The burden of incumbency on Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be higher than he and his supporters estimate. Failure in social sector development and creation of jobs, coupled with sluggish economic growth, has added to the incumbency burden.
The anxiety can be gauged from the government decisions to extend reservations to the economically weaker sections within the general category, hike in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) exemption limit and a package in the interim Budget for the farmers. The government, in the interim Budget, had announced cash transfers of Rs 6,000 per year to farmers owning two hectares of land under the new Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana.
Anti-incumbency factor is nothing new. It affects every government. The Jawaharlal Nehru-led Congress government at the Centre faced it in 1957 and 1962, but it overcame the hurdle. The governments led by Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee could secure successive terms overcoming the incumbency snag but this came after a shorter previous term. Dr Manmohan Singh, who is criticised as the ‘accidental and voiceless’ Prime Minister by his opponents, is the only PM among the post-Nehruvian era to complete his first term and win another. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi won elections in 1971 and 1984 respectively, but victory eluded them in the next elections.
Now the speculation is whether Modi will face the same fate as that of Indira and Rajiv or will he match the record of the accidental Prime Minister. It has become a fashion for Modi and his colleagues to take a dig at Nehru at every opportune moment. However, will it be easy for Modi to touch Nehru’s record of trouncing incumbency obstacles?
Dramatic rhetoric replete with high electoral promises of then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi during the election campaign in 2014 Lok Sabha elections naturally evoked high expectation among masses. However, the Modi government has failed to fulfil most of the promises. Having failed to usher in ‘acche din’ during the last five years, the BJP government again announced a flurry of welfare schemes just before the model code of conduct took effect.
Modi may believe that voters have short memory, and that they usually vote on decisions and perceptions made in the months leading up to polls, thereby hoping that the people will forget the onslaught of demonetisation, GST or the Rafale scam. They may hope similarly that the Northeast will forget the Citizenship Amendment Bill that would adversely impact the ethnicity of the region. He is, instead, overwhelmed by the electoral alliance between his party and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). Will pompous celebration of Kumbh mela overshadow the death of infants due to healthcare negligence?
The Congress has, however, outwitted the BJP by promising the minimum income scheme for the poorer sections if the party is voted to power. Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) with a minimum income of Rs 72,000 per year for five crore families with income levels below Rs 12,000. The Congress president sarcastically said this scheme was a ‘surgical strike’ on poverty.
But whether such a scheme is feasible in the present Indian economic space is debatable. The scheme, which apparently strikes the imagination of the electorate, according to former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, can ‘revolutionise things’ if implemented properly.
Surprisingly, Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajeev Kumar termed the scheme not only impractical and impossible but also the worst kind of vote politics, thereby attracting the ire of the Election Commission. Issuing notice to Rajeev Kumar, the Election Commission said his comment violated the poll code. Kumar’s comment vindicates the allegations against the BJP government that it has politicised all constitutional bodies.
The politics of exclusion of the BJP has deeply divided society. The hypocrisy was never so strikingly conspicuous when the government says ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’ and excludes the Muslims, the Christians, Dalits and other religious minorities. The government by bringing sedition charges against a few JNU students tried to create a perception of enemy within and launched a nationwide campaign of hypernationalism for political advantages of the ruling party. It tried to do the same by arresting progressive and Leftist intellectuals and social workers under the Sedition Act.
Harassment, threatening dissenters, killings of rationalists, journalists and all those who criticise the government fall in the same line of exclusion. The extension of exclusion drive is evident within the ruling party too. Murli Manohar Joshi, Shatrughan Sinha and senior BJP leader LK Advani have been pushed to the exclusion list.
The exclusion drive has created a cocoon centering Modi. It reminds us of the Orwellian character ‘Big Brother’ and his accomplices. An electoral reform ensuring that polarisation and politics of exclusion are not advantageous may help the country in eradicating such malaise in our body politic.
Modi criticises the Congress for its dynastic leadership. But isn’t it natural that the offspring of a politician would embrace politics as a profession? But it is objectionable if they parachute to positions undemocratically. Moreover, the so-called dynastic participation in party leadership very much persists in many of the allies of the BJP.
Even if we concede that the Congress is run by some family members, what we have seen in the ruling party is that practically one or two men run the entire show. If the opposition and the conscientious section of people outside and within the ruling party do not take the opportunity in the forthcoming general election to save democracy from the onslaught of dictatorship, the country will plunge into the depths of abysmal woes.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)