Modi’s speeches yield a slogan a minute and a controversy a minute, from “India needs action not Acts” to “Yes we can” to “Dehati aurat”, to “Pehle shauchalay phir devalaya.”
In fact, Modi’s the one politician who’s understood the needs of a society defined by the communication and information revolution. The Gandhis remain loftily incommunicado. The PM hardly ever takes voters into confidence. But Modi relentlessly seeks out newer audiences and his social media outreach is formidable, (even though we hacks still await a no-holds-barred press conference where no question is taboo.)
In different venues, Modi markets his development record. We hear about the need for toilets, the need for better irrigation et al.
Yet the preponderant part of his speeches is taken up with attacking the Congress. He’s called the UPA not a dream team but a “dirty team”, asked why “samvidhan” should be subordinate to “shehzada”, accused the PM of “selling poverty” to Barack Obama and accused the Congress of using the CBI to fight elections.
But where in Modi’s thundering oratory is a new set of policy goals and a new set of buzzwords to challenge the UPA’s Food Security Bill, MNREGA, RTI, aam aadmi and RTE? Modi and the BJP have spent 10 years in Opposition condemning the UPA’s corruption and indecisiveness. But where is Modi’s alternative charter of governance, where are the new ideas, beyond the slogans and the battle cries?
“Labour Isn’t Working” was Margaret Thatcher’s campaign slogan in the 1970s with a picture of long lines of unemployed to hard sell her ideas of an economic re-boot. If Modi stands for desi Thatcherism or an economically right-wing, business-friendly government, then where exactly is that audacious new idea in any of his speeches? Or is it difficult to make such pronouncements because there is no ideological unanimity between BJP and sangh on business-friendly economics?
If so, then the ideological confusion in a BJP-led government will be as much of a stumbling block as the sharp cleavage between “reformists” and “welfarists” in the UPA.
Last week I posed 10 questions to Modi on Twitter: what is your stand on caste quotas; how will you control the fiscal deficit? Will you rollback MNREGA and Food Security Bill, and if not how will you control spending?
How will you reform the aviation sector? Will you rollback FDI in retail since the BJP opposes it? What will be the Pakistan policy of a Modi-led BJP? How will a Modi-led BJP reach out to business interests in the US who are complaining about India’s protectionism? Will you push nuclear power in a big way and what is your stand on the Nuclear Liability Bill? What is your vision of the place of minorities in a democracy? How will you control the fiscal deficit, will you raise taxes, and if so which taxes will you raise?
After 10 years in Opposition, we know exactly what the BJP is against and what Modi is against. What we do not know is what BJP and Modi stand for, besides anti-Congressism. Modi says he wants good governance. Who doesn’t?
Even Akhilesh Yadav wants good governance. The question is: How. The Congress view of governance was spending on welfare. Is the BJP’s the same? How does the BJP plan to deliver good governance? Through the Gujarat model?
Can the Gujarat model become an all-India model? In Gujarat, Modi holds the following portfolios: general administration, administrative reforms and training, industries, home, climate change, ports, information & broadcasting, Narmada, Kalpasar and science and technology.
The One Man government is what provides streamlined administration. But can such a one-man administration be replicated the Centre? Will state CMs be easily bludgeoned into following the diktat of an all-powerful Modi personality cult at the Centre?
Let’s look at another aspect of the Gujarat model, the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill 2013. The selection committee for lokayukta includes the CM as chairman, speaker, a Cabinet minister, Leader of Opposition, a high court judge and the vigilance commissioner. Four of the six are either ruling party members or government functionaries.
In case an investigation has to be carried out against a sitting minister, the council of ministers will scrutinise a recommendation by the lokayukta and issue a notification allowing an inquiry to be made. In case a complaint is found to be wrong or made with malafide intention, the complainant is liable to be fined Rs. 25,000 and/or a jail term of six months.
Clearly in Gujarat, a toothless lokayukta operates under the watchful eye of the executive. Given that he has declared war against bhrashtachar, is this the emasculated version of a corruption watch-dog which Modi prefers? He hasn’t yet told us what he thinks of the UPA’s Lokpal Bill.
Slogans are easy, bashing the government (and god knows it needs to be bashed) is easy, but after the bashing is done, voters need to hear solid policy alternatives. The argument can’t be that our policies are the same, but ‘You Are Bad vs I Am Good’.
We are hearing speech after speech from Modi, but no real elaborations on how his potential new government is going to alter the policy discourse. The last thing India needs is a saffron version of the UPA.
Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN The views expressed by the author are personal.