B S Raghavan

Modi as PM: The ifs and buts

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 16, 2017

The widespread recognition Gujarat, under Mr Narendra Modi as Chief Minister, has received in India and abroad, in ensuring effective service-delivery and corruption-free governance and a rising level of human and economic development, has made his admirers euphoric about his occupying the national stage, and even becoming the Prime Minister in a government formed or led by the BJP.

It will be nothing objectionable if such thoughts were to cross the mind of Mr Modi himself. To Mr Modi's credit, though, it must be said that so far, he has not openly shown himself keen for the job, and has been careful to maintain the appearance of a disciplined and dutiful member of the Party, ever mindful of the obligation to abide by its decisions.

This is also a right tactic on his part. For, he must have calculated that it is not wise for him to display “premature restlessness” (in the words of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, used in another context), and disclose his hand just yet. There are many contenders in the party at the national level — Ms Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, to mention two obvious examples — who command respect, across politics, nationwide.

SLIPPERY SLOPE

There is, of course, Mr L. K. Advani himself: It may well be that because of his advanced age, if for no other reason, his making it to the PM's chair stands little chance; but his say-so is bound to carry great weight, and Mr Modi would no doubt like to keep him in good humour. It would not also have escaped Mr Modi's notice that the RSS, of which he is an inveterate devotee, has chosen to remain silent about its preference for him or anybody else.

If the horizon is broadened to include the present and possible future constituents of the NDA, there is every chance of the iconic Ms. Jayalalithaa, Mr Nitish Kumar and (maybe) Mr Navin Patnaik queering the pitch for Mr Modi. Thus, the slope is slippery even if one confines oneself to the power-play of domestic politics.

Making the scenario more complicated is the fundamental question whether effective and relatively-honest governance, or, in other words, Mr Modi's undoubted managerial or administrative ability, can alone waft him along to the nation's top political slot. Does he have the Prime Ministerial savvy?

I think Mr Modi has a lot to make up for in this department. He seems either to be unaware of, or to think nothing of, his angularities and off-putting style, which detract from the better aspects of his governance and give rise to attribution of unsavoury motives to him. Let me explain this with three examples.

RAJ DHARMA

First, for the past nine years, not just his critics, but even dispassionate observers, have felt deeply disturbed by the post-Godhra carnage of 2002 and the allegations of Mr Modi himself acquiescing in, if not actually encouraging, excesses of official machinery. Even the then Prime Minister, Mr A. B. Vajpayee, was constrained to call the apparent passivity a failure of raj dharma.

An immediate and gracious apology by Mr Modi, explaining all that the Government, with himself in the lead, had done, would have put an end to all further speculation and immeasurably enhanced his standing.

Till this day, Mr Modi has been mealy-mouthed about this. He even angrily walked out, in the full view of millions of viewers, in the middle of a TV interview with Karan Thapar, when he raised the need for such an apology.

Second, there can be no doubt that Mr Modi is behind whatever treatment is being meted out to Mr Sanjiv Bhatt for levelling accusations of his complicity in regard to the 2002 riots. Even those, like me, who were previously well-disposed towards Mr Modi, are utterly revolted by what cannot be described as anything but wilful vendetta.

Third, in the matter of appointment of Lok Ayukta for Gujarat, Mr Modi's manner of handling it was palpably wrong.

If he really cared for filling the post, he could have gone about it in a constructive and accommodating fashion, without resorting to technical and legalistic excuses or launching a campaign against the Governor. Were I the Governor, I would have done precisely what Ms. Kamla Beniwal did.

Published on October 02, 2011

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