Saturday, December 05, 2015

Modi Outreach or Out of Reach ?


Article first published in +ABP NEWS (click here to read)

Narendra Modi is one politician – who can never do anything right – at least as far as the media is concerned. Last week after his stirring speech in the Parliament on Constitution Day (which itself became a subject of controversy) Op-ed pundits strenuously analyzed how the speech was high on rhetoric but short on authenticity. When PM Modi invited Sonia Gandhi and Man Mohan Singh for tea prior to the start of the Parliament Winter Session – his critics could barely conceal their glee. The suggestion being – the PM had to get off his high horse to taste the dust of Bihar.

But, to cut the chase – is PM Modi really trying to reach out ? Has he come to a belated realization that confrontation can only get him thus far and from here on the journey could well be down-hill with Congress’ Lion King-in-waiting having drawn his first blood and the rest of the opposition discovered the magic tape to hold together a disparate bunch, at least in the short run.

The post-Diwali Milan at the BJP HQ – almost a month after the festival seemed like an afterthought. At least going by the photographs of the now customary ‘selfie’ session with the PM published in the media, the big guns of the media and stars of News TV gave it a miss this year – probably having got their selfies clicked last Diwali and knowing it will be just a social ritual sans any “Breaking News” moment.

Beside this – one has seen little evidence so far of the PM trying to offer the olive branch to his detractors. He has carried on with his official business as usual and gone ahead with his overseas travel schedule ignoring expected digs from the opposition, media and Twitter chaterati (albeit everyone knows these foreign engagements are committed months in advance). So, is there any reason to believe Narendra Modi will drastically change his style – stoop a little to conquer – to overcome odds that might otherwise derail him prematurely after a dream start just18 months ago? Or, putting it plainly is he even capable of such a radical transformation – even for a brief period?

The answer to both those questions is a resounding “NO”. First, he is too proud (call him an irredeemable egotist or the man’s hubris if you like) to climb down – at anyone’s threats or bullying. He would rather break – and fight to finish – than bend. Second, he is acutely aware that being seen to compromise publicly would not only be totally out of sync with his character and brand personality – but come across as even less genuine. Above all, he is too sharp and politically savvy not to realize – that any number of “Chai pe Charcha” or backroom deals are going to assuage the Gandhis – who see him as the single biggest threat to the survival of the dynasty.

One remembers – in the latter part of the campaign – when he was surer of his victory – Modi told some interviewers: “to win an election you need votes, but to run a country you need the support of the entire country”. He repeated this again in Parliament and was seen extending courtesies to Sonia Gandhi in the opening session. But, it ended there. Many believe, with some justification, the initial show of grace and desire to be seen as inclusive was more for effect than real. But, one could also argue conversely, Modi had already sensed it was just a matter of time before the ‘dynasty’ struck back with vengeance and, therefore, it would be futile to try and build bridges with them.

Going forward – therefore, it is unlikely that we would see greater bonhomie between Modi and the Congress. Both are stuck with their own existential compulsions. While the Gandhis have little option but to fight for existence, Modi can’t give up – or even temporarily set aside – his mission of demolishing the Nehru-Gandhi legacy for good. He can’t do this by simply tripping them on legal chinks in the family – be it Vadra land deals, black-money or National Herald case – as many of his lay supporters naively suggest – but by systematically dismantling the aura and myths created around them over six decades. And, that is going to be long drawn war of wits.

What we might definitely see in the coming days is Modi and his aides more actively reaching out to the non-Congress opposition and regional parties – luring them with sops and reprieves as indeed more concerted direct contact with his core constituents – while he puts his governance and reforms agenda into high gear. But, for this he has to fix his communication and media strategy double quick as has been widely commented and start relying more on experienced colleagues – like Nitin Gadkari  - and put CMs of BJP ruled states  to better use – rather than just a handful of trusted lieutenants. One redeeming feature – of the current crisis – is how some hitherto ignored young articulate MPs like Meenakshi Lekhi have risen to his defense in Parliament. He would need to press many more like her into action.

Finally – despite criticisms if PM Modi is continuing with his peripatetic foreign policy it is not without a purpose. He wants to build on the equity he has acquired among the global leaders – with whom he finds much easier to communicate and establish rapport than with a few cussed septuagenarian regional chieftains. He knows – as long as the international power bloc sees him as their best bet in India – he has a better chance to counter external forces that Congress will no doubt try to enlist in their insidious campaign to unseat him – as was apparent from recent utterances of Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid.

There is no doubt whatsoever it will be a bumpy road ahead till 2019. But, Modi has enough tenacity to weather the storm and come out a winner.