The thumb rule of power is that followers must augment the strength of their leader with words and deeds for effective governance. While it is the Prime Minister’s (PM) job to rule the country, the duty of ministers and legislators is to help him govern without distractions, and promote the government’s programmes and ideology without making a mess. It is the Opposition’s mandate to attack the PM, his government and his party. It is how democracy works.
However, it is not how it is working right now. PM Narendra Modi has a lot on his hands. He has to take his development agenda forward, with just a year and some change left to smooth out the wrinkles before the polls in 2019. He has to engage with critics and the disgruntled part of his fan base to explain why he thinks demonetisation and GST was necessary to keep the economy on the vertical path. He needs his troops to help him on this.
But he is involved more in saving the government from his own ministers and partymen than proceeding uninterruptedly to convince voters that the growth dip is just an air pocket, which will soon be left behind in his contrails. Look at the Taj Mahal fiasco. Modi is acutely aware of the importance of India’s and his own cosmopolitan global image, while protecting his nationalist face at home. He is also aware we live in the TV age; however sympathetic the media may be to the government’s programmes, news cannot be ignored.
Featherweight motormouths such as Sangeet Som got major prime time play for calling Shah Jahan’s edifice a ‘blot’, thereby giving an infirm opposition ER. Vinay Katiyar’s Tejo Mahal remark didn’t help. Eventually, the PM had to step in and make it clear that “nations cannot develop if they don’t take pride in their history and heritage.”
Previously, Yogi Adityanath, who is reviving the mythological and historical significance of Ayodhya, claimed the Taj was not part of Indian culture. After Modi’s intervention, the monument has now got a place in the state government calendar, a budget boost and a Yogi visit. But the damage has been done. Sure, committed Hindutva voters do not disagree with the Taj’s detractors. But watching their government backtrack will weaken their belief in its power to deliver.
In May 2015, Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked anyone who don’t consider the cow, holy, to go to Pakistan. Another minister, Giriraj Singh, made a racist comment about Sonia Gandhi and Nigerians. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti called those not ‘born of Ram’ illegitimate. Sushma Swaraj wanted the universal Bhagavad Gita named the national holy book—an avoidable bibliographical epiphany. The suave Arun Jaitley drew flak for his flip comment on rape. A health minister, Harsh Vardhan, condemned condoms. In the end, it is always left to the PM to put out the bushfires.
The BJP has an advantage—the Congress is insecure about itself. Its leader is the most mocked politician in the country. Modi may well be India’s most respected PM, but his satellites are inviting scorn across the country and the world. Hinduism cannot be used as political tamasha, but must to be projected as a way of life to transform the world. Instead of a rap on the knuckles, Modi needs to deliver a knockout punch to silence the drivelers. It is the best way to win the title of Mr India 2019.