Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The political weather is turning: BJP gets the chills

The BJP has squandered its massive mandate and is playing a blame game

(Published on October 7, 2017 in Business Standard)

The weather in Delhi is finally turning, as is public opinion in India. The bluster and gloating are gone. Three and a half years into the Modi government, those who never liked the BJP are furious and openly derisive. Those who wanted to give it a chance have lost patience, and are openly derisive. Traders and shop owners, core BJP constituents, practically spit their disappointment, and are openly derisive. Social media is openly derisive. Even the shouty trolls have gone quiet.

On Dussehra, Prime Minister Modi provided the perfect visual metaphor for why this is so: He raised a bow to shoot an arrow into the effigy of Ravan, failed twice, then just threw the arrow a lame couple of feet. A grand set-up for an embarrassing flop. The cartoons just draw themselves.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seems to have squandered its massive political mandate. Rampaging all over the electoral map off a springboard of public opinion made of similar disappointment and derision aimed at the UPA, it set itself up as a soaring, decisive doer. But the perception was more PR than substance, and the government’s least controversial achievement has been to prove that. It has punctured its own overinflated image with a spectacular set of unforced errors.

Nobody forced the government to promise us Rs 15 lakh each, then snigger that that was just election gimmickry. Nobody forced Modi to wear a wildly expensive suit monogrammed with his own name. Nobody forced the BJP to use photoshop and fake images to manufacture fake credit. Nobody put a gun to its head to appoint prehistoric sexist moralists to states and certification boards and universities.

Nobody forced its silence over horrific lynchings of Muslims and Dalits, making beef the huge livelihood-destroying issue that it now is. The government decided to drape Mohammad Akhlaq’s murderer in the tricolour. No one forced it to treat protesting students like criminals, or threaten Pakistan on national television. Nobody made it force Aadhaar down the throats of unwilling citizens. Nobody told it to jettison a competent RBI governor. Nobody forced it to start dictating citizens’ dinner plates, culture, dress, religious, and sexual habits. Nobody made it turn nationalism into a bigot’s weapon. Nobody asked it to trample science under superstition and religion, or turn institutes of learning into Hindutva finishing schools. 

Nobody asked it to force digital transactions on a nation where bank access, data connectivity, and electricity are partial at best. Nobody asked it to force-feed children rewritten textbooks filled with lies. Nobody pressured it into massaging data repackaging old schemes with new names as never-before misrepresenting their impact and effect.
And the Prime Minister is solely and wholly responsible for the unnecessary, cruelly incompetent bullet in India’s economic heart that was demonetisation. He is responsible for rolling out GST in the cumbersome, chaotic manner that is oppressing many businesses.

Having first successfully discredited and marginalised its critics, the government is now blaming the sour national mood on ‘panic’ spread by ‘pessimists’. It blames citizens for not creating their own jobs. It is trying to find scapegoats. But it has only itself to blame for dragging the country into an economic quagmire, poisoning social relations, infecting administration with religion, and snuffing out talent and progress with regressive orthodoxy and destructive hubris.

The truth is that this government is made of people with a talent deficit and an ego surplus, peddling a tiny-minded vision consisting of vainglorious dreams built on sand, hot air, empty gestures, and overlarge statues. It’s like a shaky, tinsel-draped billboard on poles stuck in the mud, advertising a five-star hotel. The words that stick to it are ‘jumla’ and ‘feku’. A skilled actor and clever lighting can only take a useless script so far—the play is still lousy.

Today, servile television channels masquerading as news keep huge farmers’ protests off the air and hammer at the opposition; people are working harder at fewer jobs to afford less; and people wish their daughters could grow up elsewhere. Meanwhile, crony capitalism is thriving. Is it any wonder that even those voters who ignore or approve of the BJP’s vile Hindutva agenda, are fed up with its economic incompetence? Is it a surprise that consumer confidence has crashed? People look at the endless boastful claims, then look around them, and see the disconnect. 

You can, as they say, fool all of the people some of the time; and some of the people all of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The last government was deeply flawed, smug, and infuriatingly corrupt, but on a steadily progressive path. This one inspires only international editorials warning of regressiveness and illiberality.


Yes, the weather is turning. We can all agree to blame the climate.

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