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Narendra Modi is ruling India as if it was another state and he is still a chief minister

PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have brought to the capital what they know best — the tried-and-tested best-practices from the 'CM model of governance'.

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Internet shutdowns, spikes and concertinas at the farmer sit-ins, conspiracy theories and arrests, new laws rammed through, journalists detained, FIRs galore, opposition lampooned, activists and critics demonised, and dissent crushed. Welcome to the ‘Chief Minister model of governance’.

What has been happening in several Indian states for long has now reached Delhi.

The Delhi commentariat, unaware and often uninterested in what goes on in states, is shocked by all that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has ushered in since 2014. How could this happen in the world’s largest democracy, they ask? Terms like ‘authoritarian’ and ‘draconian’ are frequently invoked.

Other prime ministers have done this in bits and parts. But no single government has deployed all these tools together, so resolutely and relentlessly until now. This is new to Delhi, with the exception of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, of course.

Modi and now Home Minister Amit Shah have only brought to the capital what they know best — the tried-and-tested best-practices from the ‘CM model of governance’.

Also read: Time for Modi to play the elder statesman and repeal the farm laws

CMs as chieftains

If you have covered Indian states long enough, you would know that this is how several chief ministers govern — like regional satraps and chieftains.

J. Jayalalithaa, as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, allegedly had her party goons throw acid at a critic and attack newspaper offices, her government slapped sedition cases on activists, and state officials under various governments routinely fudged Board exam results data to show that the state was on top. Parkash Singh Badal’s rule in Punjab unleashed widespread surveillance and phone tapping, slapped the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA on activists under the garb of the ‘Khalistan’ tag, and intimidated cable distributors to show only establishment-friendly news networks and block critical ones.

In Odisha under Naveen Patnaik, protest movements are routinely dubbed as being run by ‘Naxals’ in order to incarcerate people for long without bail. In West Bengal, CM Mamata Banerjee has intimidated media houses, jailed a professor for emailing a cartoon, and arrested a Bharatiya Janata Party leader for sharing memes. Before that, three decades of Left rule in Bengal saw violent cadres in villages seizing land, people spying on neighbours, sops and jobs for loyalists. Even a CM like Maharashtra’s Prithviraj Chavan sent cartoonist Aseem Trivedi to jail on a sedition complaint.

Nitish Kumar in Bihar has just introduced a law that will penalise you for offensive social media posts and deny you government jobs for taking part in street protests; and the Uttarakhand government will now make it difficult for you to get a new passport if you have taken part in agitations.

Political capture of state institutions and of checks and balances has been a regular phenomenon in states. This is how the CMs annex the state to their fiefdom.

Also read: Teflon Modi does not have one Achilles heel, but two

The power of anti-defection law

Five former chief ministers, before Modi, rose to become prime ministers — Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V. P. Singh, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and Deve Gowda.

But Modi is different. None of the others ruled the national government with the single-party majority and consummate control like he does at the Centre right now. And none of them ruled their states for as long and in as entrenched a manner as Modi did in Gujarat. In that sense, Modi’s style of governing is more akin to Mamata Bannerjee, Badal, and Jayalalithaa, and less like Manmohan Singh or Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The kind of strong, authoritarian chief ministers India has had in the past three decades has a lot to do with the 10th Schedule, or the anti-defection law (passed in 1985, and reinforced in 2002), says author Tripurdaman Singh. He calls it the ‘pre-10th Schedule’ and ‘post-10th Schedule’ style of CMs.

The law made it impossible for MLAs to question party bosses and CMs, vote against the party line, or cross the floor because it now invited suspension and the loss of a hard-fought seat. When all voting on legislation became so tightly controlled, regional party bosses came to enjoy enormous power. This turned chief ministers into unchallenged ‘Supreme Leaders’ of their states.

Such unimpeded power fashioned a new crop of regional politicians in India. And states became the stage where authoritarianism was first tested and practised. But many in the Delhi commentariat chose to look the other way because a lot of this was happening during haloed coalition years at the Centre, when regional leaders were being hailed as paragons of the true spirit of federalism, and as bulwarks against Hindutva.

Modi is Supra-CM

In many ways, Modi and Shah are governing India the way they ruled Gujarat, and like other CMs did too. Prime Minister Modi has actively tried to accrue power structures similar to the ones he enjoyed as CM. He is, in many ways, a supra-CM today.

But is this model sustainable for the country? There are key distinctions in the roles of a PM and a CM.

Chief ministers are essentially project managers, or a CEO, someone who gets things done directly. A prime minister is more like an executive chairperson. Therein lies the rub. Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao had even called the Centre a ‘conceptual myth’, to buttress his claim that India is ruled by states. The real administrative and governance powers lie with the states. Even an MLA is infinitely more powerful than an MP in her ability to make meaningful, material difference in people’s lives on the ground.

This is why ‘brute-majority PMs’ like Modi – and Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi before him – try to capture real power by looking to exploit the Centre-State legislative gaps. Modi’s new farm laws are one such example.

Also read: What makes Yogi Adityanath a role model for other BJP CMs

Does India really need a ‘strong PM’?

Finally, here is a bit of irony.

Since 2012, Modi and his team campaigned on two themes: that he was a strong CM under whom Gujarat flourished, and that Manmohan Singh was a weak PM for India. Ironically, Gujarat under Modi is supposed to have thrived and grown during the same years when India had a ‘weak, incompetent’ PM. So, you don’t really need an all-powerful PM for states to prosper.

But having successfully created the mythology of the need for a ‘strong PM’, Modi just had to bring all the tropes of the consummate control and power of the ‘CM model of governance’ to Delhi.

Another irony is that Modi has now gone back to the Indira Gandhi model of ‘weak party CMs-strong PM’. Even in his home state Gujarat.

Views are personal.

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  1. I agree that the Modi govt is riding rough-shod over the finer points of rights and democracy. But on the flip side, the stakes for India are too high. We can’t have China-style dictatorship to ‘get-things-done’. Modi gets ‘things-done’. Full stop. A few errors may occur here and there (unplanned demonetisation; covid-migrants crises, etc); but the great BIGGER picture is simply put – he is shaking the country out of it’s lethargy, he gets things done and he is not corrupt!! What more do you want?

  2. The so-called “independent’ press has been anything but…ever since independence, the press has been hand-in-glove with govt, making nice with the ruling netas, in return for access, patronage and largesse. In Fact, there is more press freedoms today, than mere twenty years ago, especially with the rise of the twitterati and and blogosphere.

    • You seem to have forgotten the wars waged by the BJP on Twitter and other social media platforms. As well as the arrest, harassment and hounding of journalists. India has fallen deeply on the Press Freedoms index under Modi’s reign.

      Now get these simple facts into your skull and stop being a cyberbhakth.

  3. Having lived in Tamilnadu, I can tell you for sure that Jayalalitha was much more authoritarian in her style than Modi is.
    Probably it was necessary for her to be that way in order to hold the AIADMK party together after the vaccuum created by MGR’s demise.

      • Taking action ,when the Govt .authority is treacherously undermined and when motivated ,deliberate canard ,rumors are spread against the duly elected Govt, is not authoritarian but is the solemn duty of the Govt.
        for protecting the silent majority of this country from such anti-social elements. If Police take action against criminals it is for protecting the majority citizens from such criminals. You cannot condemn every action of the Govt. with a sweeping brush

        • Mr Rengaswamy, our country has a poor human rights record. Democracy is not just about elected governments. It is also about human rights. I agree in certain cases government should clamp down but criticism must be always be differentiated from threats of violence. With an overloaded and delayed justice system it is more often the case that the critic is arrested and spends jail time before he can even prove himself innocent.

          • An outstanding comment Mr Kanchan !

            What Mr Rengaswamy does not grasp is the fact the police in India are thoroughly corrupt and are nothing more than mercenaries that do the bidding of whoever pays them or whoever is in power.

            Take the case of a friend of mine and his 19 year old daughter in relatively well run Tamilnadu. The family had been transferred to Tamilnadu from Delhi and had taken their car along with them. The daughter was stopped for driving her without the necessary paperwork showing transfer of the vehicle to Tamilnadu and since she declined to pay the bribe demanded, was asked to come to the police station. When she went to the station with her father, it was quite evident that bribes were expected. And when they demurred, the inspector, clearly well-connected politically, calmly said to the father:

            “It is easy for us to file charges of prostitution against your daughter and then you both will be in trouble. Your daughter won’t get a passport. So do what is best for your daughter’s future”

            Needless to say, the necessary bribe was paid. That in a nutshell is what the police in India are about. Their allegiance is towards their political paymasters, not to the Constitution or to the citizens.

            And then you have naïve bhakths like Mr Rengaswamy who believe that just because Modi is in power, things have changed for the better in India. In reality, democracy has slid downhill more under the BJP and Modi than even under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.

        • Mr Rengaswamy: The real anti-social elements that you prefer to ignore are indeed the lumpen wings of the BJP such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the RSS, Sanathan Sanstha, Ram Sene, Abhinav Bharath, ABVP and many, many other outfits. Indeed, your friend and intellectual mentor Ayothollah Adityanath has himself been indicted for stoking and fomenting communal violence.

          Of course, if you are ftom the RSS, Abhinav Bharath or the Bajrang Dal, you do literally get away with murder. And even get sweets and get garlanded after having been released from jail for a lynching. That incidentally is what the BJP’s Union Minister Jayant Sinha when he garlanded and handed out sweets to the 8 men who were convicted of lynching Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh. Would you call these gaurakshaks anti-social elements” Mr Rengaswamy? Is Janot Jayant sinha and anti-social element Sir?

          I find it pathetic that educated South Indian men like you would allow yourselves to be so easily led by a bunch of semi-literate, itchy-testicled bhaiyyas and their bullshit – err cow dung.

  4. I know views are personal however I have never read story that show positive side of work. There were many earlier governments that did not do anything good so someone has to clean gutter with his hand and remove wastage

  5. The venom has spread to the entire body. It was Gujjuism earlier, now it’s called Hindutva. Modi became popular and successful in Gujarat because his own thinking resonated with the predominant Gujju thinking of a narrow-minded Hinduism, read “Manuvad”. Gujju enterprise, which is Manuvadi capitalism, thrived under his encouraging eye. Two characteristic aspects of Manuvaduy capitalism are, low wages and delayed wages. That’s why under Mr Modi’s rule we saw the never-heard-of incidents like blocking of salary of even government servants like Prasar Bharati, teachers and professors, municipal workers etc. This is Gujarat Model and chief (prime) minister Modi is in full command of it, this time on a National level. But God is great, Modi has met his waterloo in the shape of farmers protest

    • Anti-national spotted.
      Modi is working 24/7/365 for the country.
      The farmers laws are the ones that everyone was in support of – but no one had the guts to implement.
      The same with Pakistani sponsored terrorism – Surgical and air strike and they have to now keep quiet.
      Keep bleating – the people are with Modi. Then with Shah and then with Yogi or someone else.

      • VAGGA:

        Blinkered, blind bhakth high on gomutra liquor spotted !

        Modi is working 24/7/365 ! Wow !!! Even the high availability servers in my organisation don’t do that! May it has to do with the dhokla consumption of Gujaratis ? Or is it pure propaganda made for gullible bhakths like you ?

        You go on to pontificate:

        “.. farmers laws are the ones that everyone was in support of ..”

        Well, most people were not in favour of making laws that only favour Gujaratis, more specifically, the Ambanis, Adanis or other rich financiers of the Modi political machinery. Admittedly, there are many things wrong with the current crop of farm laws. But handing the markets over to corporate raiders – Gujarati or not – is certainly not the solution.

        As regards, the surgical strikes, well, barring the BJP propaganda machine, virtually every observer realised that Indian had received a bloody nose in that skirmish. A plane was shot down by the Pakistanis and its pilot captured alive; the IAF shot down its own helicopter killing everyone on the aircraft. In all, an unwanted adventure that turned into a mis-adventure and revealed to the Chinese and the Pakistanis the weaknesses of India’s Forces.

        So keep bleating. Maybe we should do some leapfrogging and get Ayothollah Adityanath to replace Modi ASAP. That would be the perfect medicine for Indi’s ailments. Not that it is likely to cure you of your obsession with Prophet Modi.

  6. Accidentally arrived on your modiji hate site! Why you people don’t have shame????? You cheaters, anti nationals 👹

    • Pradeep: Since when did criticism of Modi make one a “cheater” and an “anti-national” ? Your brain too got demonetised Mr Pradeep ?

  7. very interesting view point, this has a ring of truth which brings home the point. As a PM, the focus is more external (Foreign Affairs, Defence etc.) even Economy wise, a CM can do much more than the PM. We need a greater debate into what the role of the central govt. should be, with Modi tightening power, there are calls of the Indian Federalism being lost out and frankly, the last thing we need are puppet CMs who do the PMs bidding… that’s not what Modi did under Vajpayee and that’s not what will help the States

  8. No doubt that Narendra Modi is an authoritarian leader. What missing in current central government is that decentralisation of decision making. PM is not supposed to every decision and every minister should be empowered to do it. Other than Nitin Gadkari we don’t see any other minister doing what is expected of him or her.

    • Baba Phad:

      “.. Other than Nitin Gadkari we don’t see any other minister doing what is expected of him or her ..”

      Decisions in India are only made by Gujaratis for Gujaratis.

    • Publicly, we can see Nitin Gadkari and Piyush Goyal are quite good at execution – you can see in the projects in highways and railways. anyone can tell about their performance and that their standards are really high.

      That does not mean most other ministers are not executing well – it is just not publicly known. For example Rajnath Singh or Dharmendhra Pradhan – you can trust them to do a good job of what they do. The public can trust them.

      But some of the noisy ones, especially those that give bold soundbites to the media (I don’t need to name them) – it is quite clear that they are the core BJP men in Modi’s ministry that are more focussed on implementing the nationalist agendas publicly. Maybe they are doing some good things in their ministries but the public does not see it or they themselves just don’t care too much for the public.

  9. You always post against government
    I have always seen you posting bad and wrong information if government has done good
    I will never read your blog and you know they won 303 so you are not a person who comment on this and missguide

    • varma ji we have given power to these leaders to do good governance, it is their precise duty to do good governance . and hence we do’nt have to cheer them if they are doing anything good. “IT IS THEIR JOB”. it is only when they are not doing their job journalists need to ask questions and criticize .

  10. Perceptive column. 2. The issues the Centre deals with are qualitatively very different from those a state does. Quite apart from the sheer subcontinental sweep and magnitude, the diversity versus near homogeneity in most states. 3. Consider foreign policy. A tremendous investment of time and energy was made. Difficult to discern any genuine achievements or successes. Defence procurement is no more streamlined than it ever was. 4. Whether any bold reimagining is considered necessary is hard to judge. That would require an honest, humble acknowledgment of missteps. Of the need for course correction, in some case even 180 degrees. A total recast of top talent. 5. Global aura, image, stature have always been considered a life and death matter for New India. Read the concluding few sentences of Shri Vir Sanghvi’s recent column on the binary choice India is faced with. There is no third way.

  11. I think you forgot Congress, it was first who started these types of work. Our Dear PM Jawaharlal Nehru was the first to ban media or manipulate them if they didn’t suit his party. Otherwise you are right. Centralisation of Power is obviously not good for any Country.

    • Shubh Sharma: And you just another uncritical, blinkered bhakth and Modi worshipper. Thats it !

      As Donald Trump proved, there is a large maket for useful idiots who do the bidding of incompetent politicians and then are left in the lurch. But they will still continue to worship the politician that dupes them.


  12. I always had the feeling that our PM is ruling like a CM. When people accuse PM of being authoritarian, so are all CMs in India today except those heading state assemblies with wafer thin majority. This article hits the nail on its head in this analysis. I wonder if Kejriwal also follow suit if the Delhi Police were made to report to him ?

  13. If the ‘views are personal’ then why publish it ?? Or the publisher is owning the views other wise why would it publish ? I don’t think will be willing to pay for such pathetic journalism either …

  14. re: your headline:- after gst, demonetization, sudden lockdown etc. it feels more like the central government is a powerful foreign country out to colonize us poor natives – all for our own good.

  15. Diplomatic Democratic means for END RESULTS . “Economic Development of India ”
    How , By Whom . Mostly the people of the country are non-aligned . GOD BLESS OUR COUNTRY .

  16. The governance style of Narendra Modi may not be of the liking of the author but still he has strong approval ratings.

    • The author would rather have ‘dynastic democracy’ where individual families across the land rule states and the one family rules the country.
      This is a true democracy where the India Today poll showed continued support.
      People like this author are simply Modi haters.

      • Vagga: The BJP, the Congress, the DMK and virtually every political party in India is run by dynasties. Clearly, voters don’t care for the fact that they elect corrupt, self-serving dynasties. Exactly as voters did not care for the fact that Andimuthu Raja was a scamster or Pragya Thakur was a terror accused Godse worshipper. Both have been elected with thumping majorities.

        People like you are simply blind, blinkered, bigoted Modi worshippers. Indeed, the more violence there is in India towards minorities, the more you will hold the pogromwala in esteem.

        As they say:

        “People get the governments they deserve”

  17. Some opinion givers sound like people having inferiority complex and would go to any lengths to condemn people so as to please Christian church controlled western media who pay them only to bad mouth HINDUS.

  18. What an argument to say that all states have been practicing, conspiracy theories and arrests, new laws rammed through, journalists detained, FIRs galore, opposition lampooned, activists and critics demonized, and dissent crushed in different measures and at different times AND NOW IT HAS COME TO DELHI.
    While shying away from talking about the scams and the day light robbery which was being practiced in different measures and at different times which was prevalent in Delhi and is missing now.

  19. Your views are pretty biased. How do you justify the actions of home minister Mr Chidambaran and that of Dr Manmohan (or rather inaction as a mute spectator) when police force and arrests were used to disrupt the totally peaceful protests of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. Here protestors have been given much leeway and it was the farmers that attacked the police in what was supposed to be peaceful protests

    Are not the farmers protesting akin to hooligans not willing to listen to anything. Government has repeatedly asked for discussions which they refuse and ask only repeal of the acts which most of the political parties behind the farmer protests themselves supported in the past?

    When will you start questioning the true motives i.e. destablishing the nation with support from pro khalistanis and political parties that are willing to resort to any means to come back to power

  20. “Internet shutdowns, spikes and concertinas at the farmer sit-ins, conspiracy theories and arrests, new laws rammed through, journalists detained, FIRs galore, opposition lampooned, activists and critics demonised, and dissent crushed. Welcome to the ‘Chief Minister model of governance’.” – In the same breath could you also condemn the People who wanted to run over the police using the Tractors. Who assaulted a Female Police.
    Don’t you think that the Spikes might be to stop those Tractors which are being used as a weapons?
    I am happy that these “Cabal” of journalist are ignorant or consciously don’t want to acknowledge the positives of this Govt.
    They kind of live in this echo chamber where they can’t hear the ground reality. Perhaps they should travel more outside Delhi.
    Be blind to the ground reality, I guess Shekhar Gupta will get a chance to make a video (which went viral) explaining why BJP won a majority in 2024. 🙂
    Note: I am not supporter of BJP. I don’t see a single journalist/Party opposing the policies of the Govt. on the basis of solid data. Which IMO the country needs. Ex: I don’t see people talking about what a fraud these election bonds are.
    Any ways All the Best to you. Hope to see better well researched and solid Data based articles from you in future.

    • I agree.

      Majority of India media is just another soap opera…. OTT type.

      Disclaimer: This is NOT a political comment but a qualitative observation ( I hope I m wrong for the sake of my Nation)

  21. Modiji is a Chief Minister? Sorry. He actually thinks he is the President, Prime Minister, Chief Minister, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, all rolled into one.

  22. “Narendra Modi is ruling India as if it was another state and he is still a chief minister”

    Could this perception be just because the CMs want to rule their respective states like Independent Nations?

    Just asking

  23. I wish you get to write something else rather than this boring topic about how Modi is wrong and everyone else is right. See if you can write something about education policy. Dare to question your editor first.

  24. I think its better that you advise him on how the country should be run…and shekhar gupta can be your chief he also knows how and where the PM has failed…DISGUSTING!!…criticsm should be constructive. And if With solutions even better…certain section of the media and the opposition have put the nation their effort to bring modi down.
    Im not a bhakt..nor a modi supporter..but you guys are abusing your position as you ve a platform …from which to project your thoughts…
    These are getting personal by the day.
    This is not journalism…..
    And then Mr gupta has the balls to ask people like me to pay for such jounalism!!!
    Dont fall into the same rut that other media establishments have…uve created a niche for urself.

  25. You’ve got to love Modi, just for lighting mirchi at the bottoms of Delhi’s parasitic librandu class. He must be doing something right. I am ready to sell my house and donate the proceeds to get Modi elected again 2024. And donate my kidney to see him win again in 2029.

    • Why should you be forced to sell your house, then your kidneys. With the economy on a roll, your net worth should continue to surge, as Jeff Bezos’ is.

  26. Like a student that is prone to copying from another student’s note book, our news editors and reporters copy enmasse the same script without much variation. Is it pure laziness, paucity of idea or herd mentality only scribes may be able to tell. We hear repeatedly of barricades, of concertina wires, shutting down of internet again and again. No one tells us that these measures came into place after a sworn agreement was violated, hooligans ran amok in national capital with impunity, police mostly stood as a spectator or ran to save dear life. Next time when farmers decided to renew protest with much vigor, government / administration decided to set up barricade. Afterall, government should owe some responsibility to remaining 90% population that are not farmers and those who may have other things in mind than phoney politically motivated protest. Oops! I forgot to mention peaceful and democratic flag hoisting on the Red Fort.

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