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The political impact of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘transform India’ mission

In two earlier pieces (Part I, Part II), Modi’s transformation of India using the twin pillars – choosing the right policies and then executing them well – was examined in detail. The impact on the ground is for all to see. It is in this context that news of the plot to assassinate Modi by extremists groups has come as a shocker. Undoubtedly it is a serious issue and reports have indicated that the police, as well as the intelligence agencies, are looking into this.

The plot itself was not unexpected given that two former Indian Prime Ministers have been assassinated. But it comes as a living reminder that country’s leadership continues to face threats from forces inimical to India – both within and outside the country.

More importantly, this is symptomatic of the deeper churn in the political ecosystem ever since Modi became Prime Minister. It is worth pointing out here that many opposition parties, particularly the fringe elements, have been drumming up so much hatred and spewing venom that it may have directly or indirectly contributed to such plots. But that is for the police to determine.

Modi’s focus on “development”, besides unleashing the economy, has enabled him to wrest control of the political narrative and lay down a new set of agenda for India. Muslim appeasement has lost its sheen – particularly after the banning of “triple talaq” thus endearing himself to millions of Muslim women. Also, the absence of targeted attacks on minorities that many Cassandra prophesied has only aided the shifting of the narrative. In many ways, much of the angst of these entrenched anti-national elements can be sourced to their complete disappointment in the successes of the ruling establishment.

This shift in narrative has immense consequences. India is witnessing a slow migration from ghetto politics – a perverted brand of politics of pandering to minorities at the expense of the majority that has only fissured India for seven decades – to one dominated by performance, punctuated by key statistics and data on the economy. The ground reality is that it is sounding the death knell for many political careers and parties. A careful examination of changes occurring in the political campaigns seems to suggest the movement in that direction.

The Congress party, India’ largest opposition party in terms of organization and resources, has been forced out of office in all states save one.  India’s very own grand old party with a long history is today reduced to a mere rump of their erstwhile past. The massive mandate in favour of Modi has created severe long-term damages to the party. Their banding together with all and sundry – disparate and desperate parties has only degraded India’s opposition polity into a chaotic agglutination for whom political ideology has become nothing more than a disguise. This short-sighted calculus to gain political power at any cost has been their undoing.

Their responses to the government’s “development first” agenda have been bizarre – from a mix of standard divide and rule gimmickry to engineering violent protests to create a false aura of deteriorating law and order situation. They talked about the unending oppression of Dalits, repression of Muslims, denial of equal rights to women, refusal to share river water sources between states, linguistic chauvinism, and north versus south India and so on and so forth. But all these time-tested strategies seem to have fallen flat on their faces and only succeeded in leading them further into the dark political wilderness. The people seem to have called the bluff.

Aiding the Prime Minister in building his massive support base, albeit unintended, is the almost complete lack of thought leadership in the opposition camp. Their only answer to his development programs is a dysfunctional opposition to anything and everything he does. They seem to have mistaken rabid Modi-baiting for strategy. Engineering street protests and attacks on Dalits and minorities are now misconstrued as political stagecraft. So rapid is the erosion of their support base that today Congress is not even confident of being elected in their “safest” constituencies despite all allurements to the voters.

The truth is that Modi’s massive mindshare of Indians is real. He has captivated different demographic segments by providing different programs that appeal to them. With his powerful engagement on social media, he seems to have captured the imagination of the younger segments. They see the fruits of his initiatives – from sleek railway coaches to soil data cards for farmers – and have massively backed him.

The expectations of the people on the delivery of developmental agenda are high and there is no going back. In every village people are talking excitedly about electrification or the introduction of new railway lines or the spanking new highway that snakes through their town. They have now seen and experienced for themselves how things can change fast. The most important learning for the people is that these massive public investments and welfare programs if executed well under watchful eyes can swiftly impact their economic fortunes. That is the essence of Modi’s economic transformation.

The fall out on the political ecosystem is that many political careers will be ruined and we may never again see the faces of many politicians. Fringe elements, arguably the loudest anti-Modi voices and the most virulent anti-national forces, have been corralled and their sources of funds have been shut down, thanks to demonetization. For others, the writing on the wall is clear. Perform your duties as expected or exit the political life.

The focus on governance and development may have found a long-awaited cure for anti-incumbency that ailed India for decades. This does not mean that 2019 election will be a cakewalk for the BJP or Modi himself. There is a lot of unfinished work. More importantly, he has to step up his publicity machinery to bring to the attention of every Indian in every village what has been achieved in these four years.

Good governance and data on the economy may provide fuel to debates and score brownie points on the television talk shows and may even win thunderous applause. But winning elections is another matter altogether. The 2018 elections in Karnataka shows that BJP has much work to do. But at least one thing is clear. The days of perverted appeasement politics is definitely over and seems to have had a quiet burial.

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Naagesh Padmanaban
All things considered by this ordinary citizen of the world; Calls a spade a spade.

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