Presently Mr. Narendra Modi is a clear front runner for becoming the next Prime Minister just days before polling for the general election begins. He is till now running virtually a one-horse race. There is no credible challenge on the horizon. Regardless of whether the horse is being whipped too hard or has begun to limp, he remains the front runner. It would be quite in order therefore to assess Mr. Modi’s possible performance in the event of his succeeding.
This writer advances his views not with the intention of praising or criticizing Mr. Modi but solely with a consciously constructive approach to assess prospects on the basis of his current performance. After all in the event of Mr. Modi succeeding all Indians, except political rivals with vested interests, would like him to perform well for their own future and for the future of the nation.
One would like to judge Mr. Modi on the basis of leadership qualities and governance, and not on the overused charges about his alleged communalism or the 2002 Gujarat riots. Conducting an election campaign is a good yardstick to judge both leadership qualities as well as the efficiency required for good governance.
Mr. Modi was appointed as the poll campaign-in-charge by his party as well as its next Prime Ministerial candidate. How has he performed? The following aspects may be considered by him and his party colleagues for possible reappraisal of approach.
When one accepts leadership of any enterprise one automatically inherits accountability that goes with responsibility. That is a prime requisite for good governance. For each and every decision taken during the campaign Mr. Modi as the campaign-in-charge and the Prime Ministerial candidate must assume full responsibility. He must be held responsible for the overall poll strategy, for implementation of decisions, and for maintaining the unity and morale of the organization. Let us consider these aspects in that order.
As overall strategy Mr. Modi at the outset declared his goal of achieving a single party majority. It was a good decision that caught the popular imagination. As Mr. Modi’s popularity through a hectic campaign grew, many parties and leaders started flocking towards the BJP as defectors or as alliance partners. The party indiscriminately commenced to welcome them with a view of increasing future support in parliament. This to one’s mind was the first big error. It made nonsense of the party’s own declared goal of achieving a single party majority. What the party ought to have done was to welcome overtures from all quarters but keep them in cold storage until after the poll results in order to take an optimal decision. In the event, the party’s approach indicated its hollow pretensions about achieving single party majority.
Many of the alliances and accepted individual defections betrayed rank opportunism and lack of ideological principles. These destroyed the image of the BJP being a party with a difference. Some of Mr. Modi’s sympathizers have argued that he was not personally responsible for the wrong decisions. They point to the power equations and system operating within the Sangh Parivar to bolster their argument. It does not wash.
Before assuming charge Mr. Modi should have demarcated his powers with colleagues as well as with the RSS in order to deliver. The excuse that he was not responsible for any decision despite his anointment as the chief campaign-in-charge and Prime Ministerial candidate is as pathetic and spurious as arguing that Mr. Manmohan Singh is helpless because Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wields real power. Or, that Indira Gandhi was well intentioned but the sycophants around her misled her. Or, that Pandit Nehru was blameless but his advisers let him down. If India desires a real change of fortunes its critics will have to alter their approach to leadership.
Some of Mr. Modi’s decisions up till now have been disastrous. Sharing the dais to welcome the miniscule parties of Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr. Upendra Kushwaha was one; welcoming on the stage Mr. Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, a self confessed associate of Dawood Ibrahim and former convicted prisoner of a TADA court was another; the preference for a last minute Congress defector over Mr. Jaswant Singh in a Rajasthan constituency was another; the replacement of thrice victorious MP Mr. Haran Pathak by a film actor because of Mr. Pathak’s proximity to Mr. LK Advani was another; the acceptance followed by quick expulsion of Shri Ram Sena chief Mr. Pramod Muthalik was yet another. The lame explanation that this was done because the central leaders had not been informed was unconvincing. If this was so, were the state leaders suitably reprimanded and dealt with? These are but a few examples of decisions that betray questionable leadership and governance qualities.
Finally, Mr. Modi has displayed weakness as a team leader, which is a prime requirement for good and effective governance. He has operated in isolation from Gujarat with non-party advisers drawn from business corporate houses and technocrats, instead of functioning with party colleagues in Delhi. A sense of alienation and resentment among his senior colleagues was inevitable. This error was compounded by the basis on which election tickets were distributed.
A basic requirement for good governance is that decisions should be taken in conformity with well laid procedure and principle. What is one to make of Mr. Modi, Mr. Rajnath Singh and Mr. Arun Jaitley replacing sitting MPs to grab their safe seats while others are shunted aside without a by-your-leave? In the long term how will this impact on party discipline and workers’ morale?
The media has glibly rationalized this unprincipled approach as a shift from older to younger leaders. RSS Chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat has wisely intoned that change is inevitable. With apologies to one and all, if a generational change was being effected the proper manner was to announce that septuagenarians should not contest the elections but could if required be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. This could not have raised one justifiable whimper. Instead procedure and principle were rubbished to favour those in command. Does this indicate good governance?
One can anticipate protests from Modi supporters over these observations. But it is these supporters, chanting “Namo, Namo”, who constitute the biggest threat to good governance. Sycophancy is the opium that destroys good leadership in India. BJP supporters would do well to take this criticism in the spirit in which it is offered.