As we write, PM Modi has had another successful foreign visit. He has added the UAE to the list of places where a rockstar-like reception has provided the proverbial icing on the cake. Once again, he has shown that he has no equals when it comes to working a captive crowd of unabashed fans. As the jam-packed cricket stadium in Dubai echoed with NRI roars of “Modi! Modi!” it was difficult not to remain unaffected. Modi was visibly relaxed, with a smile not a smirk on his face. He massaged the ego of PIOs expertly thanking them for their patriotic contribution to nation-building in the past and inviting them to join hands in completing the unfinished task. And, this is where he, according to Congress spokespersons, ‘did, as his wont, the unmentionable’. He criticised the Opposition party on foreign soil. Modi referred to problems he has inherited and emphasised sarcastically that no Indian had visited the UAE for decades, taking for granted, if not neglecting, an important trading partner strategically located. Stung to the quick, the Congress has been shouting itself hoarse condemning him. However, Modi remains unfazed. He isn’t least bothered with comparisons of illustrious predecessors—Vajpayee or Doc Manmohan. He does his by now well-practised number during a foreign tour and moves on leaving the critics ranting and panting.
Alas, this hasn’t been the case at home. The PM’s address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort left many disappointed. It was longer than any other speech made by any other Indian prime minister from this venue on this day and was delivered with energy, and not lacking in noble ideas. But the electric spark was missing that can ignite young minds or rejuvenate the aged and the ageing. Those who had expected that the PM would use this opportunity to rebut serious charges and allegations against colleagues felt let down. The continued silence is nothing but disconcerting. We, on our part, feel that such expectations were naive and misplaced. Parliament is the place to defend the beleaguered foreign minister, not the Lal Qile Ka Maidan. But it can’t be denied that at home Modi appeared to be sidestepping the major challenges confronting his government.
The millions listening to him were not waiting for a report card on the many innovative and undoubtedly significant schemes launched by the NDA—the Jan Dhan Yojana, the life and health insurance plans, pensions for those employed in unorganised sector not yet covered, not to forget the toilets. These have indeed touched and transformed the lives of the abjectly poor and shall continue to do so. The results will not be dramatic and take some time to be felt nationwide. But the problem remains of rising expectations. As time passes, slowly but inexorably, people will forget the nepotism and corruption perpetrated by the dynastic UPA. Their patience is running out fast. We live in the present. Problems of everyday life remain unendurable in cities and countryside, blaming the Congress for them continuously isn’t going to buy respite any more.
The gap between promise and performance is mercifully not yet glaring. Holding Parliament to ransom by its cussed obstructionist tactics (or strategy), the Congress has given a valid ‘excuse’ to the PM why more couldn’t be accomplished since the last Independence Day. It is difficult to comprehend why the PM didn’t share his thoughts about the paralysis in Parliament and focus on the urgent need for soul-searching. Can the nation develop economically or progress socially if logjams and adjournments don’t allow the parliament to function? Can anyone deny that there are serious institutional issues causing concern in the minds of citizens? Not only about the conduct of elected representatives claiming sovereign status, sweeping under the carpet glaring conflict of interest and flouting rules of conduct in the House with impunity, but also the much needed reforms in the judicial system. Those who framed our Constitution hadn’t—couldn’t have—foreseen conditions we live in. It’s not enough to keep chanting like a parrot the word lakshmanrekha to cure all constitutional ills. The travails that the government is facing in the context of bills like the GST has exposed the problem in a glaring manner. The PM appears, for some reason or the other, to be avoiding a public debate on the subject. This is a matter much more serious than blaming the ‘wretched obstructionist Opposition’ for partisan electoral gains. It affects his credibility. This has exactly happened in the case of OROP. The site of war veterans being forcibly ejected from Jantar Mantar has done more to tarnish this government’s image than stonewalling on LalitGate.
How long can Modi work his magic without coordinating or harmonising his act abroad and at home?
Pushpesh Pant is a former professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi