Delhi Gives Warning to Modi

Delhi Gives Warning to ModiDelhi Gives Warning to Modi

The election results of the Delhi poll last week were keenly awaited. Delhi has a larger-than-life significance in India’s national politics. If a ruling party at the center cannot win in Delhi, it somehow gets to be taken as a warning that the national mood disfavors it. Delhi is a microcosm of India, and the crushing defeat that the ruling party at the center, Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], has suffered in Delhi - winning just three seats out of 70 - ought to ring alarm bells in the mind of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, M K Bhadrakumar, former Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey wrote for Asia Times.

Modi understood well that the stakes were high and, therefore, unusual for a prime minister, he took a “hands-on” role in BJP’s election campaign. Did he overreach? Modi even invoked during the campaign the visit of US President Barack Obama to Delhi just 10 days before the election. The buck, no doubt, stops at Modi.

The string of BJP electoral successes that Modi masterminded since winning the general election last May to the Indian parliament has been punctuated. The aura of invincibility around Modi’s political persona is dissipating. Politics anywhere, especially in India, is a matter of perceptions and the country took note today that Modi can be defeated.

However, what accounted for the BJP’s stunning defeat in the Delhi election would be a combination of factors and force of circumstances. One easy explanation could be that the BJP’s party machinery in Delhi was in disrepair riven by factionalism with rival cliques undercutting each other. The point is, the decisiveness of the electoral verdict in favor of a relatively new party, Aam Admi Party [Common Man’s Party] - winning 67 seats out of 70 - is heavily laden with political content.

  Vote-Winning Factors

Modi’s charisma as a forceful leader helped the BJP to attract a big chunk of voters who were disenchanted with the Congress Party on various counts (after 10 years in power). Fragmentation in the opposition also helped. Suffice it to say, the formidable mandate of the present government actually wears a surreal look, notwithstanding the fairy tale that has been woven around it. Modi promised the moon to the Indian electorate - an efficient, corruption-free, performance-oriented, transparent, accountable government. The plain truth is that through the past nine-month period in power, the government failed to impress the nation. The performance has been lackluster. An impression steadily formed that Modi is quintessentially a stage performer who sweeps away his audience in dream sequences.

The TV spectacle that Modi choreographed, spread over three days with himself fawning over Obama, proved counterproductive. It not only failed to impress Delhiites but irritated them. The image of any government as “elitist” never goes down well in India, where the overwhelming majority of people eke out miserable lives. Elitism is synonymous with insensitivity and grates against the country’s culture and traditions.

Without a doubt, Modi’s image has suffered from the non-performance of the government. True, he holds no magic wand - and India’s problems are acute and systemic in character that lend to no easy solution - but then, he should not have pretended, either, that if only given a chance, he could overnight make all the difference to governance. In fact, on many issues Modi backtracked - for instance, on his strong pledge that he’d bring back money stowed away in foreign banks illegally by the country’s elites - and it increasingly looks as if the more things seemed to change in the country, the more they have remained the same.

  Diplomatic Centerpiece

Modi has expounded the “Make in India” project as the centerpiece of the country’s economic diplomacy to which he attributes primacy in the foreign policy sphere. Modi will bulldoze the resistance of ‘hardliners’ to revamp India’s China ties. His forthcoming visit to China in May assumes high importance. A robust push can be expected to kick start big railway projects and industrial parks with Chinese participation and investment that would hold the potential to create large-scale job opportunities in a near term. Conceivably, Modi may also engage Pakistan constructively, since a regional environment conducive to push the development agenda is an imperative need. Modi instinctively prefers normalization with Pakistan but he needs to sell this policy first within his own camp.

Despite the massive defeat in Delhi, Modi’s prestige is still high on the national plane and he can afford to be more tolerant and accommodative toward others instead of doing things the John Wayne way.  Most certainly, it is about time to win over Hindu zealots since he has promises to keep. The Delhi results underscore that the people reject the politics of polarization on religious lines.

People elected Modi under the impression he had a development agenda and a capacity to deliver good governance. The Delhiites’ vehement rejection of Modi, bordering on condemnation, should remind him of it.