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Inside Fort Modi

Inside Fort Modi

Biren Singh, and Manohar Parrikar are the new chief ministers of Manipur and Goa, respectively, the two states where the Bharatiya Janata Party failed to win a majority or even become the largest party after the polls yet ‘managed’ to install its ministries courtesy its stooges called governors. However, in the two states BJP won a landslide majority, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the party has failed to name the CM candidates, even almost a week after the results. The political irony could not have been lost on anyone.

Remember the days when a TV anchor would ask a Congress representative why the party did not allow MLAs to elect their CM? “Why do you have this high command culture?” Rajdeep Sardesai has been heard asking with a sense of revulsion over a ‘family’ running the affairs of the nation’s largest party several times. But why are TV anchors not asking this question to BJP these days?

Similarly, in the ‘bad old days’ when Congress used to be in power at the Centre and its representatives were governors in states, the BJP and its comrade in arms, the Left, used to cry hoarse about how the post of the governor was misused to destabilise governments run by non-Congress parties in states and how the Congress ruled Central Government wrecked the people’s mandate by capturing power, despite being voted out by the people.

No Qualms Now

But look what the Venkaiah Naidus and Arun Jaitleys are doing these days. They are studiously defending the usurping of power by their party in Goa and Manipur. Where have all those morality qualms over the ‘backdoor return of a government that was voted out by the people’ gone now? Jaitley is busy teaching us how post-poll coalitions had sanctity over largest party, even after his Goa CM was defeated in the elections and his party’s strength was reduced from 21/40 to 13/40 and the Congress almost doubled its strength from 9/40 to 17/40 with its pre-poll ally winning 3 more seats. The men in suits in the media are afraid of saying anything critical of the BJP and, hence, are just lapping up Jaitley’s spin faithfully. How they must be wishing for those days when they could pose as democracy’s watchdogs by badgering the Congress!

Some of them are still unable to overcome old habits and continue to call Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi by his nickname, ‘Pappu’. By not extending the same courtesy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have unwittingly made their helplessness clear to the viewer about their level of fairness.

Fish Curry

And no one will tell you the real story behind Parrikar’s flight from New Delhi to Panaji. Of course there is a precedence to it. During the Narasimha Rao days, Defence Minister Sharad Pawar was dispatched to Maharashtra. But that was after Sudhakarrao Naik lost control over law and order in early 1993, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and riots engulfed the state. Similarly, Central ministers have often been made CMs, governors and vice-versa during Indira and Rajiv regimes.

However, Parrikar’s return to the little state of Goa is not because of his yearning to have fish curry daily, as portrayed in the media. Anyone can have Goan fish curry from New Delhi’s Goa Niwas, leave alone someone adorning the post of Defence Minister.

The real story is that Parrikar never wanted to come over to Delhi. It was packaged as his elevation when Parrikar was made the Defence Minister, but he soon found his fears had come true. He was almost like a clerk signing papers that were proposed and processed in the PMO. He did not have any freedom or autonomy to do things his way. Everything was dictated by the PMO. It was Parrikar’s frustration that saw him making loud and intemperate remarks as Defence Minister so that he could remain in the news and politically relevant. “India will send Andhra Mirchi up Pakistan’s xxx” was just his frustration showing up.

Choked in Delhi

The biggest untold story of the Modi administration is that it is a one-politician, bureaucrat-run setup. There may be a perception that all Central ministers are happily doing great jobs but they are all unhappy at being dictated by bureaucrats in the PMO. Those who lampooned the Manmohan Singh administration government for being ‘rudderless’ have now realised the importance of functional autonomy for each minister and ministry.

There are no exceptions to this rule. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was told about the demonetisation drive just three hours before the PM’s national broadcast by Department of Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das. Just imagine the humiliation of being told about such an important decision which he had to own up responsibility for and which ideally should have been implemented only after his consent.

But such is the humiliation heaped upon the entire Cabinet that the results in this round of polls have not brought any cheer to the ‘bigwigs’ in the Government. The Opposition may be shocked and depressed after the UP assembly poll verdict, but many of Modi’s colleagues are deeply depressed by the verdict because they were planning to reassert themselves by emphasising on the need for greater consultations before major decisions are implemented. Jaitley lives in fear of losing his Finance Ministry to lightweight colleague Piyush Goyal, after he was given additional charge of the Defence Ministry. Rajnath Singh would be glad if he gets charge of UP but Lucknow is too important for Modi and Singh may get little manoeuvre room in the unlikely event of his ‘transfer’.

One-Man Party

The scene in the BJP is not different. Modi’s pointsman Amit Shah has the freedom to experiment and do things his way. But the result is the same. All big leaders in every state have been contained and lightweights are being promoted to key posts to act as puppets of the leadership. Effectively Modi is doing to the BJP what Indira Gandhi did to the Congress in the 1970s and 80s.

In BJP-ruled states, chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje live in fear of being made Central ministers. They have no hope of returning as chief ministers even if BJP comes back to power in their respective states after the assembly polls scheduled for 2018.

This is the context that saw Parrikar offering to cobble together a majority in a state where the BJP lost the assembly elections. It is his desperate attempt to regain breathing space in the small coastal state, although it is certain that the long arm of Modi will reach him even there.

( abey.kay@gmail.com )

#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)