Successful leaders never promise what they cannot deliver. Good leaders deliver what they promise. Great leaders deliver more than what they have promised and people expect. But politicians of the hour are smug and thick-skinned, regurgitating daily promises that are forgotten pronto after winning or losing an election. And when they fail, they abjure introspection or course correction; instead they blame their predecessors and conspiracy theories even for genuine slippages.
Ironically, soul-searching begins only when the prospect of a fresh election looms. Then they start hunting for visible and invisible spectres of evil, which provoke laments of spurious sabotage With the Lok Sabha elections barely a year away, both the ruling party and its opponents are seeking scapegoats. The BJP leadership is inexplicably muted on broadcasting its credible achievements, while the Opposition has launched a venomous personal tirade against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The pre-poll mood is being fouled by an ugly battle between negatives that is killing any debate on current governance vs an alternative model of better governance. There is no competitive wow to deliver an improved future over a bad past -- the rising decibels are all about whose past is worse. Individuals are the targets; not ideologies. Corruption and underperformance do not seem to be shaming India’s political establishment. Those in power blame the recent spurt in massive bank frauds and corruption on the patronage of scamsters by previous governments.
On the other hand, BJP’s opponents charge the Modi government with vendetta politics to divert attention from the collapse of clean government and the debilitation of key institutions. None of them have been talking about providing a better model of governance which ensures accountability and transparency.
Since governance is the art of converting adverse circumstances into opportunities, there are leaders who think out of the box and innovate to deliver the maximum in a minimum time frame. Credit must go to Modi; perhaps the only leader who has shaped the concept of Maximum Governance with Minimum Government while consistently attacking corruption. He may not have been able to minimise the size of the monstrous government machinery but he has ensured the maximum use of the human resource at his disposal. In a parliamentary democracy the executive leads the change for the better.
Modi regularly monitors all government departments, agencies and institutions, and expects them to move with him in a missionary mode at a synchronized speed. For the past four years, he has been trying to evolve ways and means to change the style and substance of governance by defining goals and fixing timelines. He periodically reviews the progress of critical projects, schemes and policies initiated by him. Since the quality and intensity of governance is intricately linked with state leadership, the BJP has been deflecting it policy failures to Opposition-ruled states.
But not anymore. Once Modi acquired full control over two thirds of the states through electoral victories, he realised that he and he alone would be held responsible if the Centre and the saffron states failed to perform. With two more north-eastern states under its belt, it is for the first time that the BJP as become a genuine national political party. It has achieved its political pinnacle and will have to work really hard to retain its current market share in the long run. Last week, Modi and Shah summoned all the 14 BJP chief ministers and their deputy chief ministers to New Delhi to seek reports on promise vs performance.
For two weeks, senior babus in every state had been excavating data to prepare PowerPoint presentations for the tech-savvy PM, who was insistent on knowing the on-the-ground success of Central programmes and schemes. Expecting a grilling from him, the state governments had already let loose a publicity blitz showcasing their credit score. Yet many of them failed to offer credible explanations on conflicting issues and the recent reverses in local by-elections. At the end of the meeting, the leaders were told to sift from the populist chaff actual achievements to be included in their next election manifesto.
The Prime Minister hasn’t confined himself to seeking appraisal reports from chief ministers alone. Team Modi-Shah has put in place a mechanism to assess the performance of each of their 340-odd MPs. The harsh reality that the BJP would find it impossible to repeat its tally in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana and UP has dawned on the two. Its chances of forming the next government are tenuously linked with its performance in West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It can compensate likely losses only by striking electoral alliances with regional parties based on caste and community calculations. Shah has already unleashed his trusted commandos to start the process of fresh mergers and acquisitions. In 2004, the BJP under the legendary Atal Behari Vajpayee suffered a humiliating defeat because it failed to retain discontented allies. This was when not even a symbolic alternative to Vajpayee existed and the opinion polls had predicted a two-thirds majority for the NDA barely a few weeks before the vote.
Yet the BJP leadership today is confident that the party would win hands down because there is no alternative to Modi Magic. True, he is their only hope. But the party leaders are, for strange reasons, betting on an aggressively negative campaign to reap handsome political dividends across the country. Specific Congress leaders with name and fame have been chosen to be projected as the ugly faces of “corrupt Congress” to destroy its credibility and cripple its election machinery. Undoubtedly, Congress regimes did let corruption flourish by hobbling investigative agencies and misusing the system.
In 2014, the people became their nemesis, reducing the Grand Old Party to just 44 members in the Lok Sabha and forcing it out from many states. Double jeopardy is not unknown in politics, but this time, expecting the voter to punish the guilty twice for the same crime is an immature hope. Modi was voted to power on the promise of bringing Achhe Din in India. The BJP has enough medals on its 56” chest to score over its foes. But if it tries to give shape again to the dark smoke of calumny and calamity, it stands to lose. Brand Modi will deliver again only if projected as a political icon fuelled with positive energy.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla