Heading towards a saffron UPA?
So far we have not heard any real policy alternatives from Modi
That the media is one of the main battle fields in Polls 2014 is seen from the many speeches and outbursts regularly taking place on live TV. Not only did Rahul Gandhi choose a press conference to make his "Nonsense" intervention, but almost every one of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi's speeches is covered live by most TV channels. 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 Prime Minister hardly ever brings 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 a la Jairam Ramesh, the need for better irrigation et al. Yet the preponderant part of his speeches is taken up with attacking the Congress on all fronts. 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 CBI to fight elections. But where in Modi's thundering oratory is the set of alternative policies, a completely new set of policy goals and a new set of buzzwords to challenge the UPA's Food Security Bill, MNREGA, RTI, aam admi, inclusive growth and RTE? Modi and the BJP have now spent 10 years in the Opposition condemning the UPA's corruption and indecisiveness. But where is Modi's alternative charter of governance, where are the new ideas, beyond the battle cries?
"Labour Isn't Working" was Thatcher's campaign slogan in the 70s with a picture of long lines of unemployed, to hard sell her ideas of a fundamental 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 simply 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:
1. What is your stand on caste quotas?
2. How will you control the fiscal deficit?
3. Will you rollback MNREGA and Food Security Bill, and if not how will you control spending?
4. How will you reform the aviation sector?
5. Will you rollback FDI in retail since the BJP opposes it?
6. What will be the Pakistan policy of a Modi-led BJP?
7. How will a Modi-led BJP reach out to business interests in the US who are complaining about India's protectionism?
8. Will you push nuclear power in a big way and what is your stand on the current Nuclear Liability Bill?
9. What is your vision of the place of minorities in a democracy?
10. 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 exactly 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 at the moment, Modi holds the following portfolios: General Administration, Administrative Reforms & Training, Industries, Home, Climate Change, Ports, Information & Broadcasting, Narmada, Kalpasar and Science & Technology. The one man government is what provides streamlined administration. But can such a one- man administration be replicated the Centre? Will state chief ministers 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 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 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 simply 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.