For politicians, every opportunity to be heard is a godsend; after all, reaching out to a vast constituency is never easy, and the message itself is constantly evolving on account of rapid developments, usually uncontrollable. We also live in a world ballooning with fake news, fictitious claims and fabricated posturing, where flamboyant presentations easily overwhelm the factual content. All it takes is grandiloquent positioning, bombastic promises and frenetic melodrama to make that big impact. The truth suffers serious collateral damage. The critic will argue that such luminous verbiage has been a political leader’s inherent birthright from time immemorial. Sure, but it has never been more flagrantly deployed before. One such instance was witnessed on August 15th, 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his last Independence Day speech of his tenure from the Red Fort amidst rising apprehensions and growing disenchantment from a large section of Indians. While understandably the Bhartiya Janata Party would have us believe that everything is hunky-dory and that Modi deserves hosannas for his grocery-list of accomplishments, the reality is extraordinarily different. I am aware that #ModiToadies (those who believe that Modi is an impregnable hero who is infallible and has never uttered a single lie in his life) take plentiful umbrage when their Supreme Commander is questioned, but facts don’t cease to exist because we choose to overlook them. Reality bites.
Modi expectedly made his farewell speech into an electoral pitch forgetting ruefully that while it is kosher to do a ballyhoo if there are spectacular achievements, a little honesty goes a long distance. Fact is, his 2014 zeitgeist Acche Din (Good days are here again) has proved to be the proverbial mirage. In fact, the reverse is true, as people have seen a comatose economy and a fissiparous society. The national mood appears woebegone despite a massive Rs 5000 crore government expenditure to ensure Modi is looking at you through airport kiosks, gas-station, front-page ads, TV commercials and every conceivable publicity platform in every nook and corner available. Even George Orwell’s celebrated Big Brother would be flushed with embarrassment at such gargantuan meretriciousness. A few miles away from where Modi lives in magnificent opulence in Delhi, a family of three young children below the age of 10 years starved to death a few weeks ago. There are moments when a country is numbed by its ineptitude, by its opprobrium, , by its callousness in respecting basic human dignity. This is one of them. The least Modi could have done was to state that India needs to ferociously battle the scourge of poverty. After all, we still have over 20% of our people living below the poverty line. Thus, when Modi boasts of GDP and fastest-growing-economy etc, it sounds like a grotesque contradiction with ground realities, and worse, altogether mendacious.
Modi frequently lambasts the Lutyens Delhi supposed cabal, but unwittingly, has become part of the same ossified Establishment that he once dismissed with contemptuous indifference. Let me take just one issue in this piece; corruption, to explain my point. Modi’s seeking the controversial politician Amar Singh’s attention and approval at a recent conference, whose track-record in public life has several allegations of unscrupulous conduct, exposed his vulnerabilities. Brazening it out has been BJP’s trademark, but the problem with this political strategy is that it cannot become standard operating procedure. Occasionally employed, it can get salutary results, but if it assumes obdurate constancy, it smacks of political arrogance and deliberate obstruction of scrutiny. On Rafale scam accusations, Modi is standing with both his feet on a banana peel. Rhetoric and sound-bytes is unlikely to distract from what appears to be an open and shut case of crony capitalism gone horribly rogue. Given the humongous scale of potential revenues ( Rs 1,30, 000 crores) being given charitably to a local tyro defence-offset manufacturer, India demands answers. Some silly video on Twitter doing a deconstruction of Rafale scam for dummies can be best described as juvenile theatrics. It is not working.
The Congress-led UPA passed the Lok Pal bill in 2013; an astonishing five years later, several Supreme Court strictures notwithstanding, Modi has not appointed the Lok Pal. There cannot be a better instance of his government’s duplicitousness, as Modi got the jackpot from the Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal IAC agitation. The Congress party paid a mammoth political price of the subterranean RSS-sponsored agitation that grievously damaged its reputational capital. Pseudo-scandals such as 2G ( since rejected by the courts ) hurt it immensely. The rest is history. But the people of India who took to the streets on corruption have been taken for a big ride.
Nirav Modi and Mehul “Bhai” Choksi are right now perhaps sipping champagne in a tony Caribbean sea-facing spa, courtesy a government that willfully allowed them a red carpet send-off. Why? As Punjab National Bank is reduced to a hobble and a wobble, we need to ask, could this monumental scam have happened without political chaperoning? Your guess is as good as mine.
As we come to the business end of Modi’s innings, it is obvious that BJP ’s repeated onslaught against the Congress by blaming legacy problems for their sub-par performance appears lame-duck. Scapegoating can get exhausting especially if it is founded on a brittle base. Yet the BJP lives in a fool’s paradise believing that the blame-game and whataboutery will work with predictable certitude. Perhaps this confidence oozes out of its inexorable control of certain mainstream media TV channels that literally outshine Doordarshan in genuflection. Salaam Delhi!
India deserves to know what the PM did with the huge majority mandate of 2014. At the moment all we do know is that he travelled to 52 countries and spent Rs 5000 crores on self-promotion. That is no reason to re-elect the party or the man. It is a wasted 5 years. That is why 2019 is important. That’s why India needs a new Prime Minister to address the nation from the Red Fort.
Sanjay Jha is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. The views are his own. He can be followed on Twitter at @JhaSanjay .