It’s always been my contention that Modi became prime minister despite the BJP rather than because of it. His appeal as a singular personality lay in the combination of his auspicious achievements in Gujarat as chief minister and his position as a social and political outsider. Remember the dynamics of charisma: you win charisma by gaining successes; you don’t gain success by having charisma. Modi was elected on his record.
It helped that Modi was a great orator and had fresh ideas and was a moderniser and was the very first social media genius among politicians—Donald Trump was the second Twitter leader, Modi was the first.
The dangers for Modi (and the NDA government) once he was in office and in power came from two sources. The first was the Delhi “swamp”, which included not just the entrenched establishment interests of the Congress party and its sycophants and hangers-on, but also the same in the BJP. Advani and other senior BJP folk were just as comfortable with their lifestyles in Lutyens Delhi as their Congress peers. The political/media class as a whole was the obstruction to change and their privilege easily outweighed any partisan political identity. This is much the same as we see in Washington, DC, where Donald Trump is hated by the elite establishment among both the Democrats and the Republicans, who make common cause against him.
So there was that: would Modi be neutered and domesticated, and eventually dragged beneath the swampy surface as he struggled to re-organise and reform, hampered by establishment enemies close to him in the IAS (the Indian Administrative Service— or as the joke goes, the Indian Asphyxiation Service) and the BJP hierarchy?
But there was also danger from another source: the lack of talent and the regressive impulses within the BJP itself. I know I make a thing of mocking, or rather reviling, Arun Jaitley, for whom I have little regard (see his latest budget idiocies here). But it’s true of him as Finance Minister—I’m not being snooty; the UK also has a useless chancellor—and also as a representative of the herd of BJP cats that Modi has perpetually manage in the Lok Sabha (and Rajya Sabha).
Now, though, the BJP has lost three seats in the Vidan Sabha elections in Rajasthan a few weeks ago and looks set to suffer further losses as state elections ripple around the country. It doesn’t matter that a few weeks before that, there were celebrations for triumphing in Himachel Pradesh and Gujarat (though slenderly): the watchword now is disaster for Modi in the general election due in May, 2019.
It’s possible, of course, that the electorate is so disillusioned with the lack of progress in BJP policies that they cannot wait to kick the bums out. This is certainly the movie that the media class is watching. But there are always at least two different movies, and the typical mid-term flogging of incumbents in local elections should only be assumed with extreme wariness to be any sort of bellwether for the national election, where very different considerations will enter into where the “X” is inscribed.
The media movie, where Modi is doomed, has a plot where “demonetisation” for example was a complete disaster, and has resulted in even more black money being hoarded, to the disgust of ordinary Indians. The online bank account revolution has gone nowhere. Corruption is worse than ever. Investment is down, unemployment up. The goods and services tax has caused industry to grind to a halt. And so on. I call this living in the (Lutyens Delhi) bubble and counsel that it seems real and immediate to that class because it is all the media writes and speaks of. I see it not only in the Indian press but from Indian journalists writing for foreign newspapers, who always manage to put a subtle negative slant on anything that Modi does. I see it in the think-tanks and diplomatic opinion cooked up on the international cocktail-party circuit, and I see it in the “thought” of lauded academics who have always hated Modi and everything they think he stands for.
So let’s just say that I take it all with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.
Here is what I think is closer to reality, or at least the other movie that ordinary Indians —the vast majority of May, 2019 voters—are watching.
Modi is doing exactly what he did in Gujarat, redesigning systems and processes for long-term benefit, and using the trust placed in him by poor Indians to supply a political “bridging loan” until the fruits of his re-engineering start to feed through in terms of prosperity and development. Meanwhile he is doing what he can to manage his parliamentary party including many ambitious and egotistical no-hopers, and weathering the aspersions of a propagandistic media machine in the pocket of Congress Party interests that also has great influence among bien pensant fake liberals in the West.
It will be interesting to see the villains, hypocrites and clowns that will stand against Modi in the 2019 election. Who will mark their “X” for Nitish Kumar or the Boy Rahul? As many voters as the media class desperately wishes? I beg to disagree because I have observed the quiet dignity of the average Indian, who understands what Modi has set out to complete and is still willing to repose trust in Modi’s patient and long-term programme despite temporary discomforts.
Modi is a mildly left-wing, market-orientated populist technocrat. And yes, he is a nationalist: an Indian nationalist, not a Hindu nationalist. A nationalist is different to a chauvinist, a bigot or a fascist, despite what the Indian elite and media class claim. Their attitude is that India should prostrate itself and act against its own interests whenever possible. This seems entirely illogical until you realise they do very nicely out of the arrangement by being rewarded with money and positions, either by each other while they loot their own country as a privileged class, or by foreign powers, such as the USA and Pakistan.
The model for what Modi is doing remains, as I have said several times, the electrification of Gujarat he undertook in 2002, which involved considerable pain for everybody and was denounced by both Left and Right, but which he weathered and was eventually declared a hero. Gujarat never looked back, and neither, I am sure, will India after Modi’s first term. And for that he will be rewarded with a second.