Narendra Modi’s ministers make headlines for everything but their ministries.
Think of one passion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his ministers, BJP colleagues, governors and the military brass have commonly pursued in the past four-and-a-half years.
No prize for guessing. It’s a passion for headline-hunting. Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik is only the latest to join the game. First, he suggested that the Centre had plotted to install BJP-backed Sajad Lone government, and then he went public about the ‘threat of transfer’ (to another Raj Bhawan) he faced purportedly for dissolving the state assembly.
He should take a few tips from his Meghalaya counterpart, Tathagata Roy, on how to stay in the game. Roy’s Twitter profile @tathagata2 says a lot about his priorities: “Right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer, ideologue. Also Governor, Meghalaya.” He frequently made national headlines as Tripura governor, questioning the “silence of the ‘secular’ crowd over noise pollution by Azaan” and calling Rohingyas “garbage”.
Shifted to the Raj Bhawan in Shillong in August, he has managed to remain in news. “10th anniversary today of the Paki-sponsored slaughter of innocents (except Muslims) at Mumbai, popularly called 26/11…,” Roy said in a tweet 26 November. Following a storm on social media, he deleted it, saying that it “contained a factual mistake”. But he has continued to retweet provocative posts about “Paki Muslim terrorists”.
But why blame only governors? Most of them were non-entities in public sphere until Narendra Modi got them a place in the sun.
His ministers have been in the news for everything other than their work in the ministries. Ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Giriraj Singh had said that those who opposed Modi had their place in Pakistan and not in India. He was rewarded with a ministerial berth. He hasn’t stopped since then, leaving no opportunity to stoke controversies, the latest being his description of Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband as a “temple of terrorism”. By the way, if you don’t know – and most of us may not –
Singh happens to be the minister of state (independent charge) for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), a critical sector still lumbering under the impact of demonetisation. But his priorities are different.
Smriti Irani, last heard, was talking about her ‘gotra’ and her ‘sindoor’ as a testimony of her being a “practising Hindu” and about Rahul Gandhi sending “Israeli bananas (plants)” to Amethi. She is the minister of textiles, another demonetisation-hit sector beckoning for attention. Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi hit the headlines targeting her own party minister in Maharashtra for the killing of tigress Avni, much to the dismay of union minister of environment, forest and climate change, Dr Harsh Vardhan.
To be fair, these ministers may be right if they feel wronged for being named when most of their colleagues in the government are doing no better.
But it’s not just the ministers and the governors.
Army chief Bipin Rawat has been making headlines, saying that Kartarpur initiative should be seen “in isolation” (and not be linked with the resumption of talks), accusing “some organisations” (read political parties) of amalgamating illegal immigrants (read Bangladeshis) and saying that there is no problem in drone strikes along the Line of Control (LoC) if the country is ready to accept “collateral damage”. When was the last time the country had such an outspoken army chief?
We see the unusual spectacle of top CBI officers, the least-noticed entities in the Reserve Bank of India, and even the country’s statistics bureau getting embroiled in political rows. If you are a part of the ruling establishment today, you can say anything and get away with it. Could one ever think of a ruling party’s national spokesperson – in this case, BJP’s Sambit Patra – threatening a political rival – a leader of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) – in a TV debate to “sit down or else I will rename a mosque after (Lord) Vishnu”?
Over the past 53 months, spin masters have told us repeatedly how Narendra Modi took the motormouths in his party and the government to task for speaking ‘out of turn’. Really? Why would ministers and party leaders, including Amit Shah, keep stoking controversies with their remarks even after Modi’s alleged rebuke? There can be only two inferences: Either Modi didn’t mean it or his party colleagues know it was perfunctory. Or, may be, they have reasons to think that he means just the opposite of what he says.
But, either way, it ends up undermining Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister who once sought to give a semblance of being in control of his ministers, his government or the institutions that his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, supposedly lost hold of. How could a ‘strong’ leader, who people reposed their faith in and replaced a ‘weak’ prime minister with, lose control?
By default or design, Modi seems to be letting his followers or his ardent supporters in the government and the party to build the narrative for him. But it has now come to a stage when a sense of disintegration, disharmony and chaos in every sphere – politics, governance, judiciary, and even the private sector – is hurting his public persona.
Narendra Modi is a poet too. Therefore, he may probably remember The Second Coming of W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Incidentally, Yeats composed it in 1919, exactly a century before Modi seeks a renewed mandate in India.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.