No election is too small for the Prime Minister. Last November, he campaigned vigorously in the Hyderabad municipal poll. This year it went bankrupt in the West Bengal elections. Prime Minister believes in setting up the narrative
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi enters his eighth year in office, I thought I should examine the validity of the observations I made about him in my book, Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance, published in 2014, little after the general election. I didn’t promote the book, allowing it to swim or sink to the bottom. He failed in the market.
In the first chapter, I said that Modi was a “compulsive activist” and that he “likes the campaigns not only during the elections but also in between”. The past seven years have shown that nothing energizes Modi like elections. Under his leadership, the BJP has grown into a formidable electoral struggle machine with the desire to win in every way.
No election is too small for the Prime Minister. Last November, he campaigned vigorously in the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election. This year it went bankrupt in the West Bengal Assembly elections. The Prime Minister believes in setting up the narrative. Its social media agents relentlessly and viciously attack those who oppose the government. “Every day becomes a campaign day,” veteran journalist Coomi Kapoor said in a May 31 article in the Indian Express about the prickling of government media officials.
Modi’s campaign style, I said, informs his philosophy of governance. He is essentially a mobilizer. Each year, as chief minister, he charged the administration with a new theme. If it was “Nirmal (clean) Gujarat” one year, it was “Nirogi Balak” (children without disease) the following year. There have been campaigns like “Kanya Kelavani”, “Shala Praveshotsav” and “Gunotsav” (to increase school enrollment, especially for girls, and improve the quality of education).
I had asked Modi if he thought that these quiet topics could cause his administration to lose course. He said that each subsequent theme was related to the previous one. During the annual “Krishi Mahotsav”, which began in 2005, about a lakh of officials from 18 departments visited farmers in their villages for a month before the onset of the monsoons. They tested the soil and provided advice on various aspects of profitable farming. “Be like Gujarat,” was the advice of former chief economic adviser Shankar Acharya in a 2014 article in the Business Standard to other states with broken agricultural extension systems.
I was impressed by the “Swantha Sukhay” (self-satisfaction) program which forced officials to choose an initiative that went beyond their usual remit. Modi told me that the ambition of the initiative allowed him to judge the motivation of the officials. Some of the initiatives like the Baroda Anganwadi Vegetable Gardens, which supplemented the diet of tribal children with locally grown leafy green vegetables, won awards for their initiators on Civil Service Day. Modi held an annual retreat where officials and ministers met in a problem-solving mode. This made me suggest that Modi “is perhaps the only leader in power with a philosophy of governance”.
Modi told me in an interview in 2008: “Mera ek mool bhoot (fundamental) thought hai. Until you understand this philosophy, you won’t understand what I’m doing. “Why have so many people given their lives in the fight for freedom?” He asked. This is because “Mahatma Gandhi converted the need for individual independence into a mass movement. I think development has to become a movement. “
At the Center, we have not seen a demonstration of Modi’s governance philosophy in the development arena. There was a mobilization of people against open defecation. The toilets were built on a large scale. Towns and cities competed to be clean and topped the rankings. Ministries such as the railways have mobilized. Even a change in behavior has been attempted. The program benefited from the capable and serious leadership of the former secretary, Parameswaran Iyer.
Programs to provide no-frills bank accounts and cooking gas hook-ups to the poor have also been mobilized in a massive way. But beyond that, people weren’t fired with the urge to make India great again. The one “development” initiative that massively galvanized people was demonetization. But it was anti-development, hurt many households and broke the back of the economy.
The past seven years have shown that Modi enjoys events and shows that keep him in the media spotlight. They convey a sense of activity without actually leading to forward movement or progress. Gujarat’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic shows episodic exercises like “ Nirmal Gujarat ” and “ Nirogi Balak ” cannot maintain desirable health outcomes without a well-designed three-tier health system of the type of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in which the state government is deeply invested. I had noted that only 100 primary health care centers had been built in 10 years when Modi was CM. And its model “Chiranjeevi Yojana” program to stimulate hospital deliveries and reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths has not been “statistically significant” successful. In my book, I had expressed my dismay at the hype of irrelevant sanitation campaigns after visiting Dwarka whose garbage and rubbish came as a shock. “How could this happen to a pilgrimage center in a state that defends Hindutva?” I had asked.
But we have seen a mobilization in the cultural field. On issues that are intrinsic to HIndutva – the status of Jammu and Kashmir, the cattle trade for slaughter, the beef ban, respect for the cow, and the vilification of communities and ideologies – the company has been mobilized and kept in a state of turmoil like never before.
In this regard, the Bharatiya Janata party under Modi had drawn inspiration from the Chinese Community Party, which under Mao Zedong waged a relentless campaign against class enemies. I had asked if Modi’s comfort with democracy ended with elections – and well short of constitutional checks and balances, reflecting the Chinese Communist Party’s unease with the Western-style separation of powers. Over the past seven years, there has been little debate and scrutiny of government action in Parliament. And until the new chief justice took over, the Supreme Court had become an “executive tribunal,” as one commentator put it.
To show that Modi as CM was deficient in the dissent department, I cited the example of Kanubhai Kalsaria, surgeon and three-time MP, who was not considered when a cement plant was approved in his constituency, Mahuva. He led the people’s agitation against it, but had to quit the BJP.
I had said that Modi was a liberalizer unlike his RSS colleagues who had suspicions of foreign direct investment. I said he was not pro-market but pro-business. I said that the development of Gujarat has Chinese characteristics with an emphasis on port-led development. But I hadn’t noticed that Gujarat’s development was capital intensive, while China had encouraged labor-intensive Town and Village Enterprises (FTEs) in the initial phase of its development. modernization.
Also read: Oppn in quarantine, says Nadda; Cong lists 7 “ blunders ” of BJP in 7 years
I had said that Modi was a red tape killer like “ One Chop Zhu ” (Rongji), the mayor who presided over the development of Shanghai Pudong – an expanse of swamps and rice fields – into a vibrant financial center after the Tiananmen massacre. But Modi’s execution skills are now in doubt. Its reduction in red tape betrays a non-consultative approach as evidenced by the redevelopment of Central Vista. I said that Modi was not pro-market but pro-business. I also did not expect him to go back on liberalization and favor certain industries with import duties in the name of “atmanirbharta” or self-sufficiency. I should have known that Modi doesn’t like to let go.
I had spoken of Modi’s intimacy with business groups. A party with a great appetite for political finance had to be the handmaid of industry. Companies are forced to put in place suitable policies and land concessions, said a corporate affairs official from one of the groups. “We never thought we would be this big in 1995,” Gautam Adani told me when I met him.
Looking back, Modi seems to have called himself a man of development through initiatives like Vibrant Gujarat to extend his appeal to voters. Once at the Center, the development gave the primacy of the place to Hindutva, which indeed became a movement.