the allies of the Congress, like the NCP and DMK, or its ministers had a roll. The people yearned for a change, and Modi with his jet-set campaign turned the tide in favour of him and the BJP-NDA.
Modi’s stand against corruption was the overwhelming sentiment that won him and his party votes –not the Hindutva push; certainly not. Hindutva is a forceful sentiment in large parts of the country, but not as forceful as to win an election. Winning an election involves bigger games; the RSS bulwark formed only a small part of it. Despite a consolidation of Muslims in 2014 to stop Modi in his tracks, people voted him and the party in. Despite a stronger anti-Modi push by Muslims (and quiet anti-Hindutva, pro-Sonia push by Christians), Modi returned to power yet again in 2019. Perhaps Balakot did the trick this time. Nationalist sentiments were aroused. Alongside, Modi has built a fan-following among the ordinary folks across the Hindi belt through his Mann Ki Baat and other gimmicks. Also, Rahul Gandhi proved to be no match to Modi. The elitist segments, other than the business class, remained strongly anti-Modi; his presence in the PM chair irritated them perhaps for no reason other than that he rose from an ordinary family and that he could not speak Queen’s English as the Nehrus did.
RSS, admittedly, is still an out-and-out upper caste Hindu outfit wherein it has presented some faces of backward communities to win elections – Kalyan Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Modi who is labeled a BC. Modi is not part of India’s elitists, and he sided with the poor at least in his speeches from the podium. This too won him votes; the poor being the largest segment of the Indian electorate. Modi skillfully used his chaiwala image in 2014; and he reinvented himself as chowkidar in 2019. Indira Gandhi won elections by raising the Garibi Hatao slogan in the 1970s; and the Nehru family always raised the slogans of socialism and secularism, not because they had a commitment to both, but because socialism won the votes of the poor and secularism the votes of the minorities. They were the solid blocks that built the Congress electoral successes. Yet, Congress governments led by the Nehru family promoted elitism and cronyism of the worst kinds, and gave crumbs only to the poor and disadvantaged sections including Muslims.
The styles the Congress adopted for governance, to achieve this end, got so implanted in India’s democratic system that even Narendra Modi as prime minister is simply following the same strategies to win polls. He speaks up for the poor but does too little for them. What he does not do, as different from the Congress, is that he does not mouth the slogan of secularism, a game that is left to the Congress to continue playing in association with India’s loud mouths without grassroots support, the Leftists. In 70 years of Independent India, which mostly saw the rule of the Nehru family, it is worth analyzing what the Muslims got by way of emancipation. Most of them remain as poor, and there are hardly any Muslim in the government or bureaucracy other than some politicians and sprinklings of Muslims here and there as IAS officers.
Bureaucracy is the near-exclusive privilege of the elitist Hindus, and so is the judiciary, the academic world, and so on and so forth. Even after 70 years, others hardly have a noticeable presence in these exalted institutions because they do not have anyone up in the hierarchy to patronize them.
It is also well-known that Indira Gandhi or the Congress put rubber stamps as president at Rashtrapati Bhavan – occasionally putting a Muslim (Fakruddin Ali Ahmed) or a dalit (KR Narayanan) as President. The BJP and Modi are doing the same, as in the case of Ram Nath Kovind, which, in a real sense, means little in terms of promotion of the cause of emancipation of the Dalits or of their empowerment. This is simply a trick that helps bring votes for a party in the democratic system, even as the feel-good factor for the Dalits or Muslims is not lost sight of. So, for both the Congress and the BJP, strategies are the same; scratch the surface and not make any significant changes to the social systems, dominated as they are by the elitists – not necessarily the Brahmins who form only five per cent of the population but is occupying most positions in the Indian establishment. The rest of the population – 80 per cent of the disadvantaged sections – have effectively no role to play in India’s power structure, which remains as the monopoly of the elitists, except for some minister posts. Did the presence of Jagjivan Ram make any difference to the cause, or hopelessness, of the Dalits?
Modi is not part of this elitist segment, and yet he made no serious attempt at changing things for the better, or to end the inequities and exploitation so prevalent in the Indian society. This is a society where Dalits are treated as worse than the cattle. It should be of interest to note that neither did the leaders who came up from disadvantaged segments (Yadavs), the likes of Lalu Prasad or Mulayam Singh, make any serious attempts at empowering the poor and the disadvantaged in their respective states. In Bihar, at best, support at the ground level went to Yadavs. These leaders concentrated their attention, rather, on promoting the interests of their families, enforcing the dynasty system and installing their sons as successors to the throne. Dynasty took the upper hand over the system of democracy which in a true sense must see people having elected leaders of their choice to run not only governments but also parties. Dynasty is the anti-thesis of democracy. The result is that these leaders lost credibility even among the disadvantaged sections. So with the Karunanidhi clan in Tamil Nadu, where, Karunanidhi zeroed in on his own son, Stalin, to succeed him as head of the party, with his other family members, including nephews, being sent to occupy top positions in government.
In an age of degeneration of India, each of its systems has gone in for major hits from vested interests. Vested interests rule the roost. This is due to a scenario wherein, as the bard put it, things are “falling apart, falling apart, the centre cannot hold” — or to put it plainly, there is no strong leadership at the top. Leaders who run a nation should have the capacity to set things right. What they do, instead, in five years is mess up with matters, making some forays here and there, build some bridges, buy a few more of the fighter jets for the military, take a commission, and walk out of office at the end of the term. If anyone thought Modi would make a difference to this scenario, they are mistaken. There was so much of hope when Modi came in as PM after long years of drift at the top.
Modi was different. Modi had in him the discipline he imbibed from his association with the RSS. Modi has willpower. Modi can be aggressive if he chooses to. But, Modi as PM has failed to act on most fronts. Two terms, running into ten years, is a long haul for a leader. This was time for him to change India for the better, discipline its systems, and leave a lasting legacy behind. Nothing goes to show any good will come from Modi in the next four more years he will head the nation. What he did in Kashmir in August last was a master stroke. What else? Covid-19 by itself will not give Modi an easy escape from blame.
Fact is also that even a leader with the best of intentions cannot do much, caught as he is in India’s antiquated systems overloaded with vested interests and corrupt men at every turn stalling things. He has to contend with a bureaucracy known for its corruption and inefficiency. Bookworms with little of energy to act are filling its ranks. The entire recruitment process based on general knowledge and interview, with scope for manipulations, is faulty. India deserves a better civil service. Modi failed to put fear in the minds of the bureaucracy. He allowed them a free go.
A PM will not only have to contend with the Opposition, which anyway is not being forceful, but also with the bureaucracy and the media, the vested interests in the form of PIL barristers centered in Delhi, and the self-serving NGOs. Even the courts are under a shadow with allegations flying around from within its own ranks and from outside. Courts take their sweet time settling matters, arbitrating on disputes, and often go round and round, reaching the nation nowhere other than to further depths of systemic rot.
What an elected leader of the nation could and should do is not simply watch as to how the drift is turning worse and worse, but to take courage in his hands and change the systems for the better. It could be the bureaucracy, the courts or the media, or all of these. Today, good governance is seen in China and Russia, under dictatorships, whereas democracies are going the wrong way, be it the United States or the UK, while a leader of high individual worth, Angela Merkel is holding Germany in good form. This is more of her strength than the strength of democracy as a system.
Nearer home, Malaysia progressed by the strength of Mahathir Mohammad, whose word was law, while Singapore reached high levels of growth under Lee Kuan Yew, the founder leader who led the nation single-handedly for more than half a century, and did a good job. Had he allowed full democracy there, Singapore would have by now written its obituary. Russian leader Vladimir Putin recently passed law under which he as the leader of the nation will have the right to veto court orders. That’s leadership. Xi Jinping in China is now Leader for Life, a unique strength which only Mao Zedung held in the past, under which no one can challenge him. It means he has all the freedom to act. If Modi wanted to change India for the better, he would not have allowed the systems to take him for a sweet ride. Instead, he would have found the ways and means to make India stronger. Modi was given overwhelming mandate by the people in 2014, granting him the power to act. He got a larger ovation when he faced the people in 2019 and got elected for a second term. He should have used this eminent strength to effect a turnaround in the fortunes of the nation. Political stability is today the strength of India, thanks to Modi’s leadership. But, he is squandering an opportunity to work wonders for the nation.
Covid-19 by itself is no excuse for Modi and his team to go slow. Modi has four more years to perform. The touch-and-go approaches will not help. It is for the PM to identify as to what stands in his way of positive action. Individual or entity, they need be disciplined or shown their place. Change the systems, if need be. Hoping against hope that multinational firms will quit China and come here to set up units is, for one, to have a taste of fool’s paradise. Why have they gone there in the first place? It’s because they know China is not a chaotic nation, unlike neighbouring India. What has happened to the Bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad that Modi started as a pilot project to modernize the ageing railway systems in India? When the leadership of a state government changed, it spelt doom for the project as a whole. Will the Japanese come forward to cooperate with India for another venture? In China, what the leader of the nation says is the last word. If the Yechuries and Rajas in India want to know how a nation is governed, they must be packed to China forcefully for a few years. They will have their elementary education in politics and state craft there. By allowing bluff-masters to pick holes and bark at the government, in the name of democracy and the freedom it gives them, Modi is defeating himself. Who does not want a leader to be effective and a dictator? Who other than India’s vested interests? What the ordinary people want is a faster growth for the nation, a la China, which will benefit all. Covid-19 is only a season’s worry.
If not for Modi, who are there to shape India’s future? A not-very-mature Rahul Gandhi who breezes in and out of responsibilities? Or, crooks like Sharad Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu, or a disruptor like Mamata Banerjee? Or a down and out Deve Gowda, who has been resurrected and replanted in the Rayja Sabha at age 88? Democracy, for some, is a field for indulgences. Nation’s interests must gain precedence over individual urges, whims and ambitions. Modi still has four years left. This is time to act or perish. email@example.com
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