Published May 30-June 1, 2021
Talking 2024 – 1
The 2024 Election Games have begun. Who will be India’s next Prime Minister? Who will challenge Modi? Will the Opposition unite? Will the Congress replace the Gandhis? As the English Editorial Elite sense a weakened Modi, the WITA game is now firmly under way – Who Is The Alternative? It was also played a few years ago – just prior to the 2019 elections. While it is a fun game, it is the wrong game. The alternative to Modi is Nota (None of the Above) in the single individual sense. But we get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first look at the commentary from recent times as the BJP and Modi complete seven years in power.
Shekhar Gupta: “Can 2024 become more challenging for Modi? Yes, but it’s all up to Congress… Modi and Shah know Congress is the only likely challenger to them nationally, and the Gandhis are key to keeping it together. That’s why they need to be targeted ruthlessly… The Congress and the other opposition parties, in what we might loosely describe as the Modi-peedit samaj, have another option. Think what a company with great legacy brands and strong customer loyalties, but losing out to niftier challengers, does. It gets a CEO from someplace else. It won’t happen in the Congress. But, can it happen with a larger opposition coalition with the Congress at its core? What it brings to the table won’t be the charisma of its leaders, but that loyal 20 per cent customer base. If such a thought emerges, Mamata Banerjee and others like her can be back in the reckoning.”
Yogendra Yadav: “Modi is not Manmohan Singh. He won’t fade away without fighting to the finish. In the 7 years since he took oath, Narendra Modi’s government has never looked as shaky as it does today. But there is still no alternative… Despite all his blunders, mere Modi-bashing won’t lead to his defeat; the people look for an alternative before they can discard what they have. And let us face it: Such an alternative does not exist, at least not on the menu that an ordinary person gets to see. This is not to discount the existing opposition parties, nor to dismiss the need for their unity. Opposition unity is necessary but not sufficient. The opposition needs a glue that holds it together and a glow to radiate hope among the people. As of now, it doesn’t seem to have either. This is why we need an alternative to supplement the existing opposition… Such an alternative to Modi would need, first of all, a positive and believable message about India’s future… Once we have a positive and believable message, we need credible messengers… Finally, we need a powerful machine to carry this message across the country. This machine needs two parts: Organisation and communication.”
Rajdeep Sardesai: “Seven years into their terms as PM, Nehru, Indira and Manmohan Singh faced political setbacks…Modi too now faces his moment of truth. His initial appeal was drawn from his claim to be an anti-establishment folk hero, a man from humble origins who combined religio-nationalist zeal with the image of an anti-corruption crusader and a development icon. For seven years, this image has been artfully managed, a teflon-like coating ensuring that no blame ever stuck to it. The Covid-19 surge is the first time that the glossy protective veil around the PM’s persona is being lifted and a governance deficit lies exposed: the optics of a tika utsav for example cannot compensate for a floundering vaccine policy… The headline-grabbing dream merchant of 2014 must now transform himself into a nuts and bolts crisis manager to ensure that his government too, like those led by other PMs in their seventh year, is not pushed into ventilator mode.”
Talking 2024 – 2
Shankkar Aiyar: “The buzz about a meaningful challenge to the BJP and Modi is ambition in the quest of affiliation, a plot in search of screenplay, or charitably speaking a narrative in search of evidence. There isn’t an individual or a party close to be being characterised as a real challenger… The failures of a flailing opposition though are not a cause for celebration for the BJP. It is instructive to remember that the absence of a challenger or political entity did not detain the defeat of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government… Modi arrived in 2014 with the promise of transformative change. The motto of minimum government, maximum governance awaits reclamation.”
Swapan Dasgupta offers a pro-Modi counterpoint: “By empowering culturally rooted Indians, reducing corruption, and redefining the nationalist consensus, the PM has changed India… On the face of it, the country displays outward continuity. Yet, it is striking that most of Modi’s critics — particularly those located in the Left-liberal bubble overseas —invariably preface their indictment of India’s public life or governance with the label “Modi’s India”. This gratuitous tag indicates a belief that India has changed unrecognisably and for the worse…[The change] is still work in progress. To endure, Modi’s India will have to define the new heights to scale in 2024.
Jagannathan adds: “BJP Will Win If It Chooses The Right Battlefield: The Fight Is For Dharma, Not Secular Bunkum…In its first tenure, the major Modi government initiatives were streamlining of the subsidy system (through Aadhaar), demonetisation, the drive against black money, goods and services tax, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, and the Uri and Balakot strikes against Pakistan-based terror groups… For far too long, Modi has chosen to fight on battlefields chosen by his enemies, who include the Left-liberal caucus, the Western deep states, and assorted evangelical and jihadi groups. The conversion mafia must be confronted and defeated, especially by choking their fund sources. The battlefield on which Modi is fighting them is called “secularism” or “liberalism”. The battlefield he must shift the fight to is dharma and pluralism. And he should not be apologetic about it. And dharma is not about targeting the so-called minorities, nor it is about religion. It is about levelling the playing field for the forces that fight for dharma. This means ending the discrimination against Hindus baked into the Constitution through articles 25-30, freedom to temples, and autonomy for all Hindu institutions.”
The chorus continues. Some fulminating against Modi, some rooting for him, and a few ambivalent; each wrestling with the 2024 question. In the BJP camp, there is no alternative needed for Modi. In the non-BJP camp, there is no visible alternative to Modi but hope springs eternal. What’s common to both camps, despite evidence to the contrary, is that India’s leaders will transform the nation with their decisions. [I have written about this in the past: Nations, Leaders and their Decisions.]
While everyone is looking at the leadership question and seeking that single magical mythical being to take on Modi, the question we should be really asking is: what does India really need? A continuation of the 250-year-old odyssey that has kept us away from liberty and wealth creation or a new direction that transforms our nation by giving people civic, economic and political freedoms and dismantling the anti-prosperity machine that has been fine-tuned by every leader to maximise power and control over the people? There is no leader in India who would free us and let Lakshmi into our homes.
Once they ascend the throne of Delhi, all leaders in colonial and Independent India have done their bit to increase controls on our personal and business lives, deny us our rightful share in the wealth of the nation, interfere with education and agriculture, discover new ways to tax us to increase the size and scope of the government, divide us even more along new fault lines, and put ever greater constraints on our freedom of speech – in other words, exercise the power to rule, not change the rules.
We need to reframe the question. The alternative India seeks is not to Narendra Modi, and the alternative is not Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Akhilesh Yadav, or one of that ilk. Each of the others would continue what Modi did once in power just as Modi continued the lineage that had begun with Robert Clive and continued with the Governor Generals of the British Crown, Nehru and Indira Gandhi – deny the people of India the freedom to live their lives the way they want.
The alternative we should be seeking in India is freedom from our politicians and political parties. The alternative we should be wanting is liberty and prosperity. Unfortunately, there is no leader who will do that – they are all the same. So, if it’s a choice amongst one of them, it really doesn’t matter whom we choose. But if we really want to craft a new future for ourselves and our children, we need to create a new alternative which draws its power from the people – a national movement to free every Lok Sabha seat from the politicians and their parties to form a new government of prosperity which breaks the 250-year-old curse of poverty, which turns ‘caged and poor India’ to ‘free and rich India.’ This is the Nayi Disha Indians need. This is the real alternative India needs.