Euphoric utterances

S. Sethuraman

Abroad, ever triumphant Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasts of 'surgical strikes' and on how the whole world is looking at India and its structural reforms like GST, deserving of a study in US Business Schools. At home, his unwavering campaign against black money - with no end in sight with all his tough laws and raids - overlooking farm crisis, the banking mess, and an investment-starved economy limping without jobs.
To top it all, he has to navigate through a nation seething with anger over rising intolerance and lynchings by Gau-rakshak vigilantes owing allegiance to the rulers. All this, however, can in no way detract from the Prime Minister's unique standing in a turbulent world, wherever he goes.
His tight-rope walking in his recent encounter with a tempestuous and mercurial President Donald Trump of USA, was noteworthy, as the latter has shown himself to backtrack on whatever he would have said earlier. Mr Modi has ensured at least continuance of traditional Indo-US relations with its strategical overtones, especially in the Asian-Pacific region, wisely leaving some niggles to be sorted out in due course.
But India's foreign policy is currently under one of severest tests with not only Pakistan's stepping-up of terrorism across the LOC but also our major Northern neighbour indulging in new incursions across the eastern border laying claims to areas closer to Indo-Bhutan border, forcing India to send troops in non-combative mode.
This is part of China's stepped-up campaign of hostility toward New Delhi over a host of unrelated issues. Mr Modi may take these in stride but cannot allow drift as had been the case for over a year now in Kashmir.
Domestically, for Mr Modi, the dominant concern seems to be to extinguish political opposition and not allow any anti-incumbency factor to sprout.  .That is how he ever remains in a campaign mode and make announcements with a fanfare.
The Modi Government, with robust confidence however, is getting increasingly focused on the Lok Sabha poll in 2019 with an ambition to garner a majority of votes polled, as against only 31per cent in 2014. Its policies from now on for next two years would be largely welfarist, and there would be increasing drumbeats for its pronouncements instantly turning achievements.
Mr Modi is trying to sell all his reforms as ones designed to help the poor, as he did with disastrous demonetisation of November last year. The Prime Minister and his campaign chief Mr Amit Shah are in continuous strategic planning, how to extend BJP rule in more states where elections will be ahead of Lok Sabha poll.
When it comes to elections, BJP ditches its 'party with difference' brand and switches on to caste-based vote banks, a charge it had laid against the other national opposition party. The Prime Minister was credited by Mr Shah with "political master-stroke" in selecting Mr. Ram Nath Kovind, Governor of Bihar, a Dalit, for the post of President.
With the ruling party wanting consensus without naming its candidate, the Congress-led opposition selected former Speaker of Lok Sabha Ms. Meira Kumar who has raised the stakes in the Presidential election to one of ideology (not caste), democratic values, inclusiveness and social justice and called for a vote of conscience. 
But some state parties including the two rival factions of AIDMK have sold themselves to earn Mr Modi’s goodwill. Whether Ms. Kumar is successful or not, as we would know later this month, the Prime Minister has come out in defence of democracy - not often heard from him -and also broke his enigmatic silence over the series of lynchings by Hindutva outfits taking law into their own hands.
In the coming months, keeping an eye on the non-BJP landmass, he could become more vocal on issues of common interest and on further majoritarian fatwas emerging from his style of governance, all of which would agitate vast sections of the people of India and cannot be slurred over.
Mr Modi is not only a master of words, twists and tweets but also can tactfully choose time and place to air his carefully-crafted words of assurance. From the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, in condemnation of incidents of lynchings, many in the name of cow protection, the Prime Minister declared no person has the right to take the law into his own hands.
While referring to the importance of cows enshrined in the Constitution, he asked, "Does this give us the right to kill people" in the name of Gau Raksha.  The series of such attacks in the country which included Una (Gujarat 2016), had been mostly directed at Dalits and Muslims, and no wonder Mr Modi spoke from Ahmedabad not overlooking the impending elections in home state.
In a similar vein, he has aired views on Democracy.  He certainly makes obeisance to Democracy, especially on June 25 every year, by way of reminding Indians of Indira Gandhi emergency era and its illiberal ways. The monthly 'Man-ki-baat' comes handy to spread his ideas and trumpet achievements.
Sometimes, some astounding claims can also be made, such as how demonetisation was designed for the poor (who sacrificed their time and labour standing before banks to get a few crumbs of cash from their own account). Mr Modi praised the poor for their sacrifice in the "Mahayagna" aimed at getting at the rich with hoarded cash and evaded taxes.
He has played the poor versus rich theme to draw the poor votes, as was seen in UP, and take the outcome as endorsement of demonetisation. And he is telling the liberal-minded folks who have raised voice against intolerance and the lynchings that he always welcomes "constructive criticism" of Government's performance, which must be accountable. Sections of print and electronic media have already been made to know their limits.  (IPA)

Thursday, 6 July, 2017