Modi’s domestic barbs abroad could undermine his dignity
By Amulya Ganguli
It has now become almost a routine feature of Narendra Modi’s trips abroad to take a dig or two at his opponents back home. True, he generally does so while addressing the Indian diaspora who are able to understand his references to a controversial “damaad” (son-in-law) or the sarcastic linking of Sanskrit with secularism.
Even then, his jibes have disconcerted the Congress to the extent that it is considering asking its spokespersons to tail Modi on his journeys with ready ripostes to his taunts. It is worth examining, however, why the prime minister has taken a path where none of his predecessors had gone before since they scrupulously adhered to the unwritten code of not washing the dirty linen of domestic politics outside India.
However, by breaking with tradition, Modi has embarked on an acrimonious course in which he may not always emerge with flying colours because, in politics, no one’s hands are clean.
There are probably two reasons why he has ventured into this new territory. One is that he hasn’t forgotten the constant sniping from his critics for nearly a decade after the 2002 Gujarat riots. It has taken considerable grit for him to emerge from the effects of the scorn which he faced when even the mild-mannered Manmohan Singh said that he wouldn’t care to have a “strong” image if it meant presiding over the massacre of innocent citizens.
Having routed his adversaries politically, Modi is apparently unable to resist the temptation of occasionally having a go at them. However, there is possibly another reason. It is that notwithstanding the Bharatiya Janata Party’s majority in the Lok Sabha, there is still a feeling in the party and among its leaders that they are seen as interlopers by the so-called left-liberal chatterati who ruled the roost for decades after Independence.
It is this sense of being outsiders which is apparently behind the frequent claims that the new dispensation intends to rescue the nation not only from the clutches of what remains of the ancient regime but also steer the country away from the flawed paths which the old order took in communal and cultural matters.
Since this “battle” relating to changing directions is already being fought at home, the need to take it abroad may be questioned. Doubts about these tactics are likely to be all the greater since at least for the present, Modi is far better placed politically than his enemies.
To a considerable extent, the latter are down and out. The Congress, for instance, evidently has a leadership problem with neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi being able to perceptively climb the popularity charts or articulate policies beyond the cliched one-liners about the government being pro-rich and anti-poor.
While the Congress is unlikely to bounce back in the near future from its 2014 drubbing, the only party which gave the BJP a scare in the Delhi elections – the Aam Admi Party – has dissipated much of its energy by tilting at windmills inside the party – Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan – and outside, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung.
Arguably, Modi doesn’t appear to have any worthwhile opponents with even his ostensible adversaries like Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Communists coming to his rescue by scuttling the anti-BJP “secular” alliance in Bihar by setting up their own candidates.
Even inside the saffron brotherhood, Modi has been having his own way. He has placed his Man Friday, Amit Shah, at the BJP’s head, breaking the practice of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) choosing the party president as it once did with regard to Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.
Few leaders of democracies can expect a political climate as propitious as it is for Modi at present. His only difficulties are economic because of the roadblocks put up by the Congress through its disruptive tactics in parliament in the matter of pro-reforms laws like the amendment of the land acquisition act and the goods and services bill.
But he may be able to get around some of these hurdles by leaving it to the states to woo investors. As an ad by the Uttar Pradesh government says, the state is facilitating a one-window Nivesh Mitra, or investor-friendly, clearance for industrial projects. Punjab, too, is holding an investors’ conclave in the last week of October.
News about the high inflow of foreign investment will also dispel the gloom from the economic scene at a time when the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, sees India as the only ace bright spot” when the global growth is slowing down.
For Modi, therefore, to flog the proverbial dead horse of his opponents seems unnecessary and can even undermine his dignity, especially if the Congress takes to criticizing him on foreign soil.
Hinting that the prime minister may have violated the Lakshman Rekha of restraint, the BJP’s ally, Shiv Sena, has pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, too, were popular abroad even in times when there was no social media.
The normally irascible Sena has words of praise for former Congress prime ministers, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, as well for laying the foundation of economic progress. Will the BJP heed these “home truths”, as the Sena calls its words of advice?