This post is being written a day before the final phase of the state elections in Gujarat. It is an election that is already giving the ruling BJP a fright and the results on Dec 18 may show Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slipping hold on his home-state and, perhaps, the country. However the Gujarati voters will it, it is safe to say that Modi reached his political apogee sometime back and now he may be declining.
Political punditry is not my forte. However, there are uncanny resemblances between Modi and the US President Donald J Trump. The similarities in their ‘strong man’ political trajectories are hard to miss and analyzing them, incidentally, is what I have done in a whole chapter in my next book that I am half way through writing. Notwithstanding their origins and social backgrounds from the two ends of the wealth and societal spectrum, it is astonishing just how much they have in common with each other, including their authoritarian temperaments, position in their respective firmaments as the sole source of policy ideas often voiced without much forethought or expert inputs, down to their love of twitter to communicate with millions.
Political developments relevant to these two heads of government in India and the US too seem to be running in parallel. Trump has just been pulled down several political pegs by the election of the opposition Democratic party candidate for the US Senate, Doug Jones, from the President’s own Republican Party-dominated state of Alabama, where he had canvassed vigorously for his party’s nominee.
This is not unlike what is transpiring in Gujarat where the BJP may win but by a much reduced majority and reflect poorly on the PM’s supposed vote pulling power and set the scene for the 2019 general elections in which Modi will be running scared. In the main because, he squandered the popular mandate he was afforded in 2014 for radical system change, which he will find hard to explain to the people. He coined more slogans, and implemented measures (demonetization, GST, etc) that do not begin to address the root of all problems, and the continuing rot, in the country — the existing apparatus of state manned by generalist civil servants accountable to no one. Worse, his promise of job generation has not panned out, the economy is lurching from bad to bad (if not to worse, which’s a relief), the public life of the nation during his tenure has steadily coarsened with Modi unable or unwilling to rein in the unruly, often murderous, Hindu fringe mobs taking life, running amuck. The electorate is becoming impatient with the PM’s talk, and more talk, of change but with little evidence of it on the ground where BJP’s claims of ridding the country of corruption is contradicted by petty officials reaching out for their cut. His flagship ‘Make in India’ policy is such a welter of confusions it will end up further entrenching India as an arms dependency, except now it will be Washington controlling the drip.
The difference is that while little was expected of the crass, almost juvenile, Trump other than that he’d curse out his opponents and lift the tax burden on fellow billionaires — something he may or may not be able to deliver on, much was anticipated from Modi, just as showy and shallow, perhaps, but a political animal all the same to Trump’s political amateur.
These two will be seen in retrospect, to have had much less enduring effects than when they started out in their respective tenures. Modi’s failure is especially unfortunate because — his rhetoric (“The government has no business to be in business”) apart he never was the flag-bearer for principled rightwing conservative ideology — something India desperately needed to balance Congress Party’s Nehruvian socialism — a cover for dynastic rule in the country, and to have someone as a rightful successor to the great Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) and (the PM’s namesake) Mody, albeit Piloo.