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Modi’s domestic barbs abroad could undermine his dignity

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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?

(by Amulya Ganguli, IANS)

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Fall Of The Currency And Increase In Oil Prices: India ‘s Turmoil

The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars.

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India
Rajesh Kumar, left, shares a ride to work with another employee, Dilip Swain, right, as higher petrol prices in India begin to be felt in people's pocketbooks.VOA

The fall of the currency of India to record lows and rising global oil prices have raised worries that the world’s fastest growing economy faces headwinds that could hurt the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in next year’s general elections.

From people filling fuel at gas stations to thousands of students heading out to study overseas, the impact of the slumping rupee is sparking discontent.

Having plunged by about 12 percent against the dollar this year, the rupee is one of Asia’s worst faring currencies, and as in other countries, the slide has accelerated since the crash of the Turkish lira.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in last few months, dollar has strengthened against almost every currency,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he tried to send out reassuring signals that India’s economy is on track.

India
The rupee has plunged by about 12 percent this year raising fears of spiraling inflation. VOA

The rupee’s sharp depreciation comes at a time when the economy had recovered from a slowdown and surged to a two-year high in the quarter that ended in June. Forecasts put growth for this year at 7.5 percent.

Economy will slow

But economists warn this momentum will be difficult to sustain as the tumbling rupee, along with rising crude oil prices, takes a toll on growth. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, gets almost 80 percent of its fuel needs overseas.

“The government needs to mellow down on growth aspirations,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “The growth needs to come down to a little less than 7 percent.”

Even as the government faces the prospect of a slowing economy, it is under pressure to lower taxes on gas and diesel to bring down the sharp rise in prices. Fuel is one of the most heavily taxed items in India, with rates as high as nearly 50 percent. Prices vary from state to state, but they have gone up by about 14 percent this year.

Hoping to cash in on the growing disaffection over the surge in fuel prices and the sliding rupee, opposition parties led nationwide protests that shutdown offices and schools in several cities this week.

India
Discontent with spiraling fuel prices poses a challenge to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of general elections next year. VOA

The government dismissed the protests, saying that although people faced momentary difficulties, they understood they were because of factors beyond its control.

Political analysts are not so sure, pointing out that fuel prices are a politically sensitive issue in India and usually result in a spike in inflation.

“Anger is rising, there is resentment,” said Satish Misra at the Observer Research Foundation, warning the ruling party will face a backlash “Obviously that is going to have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Warnings from economists

Among those who are upset with the high fuel prices is Rajesh Kumar, who commutes 30 kilometers to the advertising agency where he works. Hit by the higher prices that eat into his income, he has started sharing the ride with another employee.

India
Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“I have given up the idea of buying another car,” he said despondently. “I will not be able to afford the cost of running it.”

Economists however have warned the government against giving in to populist pressures ahead of a series of state polls later this year and general elections around April next year. They say lowering taxes on fuel or taking measures to prop up the currency will strain the country’s finances and hurt the economy in the long run.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“One needs to be more careful and vigilant,” Bhanumurthy said. “It is easy for India to stay with low growth than experiencing the high deficit.”

But there is also some good news for the Indian economy. The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars. (VOA)