Narendra Modi rode a rhapsodic wave to 7 Race Course Road amidst frenzied BJP supporters, media calisthenics, promotional blitz and mind-boggling promises of acchhe din. Twelve months later, it is established that Modi has no magic wand. Or a unique panacea for India's diverse challenges. In fact, he has come up woefully short. Despite being a Congress spokesperson, I shall attempt to be dispassionate and prejudice-free in this brief synopsis of a year that was annus horribilis for us.
Modi's only positive accomplishment was that he, at least temporarily, revived national sentiment on India, which paradoxically enough, was relentlessly smothered, slaughtered and singed by the BJP itself. But a painstaking analysis demonstrates that Modi remained in campaign mode and orchestrated atmospherics like the Madison Square Garden show dominated the rock-star politician's agenda. The actual performance though remained sub-par.
"Modi's economy was sluggish and slothful, with all crucial economic indicators such as job accretion, core sector growth, merchandise exports and agricultural productivity languishing."
The institutionalisation of the RSS was formalized - its chief got official government approbation by being allowed broadcast his Hindutva philosophy on the state-run Doordarshan. Modi promptly tweeted his earnest endorsement of Mohan Bhagwat's speech. Expectedly, what followed were inflammatory outbursts from the likes of Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and Giriraj Singh. Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, unheard of sectarian templates suddenly overwhelmed political discourse. Meanwhile, the RSS has imperceptibly penetrated some crucial institutions of India, like education. It hardly portends well. Hate-spewing voices like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Sadhvi Prachi gained prominence. Modi, a past-master at running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, found that his political stratagem had backfired. By the end of a year, people were asking probing questions. Modi's convenient silence followed by a self-righteous tweet seemed trite.
Church attacks continued unabated, getting ex-top cop Julio Ribeiro to ruefully question his status as an Indian citizen. Earlier, just before he returned home after Modi's bear-hugs and riveting tales of his crocodile conquests following India's Republic day, US President Barack Obama remained circumspect about India's secular credentials -- if Mahatma Gandhi was alive, he would be stunned to see Indian society rising communal intolerance.
The BJP/RSS have a pathological antipathy towards India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and it shows - from renaming schemes earlier named after him, to repeated attempts to mortify the world statesman. It reached a nadir when personal equations between him and Sardar Patel and Netaji SC Bose were distorted mischievously through selective leaks.
Despite some heaven-sent economic tailwinds that had crude oil prices slump to below 50% of the levels prevalent during the UPA, Modi's economy was sluggish and slothful, with all crucial economic indicators such as job accretion, core sector growth, merchandise exports and agricultural productivity languishing. Despite massive ad spends for government branding of popular schemes (erstwhile UPA launches), there was little incremental momentum. Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana etc remained just seductive slogans. Modi was peripatetic, a constant globetrotter but with nothing to show but his rock-star image, particularly to NRIs. India's economic performance has been unimpressive, despite GDP growth projected at 7.5%. Irrational obstinacy in the Land Bill by a recalcitrant Modi has led to increasing farmer resistance, and Gajendra Rajput's death in scorching heat in Delhi was a macabre exhibition of farmer angst.
"Modi's arrogance can be best seen in his Scarlett O'Hara attitude, with the ordinance route employed flagrantly."
Modi's arrogance can be best seen in his Scarlett O'Hara attitude, with the ordinance route employed flagrantly. But the opposition was resolute in its defiance of anti-poor legislative amendments being hurriedly pushed through. Arun Jaitley, who masterminded the parliamentary gridlock during UPA-II that held back crucial bills, now appeared distraught. No one was convinced. The BJP is like a Robin Hood gone rogue; it has slashed social sector allocations on public health, delayed MNREGA payments, allowed the Food Security Act to remain comatose and mocked at farmer-friendly provisions in the Land Ordinance. The poor are understandably disillusioned, and even the middle-class are feeling short-charged.
The promise to recover black money within 100 days was revealed to be mere electoral rhetoric by Amit Shah. It was the perfect example of the BJP's sleight of hand.
Foreign policy remained muddled, even as traditional adversaries Pakistan and China seem to be drawing even closer by sharing strategic military and economic corridors (USD 46 billion investments) on crucial geographical terrain sensitive to Indian borders. And non-state actors given polite patronage by the Pakistan establishment looked increasingly hostile. The bravado on capturing dreaded don Dawood Ibrahim has only caused acute embarrassment.
Opaqueness ruled as the RTI appears to be sidelined. And the Lokpal, an independent CBI, and related anti-corruption infrastructure bills remained in cold storage. For its political satire and self-deprecating humour, the AIB Roast found itself instead being targeted. In Maharashtra, the beef ban was symptomatic of religious polarisation getting whole-hearted encouragement.
The Delhi elections results manifested the middle-class's disillusionment with Modi. But it is the politically opportunistic alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir that has raised serious concerns on India's national security.
"They say a week is a long time in politics. A year, as Modi is probably discovering, is eternity. India is waiting. And is getting increasingly impatient."
Modi has even tarred NGOs, such as Greenpeace and those funded by the Ford Foundation, with the brush of suspicion. The government has looked waspish, exasperated with jholawalla activists. They apparently pose mountainous threats to India's growth model. It sounded peevish and puerile and reeked of political insecurity.
The media has been generally indulgent of Modi, barring the occasional castigation. This after Modi contemptuously dismissed them as news traders ("bazaru"). With General VK Singh branding the media as "presstitutes", one expected Modi to do some damage control. Instead, he sounds embittered, sulking at their reluctance to appreciate his government.
Frankly, Modi's honeymoon is over and the signs of disenchantment are clear. The party's spokespersons have a standard answer for every question: "development" and a reminder of their brute force in Parliament.
Returning rejuvenated from a brief sabbatical, Rahul Gandhi made a straightforward but bodacious attack: "Modi's is a suit-boot ki Sarkar, it exists primarily for crony-capitalism". He found innumerable takers, given Modi's brazenly demonstrated public proximity to his select favourites, who look equally thrilled to be in exotic foreign locations with their generous host.
As a Congressman, nothing lacerates my sensibilities more than when Modi talks of a "Congress Mukt Bharat". It was the successful fight for Indian Independence in 1947 which ended European domination. The simultaneous Chinese Revolution of 1949 led to an Asian resurgence and the rise of two superpowers-driven bipolarity in the Soviet Union and USA. Modi and the BJP do not seem to know that the Congress-led freedom movement changed world history. He can do nothing to change that. Nothing.
They say a week is a long time in politics. A year, as Modi is probably discovering, is eternity. India is waiting. And is getting increasingly impatient.
Sanjay Jha is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. The views are his own.