Monday, May 19, 2014

People have punished the Gandhi clan. But what kind of change will Modi bring?

Now that
the hurley-burley's done
the battle's lost and won,
fair is foul and foul is fair,
can we forget the posturings and face up to the fundamentals? First, this is more Narendra Modi's victory than the BJP's. To his organisational genius and spectacular campaign style must go the lion's share of credit. Second, sophisticated public relations did create a Modi Wave. But more decisive was the Anti-Gandhi family Tsunami. The third fundamental is perhaps the most important: It is unsure whether this will turn out to be the change the people of India yearned for and voted for; that is to be proved by the actions of the new Government -- and there is no saying what the substance of those actions will be.

Even his critics will agree that Narendra Modi is the smartest politician India has seen in recent times. And also the most assertive. He used both qualities to turn the BJP into an instrument of his ambition, obliging the seniors in the party to bow to his scheme of things. They had no alternative because Modi was a master strategist as well as the most gifted orator of his generation. The way he captured the imagination of the masses made him the pivot on which the party's fortunes turned. For the BJP Modi became what Jawaharlal Nehru was to the Congress in the early years of independence.

But Nehru's Congress withered away in his final years. Some Congress photocopies followed. The Indira Congress was feared more than it was accepted. The Rajiv Congress saw the establishment of the kickback culture. Under the Sonia Congress the rush of scandals continued with sycophancy reaching levels that offended Indian sensibilities. The Rahul Congress finally reached the point of no return. The young scion's general level of incompetence, the public humiliations meted out to the Prime Minister and the rise and rise of Robert Vadra made people desperate for a change. Unfortunately for the Gandhi family, the moment found the man and Modi blew in like a hurricane sweeping the lot out of his way.

So change has come. But will it be a meaningful change, marking a return to the real world that politicians usually ignore? The real world consists of simple, decent citizens with simple, decent aspirations. The self-serving world of politicians has a makebelieve character where party labels make no difference. Growth and development were Manmohan Singh's obsessions. They are Narendra Modi's slogans as well. One set of cronies will now fade away and another set of cronies will fade in. Big-ticket projects will light up the sky and dramatic headlines will be made. But will attention be paid to the real world of real people and real issues?

Consider the food we eat, for example. The European Union recently banned our beloved alphonso. This pride of India was found to contain fruit flies. So what happened to the lush mangoes that were meant for European tables? They were of course diverted to Indian tables. How come what is bad for others is good enough for us? Why is it that civilised countries have designated authorities and systems that safeguard the health of their citizens while in our country the authorities are otherwise busy and the systems are at the mercy of manipulators?

Indian chillies were banned in Saudi Arabia. That did not mean that conscience-stricken chilli traders burned their produce in a rush of patriotism. They merely passed it on to the anything-goes Indian market. Periodically Indian prawns are rejected by advanced countries. The rejects are eaten by Indians as delicacies. Masala powders in Indian shops have a bad reputation on account of adulteration. Even government-run Rajdhani Express often serves stale food. Why is it that these utterly basic things receive no attention from our elected governments whatever be the party colours they flaunt?

The attention government does pay usually helps the guilty. The notorious Cancer Train from Batinda to Bikaner was the consequence of Punjabi farmers using harmful pesticides in excess. Instead of finding ways to stop this devil dance of the Green Revolution, the authorities focussed on turning Batinda into a glitzy mall town for the pleasure of the well-to-do. Aerial spraying of endosulfan turned Kasargod into a horror museum of pitiably deformed children and adults. The local government eventually banned the poison, but it continued to be used under other names. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar insisted that further research was necessary to take a call on endosulfan. This was after the US with its strict regulatory mechanisms had finally ordered the closure of the last endosulfan factory in that country. India is the dreamland of international lobbies. Even competent Indian agricultural research and seed formulations are sidelined to help foreign monopoly lobbies.

Narendra Modi has the imagination, and now the mandate, to change these shameful facts of life. But will he? The question arises because the smart Modi is also the pracharak Modi. Modi's BJP and Mohan Bhagwat's RSS have achieved a policy-approach synchronisation unseen in the history of either organisation. Bhagwat was an active participant in discussions of strategy and cabinet formation. Not surprisingly a senior RSS leader has publicly said that a Modi Government must deliver on Ayodhya, Article 370 in Kashmir and the Uniform Civil Code. Even those who agree that these are desirable objectives will be concerned about pushing them to the forefront of a freshly formed BJP Government's agenda. While the punishment meted out to the Gandhi Dynasty makes the present look rosy, the future is anything but.