There is no mistaking the fact that in the six weeks that have elapsed since the Narendra Modi Government came to power at the centre, it has been Modi all the way—be it the government or the party. The Congress, on the other hand, has shown neither vitality nor direction.
The BJP has made no major strides in the short time it has been in office but it has taken no major missteps either.
Taking advantage of the impressive victory at the hustings, Modi has gone about establishing his authority in a manner that is both subtle and effective. He has engineered the appointment of his closest aide Amit Shah as the party president and so comprehensive is his sway that there was not a murmur of protest from anyone, despite the fact that both the prime minister and party president are from the same state.
Party patriarch L K Advani, who had shown an appetite for dissent in the past, is very subdued and is, in fact, very appreciative of Modi in public
fora, while his close aide, Sushma Swaraj, is all smiles now in her public appearances as minister for external affairs.
When the time came for cabinet formation, everything went smoothly and unlike under the UPA, when Sonia Gandhi called the shots while Manmohan Singh mostly looked on, this time around not even the RSS had any major say. Modi was left to his own ways and his decision to bring in a defeated Lok Sabha candidate, Arun Jaitley, as both finance and defence minister, reflected that there was no one to challenge Modi.
Now, three RSS functionaries, one of them a bigwig, are set to don positions in the party, but it can safely be predicted that they will not wield independent influence.
The bureaucracy was brought to heel by an informal meeting that Modi had with senior bureaucrats, where it became clear that they would have to conform to a certain discipline that they were unaccustomed to. Clocking in on time, clearing files more swiftly, keeping off golf courses, where many among them were known to while away their time even during office hours and taking prolonged lunch breaks, which often included leisurely social lunches at prominent clubs have become a thing of the past, except occasionally. In return, Modi has promised them his protection if they are harassed at the hands of ministers or hauled up before the CBI or other enforcement agencies, so long as the decisions for which they were being hounded were in good faith, without any pecuniary motive.
Clearly, Modi’s tough posture when he was chief minister in Gujarat has come in handy. Here was a man who was a hard taskmaster who evoked fear around him. In the Indian political milieu, where intrigues and cut-throatism are the order of the day, this kind of climate in which there is harmony and a common sense of purpose seems too good to be true. If Modi can sustain it in the long run, it would be a big win-win for the BJP. But too much power in the hands of one person can lead to autocratic tendencies, which Modi must guard against.
It is interesting to see how Modi’s government has stonewalled all attempts by the Congress to push its way through to anoint a Leader of the Opposition. Sonia Gandhi has openly demanded this along with other leaders of the party, but Modi has turned a deaf ear to it. The Speaker, endowed with the authority to sanction this vital position to the Congress, which has fallen short of the minimum number required to attain that status, has maintained a studied silence.
It is not so much a question of whether the Congress would have its way legally if the matter goes to court, as the Congress is threatening to do. But the underlying message from the BJP is that it cannot be pushed around into doing what it does not want to do so long as Modi is at the helm, unless the courts rule in favour of the Congress, which is only a remote possibility.
Even on the question of removing state governors who were political appointees of the erstwhile UPA government, the BJP government has had its way in a roundabout way. When it became clear that judiciary had not uttered the last word on the permissibility of removing governors without strong grounds for removal, the Modi government targeted each of these governors differently. West Bengal’s M K Narayanan and Goa’s B V Wanchoo realised that there was little chance of their defying the Centre for long, after the CBI teams dropped in to question them as witnesses in the AugustaWestland chopper deal. Sheila Dixit too defied the oral central diktat and there are strong indications that she will be transferred to the Northeast from Kerala, to break her resistance to quit.
Kamla Beniwal, who as Gujarat governor, had rubbed Modi on the wrong side several times at the behest of the Congress, has been packed off to Mizoram a few months before her term was to end. Sooner than later, she will put in her papers.
Perhaps, it would be unfair to target the NDA government for all these roundabout removals, because the apex court is taking far too long deciding the cases of those who had been removed as governors by the UPA government five years ago.
There was a time when governors were appointed for their longstanding contribution to public life, but in recent years, governorships have, in many cases become a way of rewarding politicians for services rendered to the party in power. Hence, the sanctity of that office has been severely compromised.
So complete has been the Modi sway in the six weeks that he has been in office that there was a distinct Modi stamp to the rail budget proposals that Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda presented in Parliament on Tuesday. The plans to corporatise railway services and to strive to attract foreign direct investment in key projects have the Modi stamp on them. With the general budget slated today, there is likely to be more of the same.