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Swapan Dasgupta: Political Roadblocks Ahead for the New PM

A determined Congress will be only one of Narendra Modi's many post-elections challenges

Published: May 17, 2014 06:44:40 AM IST
Updated: May 15, 2014 04:56:10 PM IST
Swapan Dasgupta: Political Roadblocks Ahead for the New PM
Swapan Dasgupta is a veteran journalist, columnist and social commentator. He was the managing editor of India Today until 2003, and has been writing on the Indian Right for the last two decades

Some slogans are created by clever professionals; others are homegrown and invariably tend to become infectious. In Varanasi and, indeed, the whole of the Ganga belt, the BJP was heartened when the slogan “Har har Modi/Ghar ghar Modi” captured the enthusiasm of the youthful activists who discovered in Narendra Modi the next great hope. When this slogan was officially disowned by the BJP thanks to the objection of some Hindu religious figures, the vacuum was quickly filled by a line from the catchy theme song of the BJP campaign song: “Achhe din aane wale hai” (the good days are beckoning).

The choice was perhaps appropriate. Even though many liberal commentators imagined the Modi euphoria of 2014 to have been built on the merciless exploitation of sectarian fault lines, the ground realities argued something completely different. As the campaign progressed, Modi, it would seem, was transformed into a symbol of hope for a better life. The BJP advertisements played on this yearning relentlessly and by the time voters queued before the election booths, the tough guy from Gujarat had acquired the status of India’s great Mr Fix-It.

If Modi wins the election and goes on to occupy the prime minister’s chair, popular expectations are certain to be dizzying. The reality of an economy in dire straits is certain to hit him hard and perhaps contribute to the tempering of the belief in miraculous solutions. However, as important as economic management, Modi will need to address many political roadblocks along the way.

Swapan Dasgupta: Political Roadblocks Ahead for the New PM
Image: Amit Dave / Reuters
Modi’s natural inclination is to run a lean government and appointing the best available person for a job. But will he have the elbow room to be so focussed?

The Congress may well lose the elections, and even miserably. However, rejection by the electorate isn’t likely to lead to any profound disorientation. Yes, there will be the usual bout of navel-gazing but this exercise is certain to be completely overshadowed by the fierce determination of the first family to cling on to its spheres of influence. More important, there is a strong perception in Congress circles that a BJP-led government will use the levers of political power to target the Gandhi family, and particularly Sonia Gandhi’s controversial son-in-law Robert Vadra.

There are undeniably some facets of his business activities that warrant scrutiny by the tax authorities. However, even tentative steps in this direction are certain to provoke huge Congress resistance. By including Vadra in the family photograph at Rahul Gandhi’s filing of nomination in Amethi and with Priyanka Gandhi proffering a robust defence of her husband, the Gandhis have sent out unmistakable signals that any attack on Vadra will be construed as an attack on the entire family. Modi will need to take that into account and prepare for the Congress stalling Parliament (on some pretext or other) to create a firewall around Vadra.

Modi may actually relish such a battle. Unfortunately for him, a Congress determined to preserve a family inheritance isn’t going to be the only problem. The internal problems of the BJP which took a backseat following the realisation that Modi was the only vote-getter are certain to resurface.

Swapan Dasgupta: Political Roadblocks Ahead for the New PM
Image: Getty Images
The Gandhis have signalled that any attack on Robert Vadra will be construed as an attack on the family

One of the less publicised facets of the BJP campaign was the fact that its prime ministerial candidate had very little say in the selection of candidates. The newly-elected BJP members of the Lok Sabha may well be grateful to Modi for ensuring their victory but a recognition that their prime minister stands above factional politics may take some time to sink in. In the interregnum, there is likely to be a frenetic (and, maybe, unseemly) scramble for the loaves of office. Modi’s natural inclination is to run a lean government and appointing the best available person for a job. But will he have the elbow room to be so focussed?

The third potential area of conflict may centre on policy. After 10 years in opposition the natural inclination of the BJP support base is to press for radical and discernible change in governance rather than settle for continuity. In this there
is no mismatch of objectives between Modi and the party. However, on the more contentious issue of the nature of change, there is a potential for conflict.

After 12 years at the helm of a very purposeful state government, Modi is no pushover when it comes to policy. Even before the election campaign got under way, Modi had convened small groups of sympathisers who had sensitised him to the issues confronting India and possible approaches for change. What is significant about these inputs is that they were qualitatively different from the type of thinking that characterise the wider Sangh Parivar. Modi’s inclination is towards modernity and global standards whereas the Sangh is still partial towards the small-is-beautiful and ‘appropriate technology’ solutions to Indian problems. How this simmering divergence will be politically resolved will be watched keenly, especially by those anxious to exacerbate tensions between the government and the Sangh.

Finally, there is the complex issue of federalism. In an ideal world and with the rich experience of running a state government, Modi will be inclined to concede more powers and more autonomy to the states by reducing the quantum of centrally-sponsored projects. This approach could even be used as the leverage to get outstanding issues such as the GST off the ground. However, in the world of partisan politics it will be some time before state governments run by non-NDA parties settle down to a working relationship with a new government at the Centre.

For the opposition the danger will be all the more because Modi will be out to refurbish his credentials as a truly national leader whereas his political opponents, anxious to guard their own turf, will be anxious to paint him as a fiercely partisan prime minister. In the past, Modi has attempted to overcome such problems by appealing to the people over the heads of their political representatives. However, since his entire approach lies in creating a co-operative federal structure, the state government will have to be taken on board. How he does that will be worth observing.

(This story appears in the 30 May, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Kaushik Banerjee


    on May 24, 2016
  • Sushaal Sungeet

    ForbesIndia will lose all credibility by publishing such articles.

    on May 17, 2014
    • Yash

      you speak like a disgruntled congress worker. Get a life man. swapan is one of the most honest journalists in India

      on Jun 15, 2014
  • Aditya

    What a rubbish article. A pity that Forbes couldn\'t garner something more substantial. Even before elections, the apprehensions expressed here, some of them are pure conjectures while others are one which any new govt. will have to face. In the current scenario, even those flimsy grounds on which one or two of the apprehensions held ground has also been lost. A totally useless exercise.

    on May 17, 2014