Too many politically loaded moves made in a few days times, or at the most within weeks, by Central Government have, indeed, turned out to be like a rapid fire. These have mainly been meant to target foes in the Opposition on the one hand and woo electorate on the other. And it has an unmistakable stamp of approval from none other but the top leader of the country, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
Yet, the sheer intensity of the Government’s fusillade runs the risk of soon exhausting its arsenal. And, thus, possibly end up without offering anything new to the voters besides lining up the other, or rival, side more firmly onto a single platform.
Strong leaders’ nemesis
Strong leaders often whether wittingly or unwittingly help in spinning up strong line ups, or coalitions, against them. Before Modi this has been the case in 1977 because of some of the actions of the late Indira Gandhi and over a decade after her debacle also with her son Rajiv Gandhi. Both were humbled by fronts forged by the rival parties to challenge together the two formidable leaders in their respective time or points of electoral history.
Somehow, Congress learnt a lesson from this before taking on the late Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2004. And, thus, Sonia Gandhi took support from other Opposition parties, including Communists, or the Left Front. Modi’s success in 2014 too was backed by quite a few parties other than the BJP like Telugu Desam Party and Shiv Sena albeit the coalition led by Prime Minister did not warrant him to be dependent on MPs from the supporting parties, as much as the case was in Vajpayee’s time, after the declaration of results of the Lok Sabha polls and the sheer numbers thrown by them in the two cases.
A higher degree of success in the second spell of the BJP-led NDA, or National Democratic Alliance, in 2014 than the first led by Vajpayee from 1999 to 2004 may well be the reason behind far greater confidence that Modi now exudes than what was the case with Vajpayee in his heydays. But irrespective of Vajpayee’s mild-mannered sagacity and Modi’s generally aggressive stance as compared to his party’s predecessor in the top post what is common in the situation faced by both at the time of going for their second term is rival ranks realisation of the need to come together.
This was berated in Vajpayee’s time as efforts to cobble up a ragtag coalition by Opposition parties whereas the other day in Parliament Modi went a step further to call, or tweak, it from Mahagathbandhan to Mahamilawat or worst contamination. So spurious he finds the Opposition jamboree to be as to unleash a crackdown against some of its leading lights, or their relatives, via Government’s probe agencies. In a bid to justify and muster support for his actions against opponents Modi has, indeed, been betraying a bit of last minute hurry, throwing up questions like why his Government suddenly woke up only at the fag-end of his term in office and what the probe agencies been doing for nearly past five years or so.
Curious fight against corruption
Besides this, Government’s detractors and opponents point out that its vehement anti-corruption drive targeting political rivals is a result of Government’s bid to cover up and deflect attention from anomalies in a fighter aircraft deal concluded by Government and a western power. Opposition parties led by Congress have been heightening the pitch for a probe by JPC, or Joint Parliamentary Committee, into this. The Modi Government has not only rejected this demand but also tried to turn the tables on the Opposition leaders by setting its investigative agencies after them so as to show them in poor light for their misdeeds and misdemeanour of past.
Among other things the tussle between the Government and Opposition has led to accusations against police officers and agencies of taking sides. This has raised questions about the independence of officials, Government servants and the institutions run by them. Fears are that not only the police but also bureaucracy is getting coloured by political influences.
The escalating battle has also forced Government and its ideological cohorts from the larger Sangh Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, to hop on from one issue to another. Stark signs of this came with some of the main Hindutva outfits latest move after pitching in for a long time for the construction of a temple at Ayodhya to mark the birth place of Lord Rama. Suddenly, they have decided to shelve the stir and support the Government till it gets another term in office. Not only these outfits but the Government too has been toying around with several ideas to strike a chord among voters instead of using the Mandir card.
Around the time of withdrawal of agitation for temple by Hindutva organisations doles were announced for marginal farmers besides pension for workers retiring poor and rebate for lower-rung middleclass tax payers in this year’s Budget. This ideally should have been only for a few months vote on account to disburse salaries to Government staff or until the time a new Government gets in place to present a regular, or proper year-long, Budget for 2019-20. Before the Budget the Government passed a constitution amendment bill to provide 10 percent reservation to poor among socially better off and yet poor upper caste applicants in jobs and institutions of higher learning.
The point simply is that the Government has been trying out too many steps, or options, in too short a time to find and plant its feet firmly on the ground before facing the upcoming general elections. So much so that one move has been following the other in quick succession in what looks like to be rather a panic reaction in the wake of perhaps adverse, or none too good, feedbacks from the ground on the one hand and some of the moves made by the Opposition on the other. As for the last the biggest of them has been the advent of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in active politics.
Enter Priyanka Gandhi
Though Priyanka is yet to get into action and begin direct interaction with public the Government has moved in to cover its tracks by offering sops to unpredictable middle class by suggesting tax cuts and lowering interest rates on bank loans on the one hand and providing assistance to farmers spread over to the rural backwoods where Government’s reach has generally been limited. Yet, the Government may still not been feeling too sure about the savoury impact of these steps. And, thus, it seems to have decided to slap up probes against some of the peers in the Opposition.
Priyanka is being hit via her husband Robert Vadra in this battle as he has been put under the lens of Enforcement Directorate for alleged money laundering to buy property in London. Whatever may be the outcome of either probe against him or in other similar cases faced by other Opposition stalwarts or their kith and kin it cannot be expected to be known anytime soon. And as for the mass appeal amid the stigma brought by corruption the fact is that it can damage political fortunes but may or may not last.
This has been so, or the case with the DMK leaders like A Raja whose implication in 2G spectrum allocation scam proved costly to the Congress-led UPA Government in 2014 but the charges against him or his party colleague Kanimozhi could not stand in the trial court. Both were acquitted and the DMK is part of the Opposition alliance waiting for its chance to go to the electorate and flaunt the fallacy of charges once faced by the two.
Not only such doubts are going to lurk around the fresh charges of corruption against leaders poised to vie and try their luck against the ruling party at the Centre or its allies but the Opposition too has been gathering similar ammunition to fire against the Government. Besides the fighter aircraft deal the issue of rising bank NPAs, or non-performing assets, reminds of the collapse of UTI, or Unit Trust of India, in Vajpayee’s times where the loss suffered by small investors besides other things took its toll upon the NDA in 2004 polls despite the ruling conglomerate’s India Shining pitch throughout that time’s electioneering.
New vs old graft cases
So the newer corruption cases whether real or supposed against the incumbents rather than those who held the Government and ruled in the past weigh rather more heavily in the minds of the electorate when they go to cast their votes. This can be best understood by again taking attention to Vajpayee’s time when investigative portal Tehelka broke the story pointing to cash for defence deal through a sting operation targeting the BJP and NDA higher ups in 2001. As for the shortcomings on the part of the rulers in the past the voter may well think to have already settled them out by having them punished for.
This had turned out to be the case with the electoral verdict both in 2004 and a decade later when Governments led by Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh were voted out though this time the outcome of the myriad charges and counter charges of corruption, relegating most other issues behind, make the scene too hazy to allow for any guess about voters mind to be made. This is so mainly because a plethora of corruption-ridden crooked deals are dogging both the sides at a scale that was never seen before.