Until recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party was happy to suggest to voters that the only choice they faced was between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, working on the assumption that the Congress President’s inexperience makes him less attractive. But after the loss of three Hindi belt states in 2018 to the Congress, the BJP is taking a different tack. The 2019 election will be about either Modi or anarchy, said Union Minister Prakash Javadekar last week. Reiterating this, Union Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday published a blog post with the title “Modi vs Chaos”. It’s a curious strategy. If the BJP thinks the alternative to Modi is anarchy, how exactly is the public supposed to characterise the last five years?
To begin with, Modi has systematically undermined the very institutions that are supposed to keep that chaos at bay. The government has attacked Parliamentary norms, evaded discussion in the Lok Sabha and used money bills to bypass the Upper House. It has invoked President’s Rule without justification, prompting the judiciary to step in to prevent its actions.
Modi has, in turn, taken on the judiciary, fiddling with collegium appointments and allowing the BJP President to repeatedly make statements that undermine the credibility of the courts.
His government has been more than willing to turn the military into a political plaything, from boasting about #56inchrocks to installing military tanks on college campuses. Even retired Lieutenant General DS Hooda, who was Northern Army Commander in charge of troops during the 2016 “surgical strikes” on terror launch pads across the Line of Control, complained about the politicisation of Army operations. But that has not stopped the BJP.
As details continue to emerge about the government’s decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter planes from France, one senior defence analyst has said that even if there was no corruption involved in the deal, “the parsimony and incompetence of the Modi government have dealt a deep blow to India’s military modernisation”.
The economic heavyweights who were supposed to oversee the transformation of India’s economy under Modi have all left the country, even as he and his party vilified those who had developed their careers abroad with taunts like “hard work was better than Harvard”. Under Modi, India has seen an unprecedented break down in relations between the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India, with the first mid-term resignation of a Reserve Bank of India governor since 1957.
The BJP, before Modi came to power, frequently complained about the political use of the Central Bureau of Investigation. But on Modi’s watch, the agency has not just continued to be a political tool, it has also seen a remarkable amount of bickering between two Modi appointees that resulted in the CBI raiding its own offices. When the Centre, under the prime minister’s purportedly decisive leadership, finally stepped in, it took an action that the Supreme Court later concluded was illegal and it had to be reversed.
Then there is demonetisation, in which Modi literally unleashed chaos across the country with almost nothing to show in the way of gains. Though the shambolic implementation of the note withdrawal is now firmly in the rear-view mirror, more voices are questioning the very nature of the decision. They include Modi’s former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian, who described it a “massive, draconian, monetary shock” after leaving government. Meanwhile, the RBI and the finance ministry are still attempting to provide assistance to small businesses that were hit hard by the note ban and the subsequent botched rollout of the Goods and Services Tax.
The list could go on. Government policies to protect the cow have emboldened mobs to lynch cattle traders as well as people suspected of having beef in their homes. The huge increase in the number of stray cattle that has resulted from these cow protection policies has caused significant hardships for India’s farmers.
Despite promises that the government would work for the poor and the farmers, and having the benefit of benign economic conditions, rural distress remains entrenched.
Since 2014, minority communities have been increasingly marginalised. The Modi government is now pushing a citizenship bill in Parliament that attacks the very foundation of India’s secular nationhood. Modi’s Pakistan and broader neighbourhood policy lies in tatters and his government’s approach to Kashmir has seen the political middle ground be systematically demolished.
None of this is to suggest that the alternative to Modi will be any better or that there were not successes under this government. The experience of the 1990s, when coalition governments of the sort that is most likely to come to power in the event that the BJP loses were common, is mixed. Some proved to be chaotic, while others managed to push through crucial reforms despite dissension within their ranks.
But with the characterisation of chaos as the alternative to Modi, who came into power promising decisive leadership with the first Lok Sabha majority in 30 years, it is to ignore the choppiness India has faced since 2014. Would this predicted anarchy be any worse than the Modi-archy that India has been dealing with for half a decade?