New Delhi: With the exception of Narendra Modi’s single-party government which came to power in May 2014, the Indian political system has generally yielded coalition rule since 1989. Because currently there is no alternative (TINA), Modi might return to power in 2019 despite rising anger among sections of the middle class and the farming community as a whole, not to speak of Dalits and Muslims. The majority governing his return may be substantial as at present or wafer thin. Whatever the case, it will, in all likelihood, be the last time that the predominant coalition rule of Indian national politics is broken. It is difficult to conceive that the Bharatiya Janata Party will get a popular and authoritarian leader like Modi again, a twisted combination considered any which way.

If India does return to coalition rule after Narendra Modi, this outcome can scarcely be value-judged beyond some obvious conclusions directed against Modi’s leadership. If Indians feel choked and see constraints being placed on their freedom, they will retaliate against the political forces responsible. Democracy has coursed too long in the veins of Indians to countenance authoritarianism. Hindutva, nationalism, etc, will be trodden underfoot in the anti-authoritarian backlash. If Modi doesn’t know this, he can start learning. But this writer has not the smallest concern if Modi educates himself or not. His worry is that Narendra Modi’s hard, brittle, one-man rule, which has, to all intents and purposes, destroyed relations with China and Pakistan, will recoil on this country when his term comes to an end, if not before. The accumulated anger of foreign adversaries will bring down the containment walls because Modi has eroded the institutions of national security. This is the peril of one-man rule.

When nearly the entire Indian land and sea frontiers are seething with hostilities, and Jammu and Kashmir has regressed in spirit, if not in form, to the dark era of the 1990s, Modi still feels no compulsion to have a full time defence minister. Indeed, the nominal defence minister, Arun Jaitley, sees his primary portfolio as finance, leaving India’s large military force without a hands-on cabinet minister to lead in contingencies. A Prime Minister interfacing with service chiefs from time to time and with operational commanders at greater infrequency can be no substitute for a dedicated defence minister. If there is to be no dedicated defence minister under Narendra Modi, this critical institutional office will erode and become so dysfunctional that future governments will struggle to revive it. It will leave higher defence management and planning infirm and affect war-fighting capability. If the Prime Minister can single-handedly manage everything, why continue with the farce of a cabinet?

The other office that has suffered institutional degradation is that of the foreign minister. Sushma Swaraj must surely count as the only foreign minister who undertakes no international travel to engage with dignitaries of friendly and adversarial states and who conducts all her official business on Twitter. With the current face-off with China getting worse every day, she should have been logging air miles clearing misunderstandings and/ or rallying countries to India’s side; her inactivity is both dubious and troublesome. Swaraj is not to blame. The Prime Minister has grounded her, believing himself to be the country’s best foreign minister. In that case, why retain Sushma Swaraj? Put her out to pasture. Going further, why doesn’t Modi take one-man rule to the logical end by sacking all his ministers and ruling with a few officials?

Ultimately, Modi is not important. He will serve his term and leave without creating an impression on history. His successors will be hard-pressed to return the country to normal cabinet government. In stable and peaceful times, it would not matter. The country can be returned to normal in due course. But Narendra Modi is thrusting the nation into an abnormal near-war situation with two nuclear adversaries. His one-man rule is leaving India weaker politically, economically and militarily. Should external aggression break out and India be caught on the wrong foot, the people ought to know who to blame.