Under Siege for Others' Failures, Modi Must Win Back Trust of His Core Constituents
Like it or not, Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodar Das Modi is not one who easily forgives or forgets. His assertive actions and proactive policies during the past 16 months have proved he hasn’t forgiven those who are deemed inefficient, politically motivated and place roadblocks in his march to achieving his mission. He has moved, removed and dumped them. Yet, in his endeavour to achieve the maximum in minimum time, the PM and his adjutants seem to have forgotten the many covenants he had made with the people during the 2014 elections. This may be an oversight on his part or has happened because of misplaced trust in many of his ministers and civil servants. As the PM, his performance has been exemplary on the global front. He has restored India’s prestige worldwide. He is seen as a leader who means business. He has sown the seeds of many innovative ideas, which when harvested will make India a world power.
But the Modi establishment has forgotten the PM’s committed constituencies at the cost of pleasing brown nosers. In his 2014 election campaign, Modi had wisely chosen his target audience—farmers, nationalists, students, middle class, business community, retired armymen and corporates. He made it a point to address the grievances of each section and vowed to resolve them soon after coming to power. But 16 months later, the groups, which had taken up Modi’s cause as their own, are experiencing a crisis of faith. They feel his government has not acted enough to address their issues. Since they had made stellar contributions towards getting the BJP seize a majority on its own, they were expecting the NDA to give priority to their demands. Most upset are the over three million-strong retired soldiers and war widows who were convinced that their 40-year-old demand for One Rank, One Pension (OROP) would be accepted by the dispensation they voted for.
Modi began his election campaign from Rewari in Haryana where he addressed a huge rally of defence veterans, whom he assured that his government would meet their legitimate demand for OROP. Through the past year, various BJP leaders, from the PM to party president Amit Shah, have reiterated their commitment to implement it. The delay forced faujis to go on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar—India’s ground zero of protest. What angered them were the excuses trotted out by Cabinet ministers about financial constraints regarding OROP. They fumed when the finance ministry accepted in less than 48 hours a panel report which recommended a repeal of the retrospective Minimum Alternative Tax on Foreign Investment Institutions. India’s defence personnel were wondering why a government that’s ready to forgo over `40,000 crore (a figure not disputed by the government) to keep up the morale of foreigners, could not find `8000-10,000 crore for those who had laid down or risked their lives for the country. They feel North Block has misled the PM about the financial impact of OROP on the exchequer. They were furious with bureaucrats for obstructing its implementation even after Modi’s directive to proceed. The PM was kept in the dark that the OROP fighters were asking for nothing more than what civil servants who belong to All India Services like the IAS and IFS get. Uncouth attempts were made to divide the protesters by planting stories in the media. Ultimately, it was a combined push from saner elements in the BJP and RSS which compelled the government to resolve the issue. But when the government decided to do it, it didn’t reflect its magnanimity.
Apart from the ones in uniform who have retired, India’s youth are also being short-changed. The PM’s vision of creating more jobs has reached nowhere near the launch pad. On the other hand, shoddy handling of the Pune-based FTII irked even Modi’s sworn Bollywood supporters. Many film personalities who were in the forefront of campaigning for ‘Modi for PM’ protested the manner in which young minds were being mishandled. The PM has been engaging students and the youth through national radio and television. But all these popular exercises have not translated into practical action on the ground.
The nation’s youth, accounting for over 50 per cent of India’s cell phone-owning population, are outraged over the frequent call drops, which are almost emptying their pockets. The telecom ministry woke up only when Modi understood the damage it was causing his government. But the ministry is still soft-pedalling on the issue. It has roped in TRAI, which has given further time to mobile companies to set their house in order. Next, the civil aviation ministry remains totally blase about the exorbitant, arbitrary fares being charged by airlines. It is again Modi’s staunch middle class support base, which is feeling the pinch. Despite protests by air travellers, the ministry has been dawdling on the runway. Finally Modi got into the cockpit. But this, too, is unlikely to yield results because ministry officials have always favoured airline bosses.
As the youth and middle class fret about a fruitful future in the Age of Modi, Indian farmers are just as worried about the devastating drought in Maharashtra and Karnataka due to a deficit monsoon. Earlier they were living under the fear of their land being acquired according to a new law. A few senior ministers pushed the Land Bill in such an aggressive manner that they alienated the entire farming community. Finally, it was left to the PM to intervene and save any further erosion of his popularity. But he has to accelerate his vow to bring back black money. The Congress never misses an opportunity to attack Modi for his failure to recover the loot. The apex court has been seeking reports from the finance ministry on the steps taken by the government in this direction. A few senior party functionaries and diehard Modi supporters have approached the court seeking immediate action.
Most surprising is the whispering campaign by top corporates against the Modi government’s inability to revive the economy. The finance ministry’s failure to evolve a consensus on the GST Bill has irked India Inc. They sing paeans of praise for the government in public, but in private they collectively damn India’s economic future by blaming it all on none other than the PM. Unfortunately Modi is under siege for the failure of others in his government. It is not just an accident that his constituents are becoming captives of forgotten promises.
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