There is no conceivable reason why a government which commands the support of 282 lawmakers in the 543-member Indian parliament should feel wobbly in the legs.
Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an astounding statement on Sunday that there is a concerted conspiracy to destabilize his government.
Modi pointed finger at assorted quarters that may be trying to “finish and defame” him. Modi alleged that he is under attack for his low-caste social origins. He also hinted at India’s powerful corporate lobby gunning for him.
Modi further alleged that his move to make non-governmental organizations (NGO) to account for the money they receive from abroad has ruffled feathers. It seems he sees danger lurking behind every tree. To quote Modi,
- Some people remain occupied with their only mission of criticizing my government from morning to evening. They could not digest the fact that a tea vendor had become Prime Minister.
- Besides, I have made something which has made life difficult for many. The corrupt could not indulge in fraudulent activities anymore… Won’t people who were selling urea in the black market be angry with me now?
- Earlier, foreign money was coming to NGOs… Should we not seek details of money coming from foreign shores and how it is spent here? But ever since I started insisting on accountability, their only aim has been to finish Modi, to destabilize the Modi government and to throw muck at Modi.
These are very uncharacteristic remarks for Modi to make, because he usually takes great care to cultivate an image of himself being the Batman of Indian politics – a ubiquitous, unassailable, unconquerable super hero.
For him to hint at a sense of mortality in the face of machinations by upper caste Hindus or the corporate industry or the ‘foreign (read western) hand’, the insecurity must be acute.
Indian politics is vicious and once Modi shows the slightest sign of vulnerability, the pack of wolves would close in on him.
Is Modi really vulnerable? To be sure, he has an iron grip on the ruling party, which is run as a closed shop by a hand-picked aide from his Gujarat days who has been installed as party president.
There is no question of a mutiny against Modi from within the ruling party and India’s opposition is far too hopelessly divided to mount any lethal assault on his citadel.
Of course, in principle, the upper-caste dominated Hindu nationalist groups who created Modi might as well pull the rug from under his lowly feet. But then, why should they resort to harakiri?
The Modi government is serving the interests of the Brahmin-dominated Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideally, providing them with seamless opportunity to advance their agenda of ‘Hinduization’ of the country.
Evidently, there is total disconnect between the lobbies that Modi alleges are working against him. Although a mere ‘tea vendor’, Modi is a darling of India’s leading corporate houses.
Equally, the CIA should be out of its mind to overthrow Modi, who is the most ‘US-friendly’ prime minister India probably ever had.
Yet, it is possible to discern a pattern in the madness behind Modi’s allegation. The heart of the matter is that Modi does have reason to feel insecure.
Things are not at all going well for the government lately. Modi made big promises at the time of the 2014 poll – to bring in ‘black money’ deposited in foreign banks, revive the economy, create jobs with a magic wand, eradicate corruption and give ‘good governance’ and so on. But he has failed to deliver on all these counts.
The government claims that India’s economy is galloping at 7.3 percent growth rate and touts it as the ‘fastest-growing big economy’ in the world. But on closer look a dismal picture emerges.
For one thing, there has been a controversial revision of the methodology of computing the national income figures, which is what gives the economy a larger-than-life look.
Then, the fall in the price of oil has come as a windfall for the economy. India’s oil imports as a percentage of its GDP has come down from 9% in the 2011-2012 FY to 5% currently. Obviously, this is a significant factor contributing to growth.
But the sector-wise performance conveys a grim picture. Manufacturing refuses to pick up. Investment to GDP ratio is falling dramatically.
Poor monsoons for two consecutive years have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production and, in turn, on rural demand. Agricultural wage growth, which touched 23% five years ago, crawls today at 2.5 percent. Rural consumption across the board – from tractors to fertilizer to soap or lentils – has fallen.
The year-on-year growth of exports has been negative. Suffice it to say, the economy is virtually surfing on the service sector and the fall in oil price.
Again, India’s Freddie Mac moment has come. It cannot be hidden anymore that the core of India’s financial system is rotten. The state-owned banks have handed out loans to “dubious projects with dismal prospects with the full connivance of bosses… Now the tax payer holds the can”, as a commentator put it. The banks expect massive bailouts.
Indeed, the business confidence is visibly low. The Sensex that tracks India’s most valuable companies has crashed 22% in 52 weeks and equities are in what investor jargon bills as ‘bear hug’. A turnaround is not expected before 2018-19.
Suffice it to say, as the annual Budget Session of the parliament begins on February 23, the government expects a tough time to defend its record in office. The policy paralysis is simply glaring.
Meanwhile, there are signs of mounting social unrest in the country. Curfew was declared in regions around New Delhi and the army was called out in the weekend to shoot at first sight at protestors from a middle caste agitating for quota for jobs.
Three big universities witnessed big commotion recently, as the ruling party’s student wing battled with the ‘anti-national’ elements in the campus.
Patriotism, they say, is the last refuge of scoundrels and there is a concerted campaign lately, sponsored or encouraged by the government, to whip up patriotic fervor.
The university campuses have become the key arena. The government has mandated that all central universities must fly the national flag at all times.
To be sure, Modi is resorting to the ploy of diverting public attention. But it won’t work. His leadership stands exposed as mediocre.
Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.