Few political analysts would deny that more financial and media resources have been deployed in the current poll campaign than ever before. Imagine, a BJP supporter ordered 30,000 costly Kurtas with “NaMo” labeled on these and an equal number of scull caps for Muslims to wear after being induced to attend Narendra Modi’s mega rallies! This is just one minor item of expenditure in this lavishly funded campaign.
The thrust of the national media is to stress that India is headed for a presidential style clash between Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi. No third prime ministerial hopeful has emerged or is likely to emerge. The enormous public frustration with current conditions and a desperate yearning for change have led the public to place extravagant hopes on the performance of both leaders. The media has responded to public yearning by encouraging such expectations.
It is entirely possible that both leaders might fulfill the expectations of their respective supporters if either comes to power. But in order to inject a sense of some realism in public expectation this writer is playing the spoilsport to separate hype from hope. Consider what these candidates promise and what they have so far delivered.
Mr. Gandhi’s delayed entry into the leadership stakes was achieved by his denunciation of an Ordinance as being “nonsensical”. Subsequently he has gone out of the way to state that he believes in speaking his mind, in going against the official tide, in wanting fundamental change, in fighting crime and corruption and in responding to the aspirations of the youth. The media dutifully has bought this line and is projecting the new Rahul Gandhi as such. His speeches are laced with smart one liners such as that politicians never die in communal riots.
Unfortunately memories of the old Rahul Gandhi remain too fresh and vivid in the mind. Contrast his immediate past with his promised future. Through all the time when the nation witnessed the largest and most brazen number of corruption scams involving the government there was not a whimper of protest from Mr. Gandhi. It may be argued that was before the advent of the new Rahul Gandhi.
Well, currently the most horrendous mismanagement and breakdown of state machinery in Andhra Pradesh has plunged the entire state into mammoth protest and power blackouts as patients struggle for life in hospitals. The Congress party that rules both at the centre and in Andhra remains silent. Does Mr. Gandhi find no “nonsense” in this situation?
Mr. Gandhi has criticized the BJP and SP for the riots in UP. But he is silent about the impotent role of the central government.
He finds nothing “nonsensical” about the suspicious timing of the pre-poll withdrawal of the disproportionate assets cases that were hanging for a decade over Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Miss Mayawati.
Consider the case of Mr. Narendra Modi. He is currently the clear front runner in the prime ministerial stakes. Added to the big business and media blitz unleashed to promote Mr. Modi, his own rhetoric and persona enhanced his popularity. His record of administration in Gujarat has been touted as a model for development. It has been challenged by critics who have quoted their own statistics to dispute the claim. One would not like to enter into this controversy. Nor would one want to dwell on the ancient charges leveled against Mr. Modi’s administrative failure during the 2002 Godhra riots. Mr. Modi is perceived as a decisive leader who will offer good governance and clean up corruption to change the political culture of India. But does hope of this happening match the reality?
Consider just a few facets of Mr. Modi’s administrative record, never mind his vague and opaque foreign policy.
Fifty seven MLAs in the Gujarat assembly have criminal cases against them. Among the top ten most serious cases six are from the BJP. Even BJP MPs such as Mr. Prabhatsinh Chauhan and Mr. Vithal Radadia face serious criminal charges. His ministers facing criminal charges and even arrest continue to hold office. His closest aide Mr. Amit Shah continues in office while being on bail. A senior minister in Mr. Modi’s cabinet, Mr. Babu Bokhiria, more recently convicted by a trial court in a `54-crore illegal limestone mining scam this year continues to hold office.
In what manner does this herald change from the prevalent scam ridden political culture?
As for Mr. Modi’s decisive strength the case of Ms Maya Kodnani is instructive. Ms Kodnani was under investigation for leading a mob that killed 97 people in Naroda Patiya during the 2002 Gujarat riots. All through the probe she continued as Mr. Modi’s Minister. Later she was convicted and sentenced for life imprisonment by the court. Mr. Modi, who had retained her as Minister against all accepted democratic norms while she was being investigated, suddenly pleaded with the higher court to enhance her sentence to a death penalty. It is a total mystery what led him to take this bizarre decision. Surely the fact that the lady is a Sindhi from Kutch reputedly close to Mr. LK Advani cannot be sufficient reason for this drastic move against a former colleague? The situation became worse. Under pressure of the RSS and other BJP leaders Mr. Modi reversed his decision and applied to the higher court to annul the death sentence. That is where matters rest at the moment.
Does this flip flop signify decisive administration?
Mr. Modi as a member of cricket’s Indian Premier League’s (IPL) Governing Board remained a mute spectator while a corruption scandal related to this body involving even Dawood Ibrahim raged across the nation. Mr. Modi neither protested against the corruption not did he relinquish his membership of the Board.
Does this inspire hope that he will fight corruption?
Mr. Modi’s professed ideology of inclusive nationalism was blown to bits after Sikh settlers who had made the Kutch region land fertile and prosperous after decades of farming there were evicted by the Gujarat government in pursuance of an old Tenancy law enacted when Gujarat and Maharashtra were part of one Bombay state. The Sikhs went to court and the Gujarat High Court upheld their petition. It scrapped the government’s order. Instead of accepting the judgment Mr. Modi went to the Supreme Court in appeal against the Gujarat High Court’s decision.
Does this indicate Mr. Modi’s commitment to an India where all citizens are equal?
It is possible of course that Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi may improve spectacularly after being made Prime Minister. But past disappointment with political experience impels this writer to advise readers to exercise caution while raising hopes based upon hype.