New Delhi: Narendra Modi could not have imagined when he won a Lok Sabha majority in May 2014 that he would become as embattled as he has as his term judders to a close. Literally from Kanyakumari to Jammu and Kashmir, Calcutta to Bombay, Kerala to the North East, and Andhra Pradesh to Rajasthan, he generates such intense political opposition and revulsion that he brings reminders of Indira Gandhi after she abruptly and unexpectedly ended the Emergency and declared elections. Routed in the polls with the Congress tally plunging from three hundred and fifty seats to one hundred and fifty-three, Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism overshadowed the Bangladesh War victory, making India food self-sufficient, the 1974 nuclear explosion that removed the threat of US-induced regime change, the incorporation of Sikkim, and the consolidation of island territories. Narendra Modi’s authoritarianism, on the other hand, is manifest in the Emergency-like situation which is prevalent in the country laced with fear. One-man rule is the order of the day. The Union cabinet, for instance, exists merely to rubber-stamp Modi’s unilateral decisions like demonetisation which killed millions of unorganized sector jobs and contracted GDP growth by at least 1.5 per cent. The authoritarian strain is also to be seen in an extortionate GST which has further depressed business and investor sentiments and in the undisguised attack on such institutions, inter alia, as the Supreme Court, the Reserve Bank of India, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, the National Statistical Commission and the National Sample Survey Office. The Rafale deal is also a notorious example of arrogant unilateralism gone wrong with charges of corruption and kickbacks flying thick and fast and a remedial Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry is something Modi won’t have. This is not the “shining knight” who rode to power raising hopes of a clean and performing government five years ago. Did the nation wrongly imagine him as a messiah overlooking his obvious and multiple shortcomings? Was it two terms of Manmohan Singh’s rather colourless prime-ministership which lent statesman-like hues to Modi’s rather shallow and dodgy rhetoric in the 2014 election campaign? Did voters, in other words, fail to conduct the most minimum due diligence on Narendra Modi before making him prime minister? This would appear to be the case.

Gujarat is an exceptional state because Gujaratis have extraordinary entrepreneurial skills. Gujarat’s high GDP owes to this special trait of its people joined to factors like industrial calm, coastal location, proximity to the financial capital, Bombay, etc. Gujarat, for instance, was one of the beneficiaries of the freight equalization policy that destroyed the industrial base of Bihar. Anti-reservation agitations have generally taken a particularly nasty turn in Gujarat for good reason. Gujaratis are not overwhelmingly interested in class IV government jobs but reservation affects opportunities for quality education in government colleges. The Nav Nirman agitation which formed the basis of Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement against the authoritarianism of Indira Gandhi had its roots in something as elementary and basic as execrable hostel food. Narendra Modi took ownership of Gujarat’s growth story lock, stock and barrel and few challenged the narrative with any conviction given the perception of “policy paralysis” in Manmohan Singh’s time. Although a few did labour the point that leading a comparatively small state like Gujarat was not the same as steering a massive, infinitely complex nation like India, a popular gale blew away opposition, and in the wink of an eye, Narendra Modi was occupying the corner office. Was he qualified for the job? Few asked and fewer cared. The bar had been set high by such of his predecessors as Jawaharlal Nehru, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. No one thought to ask if he could better them. It seemed irrelevant. When, in the hubris of his overweening ignorance of India, Modi abolished the Planning Commission and set up the formless wonder called Niti Ayog, the challenge to his superficiality was minimal. It emboldened him for demonetization which is unheard of in the history of the world’s major economies on the advice of a quack while his Goebbelsian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, apparently was not even consulted. Narendra Modi’s lack of learning (his degrees and marksheets are state secrets and cannot be accessed by the public) has given him an inferiority complex and an undimmed hatred for technocrats who, beginning with Raghuram Rajan, a former Reserve Bank governor, have left state service in droves and made him even more susceptible to outlandish ideas. The fools-rush-in syndrome is also evident in geopolitics where Modi insists on giving strategic dimension to a purely tactical operation hyperbolically dubbed “surgical strikes” which has made no difference to India’s vulnerability from Pakistan’s asymmetric warfare.

Because Narendra Modi is not intellectually equipped to handle a great and big country like India, and his complexes further lead him to shun experts, he has mired India in greater troubles than he inherited. To cover his multiple failures, the Modi government has resorted to plain falsehoods from fudging GDP numbers to dressing up unemployment statistics using dubious yardsticks. Independent NSSO surveys suppressed by the government reveal the largest 6.1 per cent contraction in jobs in forty-five years due to demonetization but the regime has upped growth for the period to an unbelievable 8.2 per cent. Once upon a time, nobody believed in Chinese data; Narendra Modi has dragged India kicking and screaming to a similar region of mendacity. Faced with dodgy data, foreign investors will move wealth to credible destinations; untrustworthy data will also skew national priorities and social investments. There is nothing to suggest that Narendra Modi is concerned about weakening the fundamentals of India in his single-minded pursuit of a second term. It is his take-no-prisoners approach to competitive politics that has made him a threat to democracy and united the opposition and lit the spark of an as-yet muted revolt in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Derogatorily called the Bharatiya Jumla Party on account of the Modi regime’s proclivity to take liberties with truth, the BJP has been turned inside out from being a defender of democracy to becoming its active suppressor.

While Narendra Modi never fails to call the Congress dynastic which it is, internal democracy has also gone missing in the BJP. BJP stalwarts like L. K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have no role in party decision-making, and invested with Modi’s unwavering confidence, Amit Shah functions as a later day overlord. Ministers have constantly to pay homage to Modi and Shah to retain offices. A senior minister who found Modi missing in the frame of a press shoot urgently requested an amended photograph with “Babaji” in back. His anxiety spoke volumes. Ministers have practically given up working since Modi alone takes decisions keeping them out of the loop. In a small state like Gujarat, this would conceivably work, but it has produced a calamity at the Centre. The real thing is that there is no order in government any longer. Decisions are no longer made on an organic basis. With the exception perhaps of Nitin Gadkari who works to a plan, the rest of government has crumbled to the worst form of adhocracy. The economy is in a shambles and no one trusts the data put out by the government. Internal political divisions are at a peak since the Emergency. China and Pakistan have come to the conclusion that Narendra Modi’s authoritarianism has weakened India. Rafale has robbed Narendra Modi of moral authority and he limps from one crisis to another as leaks to the media threaten to grow. As he gets mired in controversies of his own making, it becomes a matter of unceasing wonder that a man supremely unqualified to lead India somehow inveigled his way to the top. However, a cursory acquaintance with mid-twentieth century history makes it no longer wondrous but a situation surcharged with danger. Rating: One out of ten.

To be continued...

Please also read “2019,” “2019-2, “2019-3, “2019-4, “2019-5,” “2019-6” and “2019-7.”