PM Must Adopt Atal's Magnanimity and Indira's Firmness to Sustain his Leadership
With power comes great responsibility. Just in time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has woken up to the implications of being the most powerful man in the country and realised he cannot afford to leave governance to others. The buck stops at his desk. Last week, the standoffish saffron sultan used the dialogue device to power parliamentary politics, which had been derailed in the past few sessions. For the first time in 18 months, he invited his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a chai pe charcha at 7 Race Course Road. Ostensibly, the 40-minute meeting appeared to be just an official parley between the head of state and the principal Opposition party to clear the GST logjam. They have been at loggerheads since Modi became Prime Minister. But their body language after the meeting signalled that Modi had made the first move to dispel the impression that he had any personal animosity towards the Congress leadership. He also indicated that he was willing to give the party the importance it deserves and take its concerns into consideration. Deftly, the PM had projected the fact that in a democracy, governance is based on consensus and not on majority muscle, even before the meeting happened. For the first time, Modi became an active participant in Lutyens’ Delhi politics, which he had so far vowed to shun. He had confined himself to diplomacy and pushing innovative schemes to earn him the laurels of being India’s most successful Prime Minister.
When he understood that his credibility as ‘the leader who delivers’ was being pummelled in India and abroad, he decided to abandon his majestic aloofness to mingle with those whom he ideologically abhorred the most. Myriad Modi promoters and supporters were dismayed that the government couldn’t get important legislations like the GST and Land Bill approved by Parliament. Modi has pushed his colleagues to open up the economy, so that investors look and feel visibly at ease in doing business in India. During the past few months, the NDA government has liberalised rules for foreign investment in important sectors like real estate, defence, banking, e-commerce, media and retail. Modi ignored protests from some sections of the Sangh Parivar. Despite many structural and growth-oriented reforms, his government was seen as non-performing amateur on the economic front. Additionally, its image got besmirched by irresponsible statements from some fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar. To add to this dismal dilemma, the award-wapsi campaign by prominent Leftist and secularist intellectuals fuelled negative publicity both at home and overseas. Finally, a humiliating defeat in Bihar dented Modi’s image of an invincible vote warrior, though it was the failure of state leaders to connect with the local electorate that had more to do with the debacle.
That didn’t deter his detractors to gleefully connect his parliamentary softening with BJP’s Bihar debacle. True, it is not a coincidence that he decided to engage with the Opposition only after the Bihar elections were over. According to PMO insiders, he was being given the impression that many interlocutors, including senior ministers, were in constant touch with all parliamentary stakeholders to ensure the smooth passage of crucial bills such as GST. The truth is, none of the intermediaries dealing with the Congress had ever discussed the possibility of a powwow between the Congress leadership and Prime Minister to resolve existing conflicts. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi made it publicly clear that no BJP minister ever discussed GST or any other pending legislative issues with them. A large section of the party’s top guns and some senior ministers are opposed to a dialogue with the Congress. They want punitive action taken against Congress leaders—including sitting and former chief ministers—and hammer through cases in various courts. Various investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and CBI have been instructed to dig up dirt on every Congress politician who matters. Undoubtedly, many of them were involved in financial irregularities when in power, but their party leadership is splenetic over the speed with which the government is pursuing the cases. Additionally, some prominent ministers were ranting against Congress leaders at a time when the PMO was initiating an inter-party dialogue.
Modi’s personal initiative, however, is going to change the way Delhi politics is being managed. Modi is a networker par excellence. He was one of the most active BJP general secretaries during the mid 1990s. He enjoyed immense personal rapport with leaders across the political spectrum. But he became a political pariah after the Gujarat riots. Most national leaders, corporate honchos and Bollywood stars became his cacophonous critics. He was spurned by the goliaths of the social and political hierarchy. For 12 years, he had to confine himself to Gujarat. As a result, his confidence and capacity to deal with formidable opponents suffered much. Then he surprised all by rising like a sphinx during the Lok Sabha elections and captained a record-breaking electoral victory for the BJP. He was in no mood for a political dialogue with his detractors. Ever since he became the Prime Minister, Modi had refrained from entertaining any of the Opposition leaders on a personal level, meeting them only at all-party meetings. He did conceive NITI Aayog, where he could interact with chief ministers. But it wasn’t Chanakyaesque enough to give him the sly, silky skills needed to negotiate New Delhi’s viciously tortuous political labyrinth. His experience of the past few months in the capital has made him realise that he can’t confine himself to the Zen of just being the Prime Minister, leaving political punditry to others. Modi’s conclave with Congress leaders last week is just the beginning of a series of encounters, which he is planning with other political protagonists too. So far, he has stuck to meeting foreign dignitaries, celebrities from India and abroad as well as his trusted aides. His success as the supreme national leader will depend on his ability to adopt the mellow magnanimity of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the unalloyed firmness of Indira Gandhi.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla