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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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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India, elections
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the gathering during the 'Global Mobility Summit' in New Delhi, India, VOA

India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues To Stay Mum On The #MeToo Movement. Wikimedia Commons

“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

India,India, elections
India’s Congress party President Rahul Gandhi displays documents as he accuses Narendra Modi’s government of buying 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault at a highly inflated price, in New Delhi, India. VOA

The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
Modi Appeals For A Regional Front Against Terrorism, flickr

Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)