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Modi’s 8 years show governance in India can be repackaged and political image managed

The BJP has managed to get gold stars on its report card because majoritarian sentiment has been its winning plank. And PM Modi has emerged as a marketing crackerjack.

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Narendra Modi has completed eight years as the prime minister of India. And much can be said about his indomitable stature so far. With many hits and misses, Modi has given us much to talk about his politics.

PM Modi is a marketing crackerjack. And marketing is a polite term for manipulation: you add incredible make-believe value to something ordinary or repackage an old idea to sell it as new. Modi is known to have done both. Be it making demonetisation seem like an epochal moment to bring back all the black money stashed abroad or repackaging the mid-day meal as PM Poshan, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (sanitation programme started in 1999) as Swachh Bharat Mission, National Manufacturing Policy (2011-14) as Make in India, National e-governance Plan (2006-15) as Digital India, No-frills accounts (2005-14) as Jan Dhan Yojana. Modi has had a field day in his PR and event-creation skills.

Winning original ideas

But the Modi government can be credited with originality too. Most of it is derived from the ideas of his party’s ideological pedagogue — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). And the BJP has been successful in almost all of them. The schismatic conversations created between the majority and minorities, especially Hindus and Muslims, has widened the legislative scope for bringing in religiously motivated laws such as Triple Talaq and Citizenship Amendment Act. The much discussed Uniform Civil Code is now set to be tested in Uttarakhand.

These conversations also led to the fruition of the long-fought battle of the Ayodhya dispute where the Supreme Court admitted that the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 was “a serious violation of law”. Yet, a special CBI court acquitted all 32 accused. The Ayodhya ruling is now being used to file fresh petitions in Kashi, Mathura, Delhi to lay claims on mosques that are believed to be temples. These are BJP’s “achievements” considering the RSS has been raising these ideas since Independence and they are becoming a reality only under the Modi government.

Another original idea of the RSS that became a reality under the BJP was the abrogation of Article 370, which gave special status to Kashmir. This has to be counted as PM Modi’s crowning glory. Considering the law and order situation in Kashmir has been abysmal since the 1990s, the very act of turning Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into two separate union territories and the former’s subsequent delimitation with minimal collateral damage, violent protests or even international flak has been truly an achievement.

In fact, India’s diplomatic relations have never been better, be it the strengthening of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific strategy with the US, UK, Australia, Japan and ASEAN countries. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under the Modi government is also shining bright as India has recorded the highest ever annual FDI of $83.57 billion in 2021-22 making the average FDI twice more compared to Manmohan Singh’s tenure.

But largely, the BJP has managed to get gold stars on its report card on ideological issues because majoritarian sentiment has always been the party’s winning plank. It has failed at policy-making, though. The biggest blot on the Modi government’s report card so far are the now-repealed farm laws, the land acquisition ordinance, and the sketchy GST roll-out, which led to much heartbreak among the public because the GST slabs and taxes on commodities were completely out of whack. The government of India, in spite of its lofty efforts on women empowerment such as Ujjwala Yojana and ‘Beti Bachao’ campaigns, had the audacity to tax a sanitary pad as a luxury item. The unemployment rate, fuel prices and inflation are other markers where the BJP faced a lot of heat from the public, much before the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Also read: Dear PM Modi, only you can stop Hindutva brigade that attacks Islamic history for attention

Lot to answer about

The BJP has similarly failed in maintaining its social image. There were several rape cases in the last decade that had BJP members as main accused, be it Kuldeep Singh Sengar, Chinmayanand (both later acquitted), Vijay Jolly, Anil Bhosale, Venkatesh Maurya, Ravindranath Tripathi, and Nihal Chand. The BJP dispensation remained tight-lipped and did not comment on the despicable state of affairs in women’s safety. In fact, two BJP leaders, Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, had participated in the ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ rally that was taken out in support of the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case.

The apathy shown during the sudden Covid-induced lockdowns towards mass exodus of migrant labourers, relatives of virus-affected people running from pillar to post for oxygen cylinders during the second wave, and the death of protesting farmers are the lasting images from the last eight years of the Modi government. And although Modi’s charisma has landed the BJP with victory once again in the assembly elections in four states (including Uttar Pradesh) to dismiss all the critical chatter against him, the tiny tectonic rumblings on his solid majoritarian plank cannot be completely ignored.

Add to this the Pegasus scandal and China inching into India’s territory and the Modi government has a lot of explaining to do.

The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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