Modi introduces a new grammar of politics

He has changed the rules. The opposition, though, continues to play the old game

ajay

Ajay Singh | July 15, 2014




When the Ayodhya mobilisation was at its peak in the early 1990s, former prime minister VP Singh once used an analogy from hockey to describe the conduct of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “They change the rules of the game and score a goal from outside the D,” he said, referring to the fallout of LK Advani’s rath yatra.

Over the years, the BJP has developed a knack of turning conventional wisdom on its head. Amit Shah’s selection as its president is a clear indication of the propensity of the party’s new leadership to do things out of  the box.

Using normative sanctions would have meant the outright disqualification of the candidature of Shah. His age, 49 years, was the first impediment to get the top post in a party replete with ageing veterans still nursing their ambitions silently. His implication in the Sohrabuddin encounter was another stumbling block, since the courts have not yet fully exonerated him of the charge. But the most serious obstacle was the argument that it would be naive to have the president of the ruling party and the prime minister from the same state: Gujarat.

Of course, Shah has proved to be an efficient organisation man after he delivered 73 seats from Uttar Pradesh to the NDA kitty in the Lok Sabha elections. His image of being a close confidant of prime minister Narendra Modi also ensured a seamless transition in the party leadership to a generation which is perfectly in sync with the government. In effect, the BJP has jettisoned its old baggage quietly.

Contrast this situation with Sonia Gandhi hankering for the post of leader of opposition for her nominee Mallikarjun Kharge. Having reduced the party strength to 43 seats in the Lok Sabha, she seems to be conveying the message that the Congress could play an adversarial role to the government only through the instrument of a post – leader of opposition. The government seems unrelenting as there are precedents of the lower house of parliament functioning without the leader of opposition. It happened during the reign of Nehru, Indira Gandhi as well as Rajiv Gandhi. In this context, Sonia’s protest seems nothing more than her inability to reconcile with the defeat.

If there was any doubt that Modi would not tread the beaten path, it should have dissipated in the first week of his prime ministership. The manner in which he shunted out a secretary-level officer and issued an edict about the appointment of the personal staff of his cabinet colleagues clearly outlined his methodology of governance and politics. For the first time since the supreme court collegium took it upon itself to appoint judges, the Modi government segregated the names on the file and returned for reconsideration the recommendation to name Gopal Subramanium as a SC judge. That chief justice of India RM Lodha chose to not iterate the recommendation was seen as a measure of the strength a popular prime minister wields in a democracy.

Modi’s methods of governance and politics are often innovative and unpredictable. The obvious explanation of his conduct is that he keeps his ears to the ground and goes by his instincts which often fall outside the set pattern and are dubbed as abrasive by his rivals. On his part, he relishes setting the agenda, leaving his opponents to respond to it. This strategy has always stood him in good stead  for over a decade, and he is unlikely to change it.

What is particularly galling is the inability of the opposition leaders to read the new grammar of politics and evolve a coherent and innovative response to it. On the contrary, the opposition shows remarkable consistency in resorting to conventional idioms and phraseology to counter Modi and lose further ground. Sonia’s insistence on having the post of the leader of opposition for her party seems to be driven by the same old impulse.

In VP Singh’s time, the referee’s role was retained by those who still abided by the rules. After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the scenario has completely changed. The sooner the opposition realises this, it will be better for it to formulate an effective response.

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