ISSN 2330-717X

India’s Modi Losing Perception Battle – OpEd

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By Rajeev Sharma

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is exposing itself to an unnecessary and avoidable risk of losing the perception management battle.

Several of its decisions are controversial and may cost the BJP dearly as far as the perception index is concerned. At least three major events of past few days can be cited: Finally the coming together of the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to form a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir; the controversy over the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) getting access to the terror-hit Pathankot airbase and the hairsplitting over whether the Pakistani team is being given access to the frontline military base per se or whether it is being allowed access only to the crime scenes on the periphery of the base; and the imposition of president’s rule in the small northern state of Uttarakhand.

The first of these is rather queer. Mufti, who had been playing hardball with the BJP for well over two and a half months since the death of her chief minister father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and demanding guarantees of good behavior from ally BJP, has suddenly thrown in the towel and agreed to lead the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir even though nothing changed one bit. She did not get any guarantees from the BJP leadership.
In fact, Mufti had to eat crow and agree to be the state’s first woman chief minister with her swearing in likely on April 4. Why? The reasons are hard political realities. Her PDP was facing a serious threat of mass defections from her party legislators as the general mood in her party was of enjoying the fruits of power.

Obviously, Mufti was forced to completely reverse her stand and agree to take over the reins of power rather than haplessly watching her party split even though her playing hardball to the BJP has drawn zilch.

This brings us to point number three mentioned above: The ongoing theatre of the absurd in Uttarakhand. Mufti couldn’t have been oblivious to the BJP’s shenanigans in Uttarakhand.

It is not for nothing that the BJP upped its ante in Uttarakhand and took the dangerous step of dislodging the Congress government led by Harish Rawat around the time when the political chess game had reached its climactic point in Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP has taken the well-calculated gamble of making an unpleasant and in all probability a legally untenable decision of imposing president’s rule in Uttarakhand. The political games in these two states have to be seen in conjunction. The BJP was actually making a pragmatic move on the political chessboard, putting all other issues of political correctness or fair play on the backburner.

The strategy of the BJP seems clear — that it wants to have as many states under its rule as possible and having Jammu and Kashmir under its flag was perceived to be a major political imperative.

Consider the following statistics. In 2014, the Congress ruled in 11 of 29 states — Kerala Karnataka, Assam, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Meghalaya. In contrast, the BJP ruled only in 6 states.

Today, the Congress rule has shrunk to only 7 states. The grand old party lost elections in Maharashtra and Haryana while it lost Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to toppling games of the BJP.

In contrast, the BJP is in power in as many as 9 states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh. Besides, it is set to form coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir while Uttarakhand has come under the Central rule with the imposition of President’s rule in the state.

With this, the BJP’s tally of the states it is ruling has gone up to 11. More Congress-ruled states like Manipur, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh are facing the heat and may go the way of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The Congress has cried foul and accused Modi’s BJP of “murdering democracy.”

The case of Uttarakhand is rather queer as president ‘s rule was imposed in the state a day ahead of the Harish Rawat government’s floor test in the assembly. The state governor, K.K. Paul, a former police officer, has tied himself in knots by giving two contradictory decisions I a matter of a week — first asking the Congress government to prove its majority in a trust vote in the assembly on March 28 and the two days before the floor test recommending president’s rule.

The governor was either wrong in his first determination or erred in his second one. Both his decisions can’t be right.

The Congress is going to exploit this through a legal battle, which has already started and the chances are that the BJP will have its face covered with mud when the competent court pronounces its verdict on the Congress petition.

However, there is one more adverse fallout of all this for the Modi government. It has alienated itself further from the opposition. The chances of the Modi government getting important legislations passed in Parliament have become all the more remote.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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