Are Modi & Kejriwal squandering a huge mandate?


On 16th of May 2014, India gave a massive mandate to Narendra Modi. BJP bagged 282 seats (10 more than simple majority), a feat not achieved by any party since 1984. People voted for Modi and India witnessed the return of Presidential style of elections last seen when Indira was at the peak of her career. Modi became a household name, a pill which would cure India of all evil.

Less than a year later in Feb. 2015, AAP won a landslide elections in Delhi winning 67 out of 70 seats (96% of total assembly strength), a feat only observed in a few north eastern states. People forgave Kejriwal for resigning mid-term exactly a year ago and reposed faith in the “aam aadmi” again. The poor, downtrodden and the middle class identified itself with AAP.

The victories of Modi and Kejriwal (different personalities at loggerheads with each other) was very identical in a lot of sense – victory of hope over despair, victory of change over status quo and victory of a new brand of politics. Both brought in fresh new air into the dirty corrupt politics of the times.

Modi stormed the national scene when the country was fed up of umpteen scams under the ten years of UPA I & II regime and decline in GDP growth towards the end of the tenure. His honest and pro-growth image having turned around the economy of Gujarat after Godhra riots were his star attractions. On the other hand, people saw in Kejriwal a crusader from among themselves, an underdog who took upon himself to cleanse politics of all corruption and increase public participation in governance.

Expectations of people were very high and they believed that both of them would be able to implement their agenda and improve the overall position of India and Delhi. 1.5 years after Modi got elected and approx. 1 year after Kejriwal was sworn in, even their hard core supporters would agree, that a lot needs to be done and they have not been able to take advantage of the popular mandates.

There are three indicators how and why Modi and Kejriwal seem to be not utilizing well their huge mandates:

(i) Focus on increasing reach of the party

Modi and Kejriwal are the most popular leaders of their parties. Both BJP and AAP are dependent upon them to do well in state elections and improve performance in states where they are weak.

BJP has used Modi to campaign extensively in state elections held after Lok Sabha polls and has reaped rich dividends except for Delhi and Bihar where it had to face defeat. Modi held 89 rallies in 6 states that went to polls (10.7% of total seats contested by NDA). This means approx. 3 weeks (assuming 4 rallies in a day) including travel time were spend on party work.

14 states (excluding small North Eastern states) will go to polls before next Lok Sabha elections in the next 3 years. These states have 2,432 seats and going by the trend Modi likely to address 243 rallies spending another 65 days. This would mean he is likely to spend 3 months of his total tenure of 60 months (5%) on party work. This excludes time spent on strategy meetings / selection of candidates / discussions with Amit Shah. This also excludes time of ministers who are camped in states for months to oversee election process for e.g. Dharmendra Pradhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ananth Kumar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy in Bihar elections.

Prime Minister like President of a country should not belong to any party. Of course earlier Prime Ministers have also campaigned for their parties and Modi alone cannot be criticized. He is also one of the most hardworking PMs in recent times in terms of number of hours put in but there are limitations to what a single man can do – party and government – asking too much from him.

Kejriwal is the first chief minister not to hold any portfolio clearly signaling his priorities. A near full strength of AAP in the house gives him this luxury. After conquering Delhi, his task is also to make inroads in other states. AAP has clearly shown its intent to win in Punjab. Ten years of anti-incumbency against ruling Akali Dal – BJP alliance he believes provides AAP with a chance. Additionally, he is the man who is leading talks with other regional parties like JDU and TMC to build an anti-national front against BJP in upcoming state polls and next Lok Sabha polls.

The Lokpal Bill, Anna and his brainchild was passed by Delhi assembly this month, 9 months after his re-election despite having absolute majority. Why? He was busy fighting an internal struggle against Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan to gain control over the party. Kejriwal spent months to quell rebellion which ended up in suspension of YY and PB from the party.

No. of rallies conducted by Modi in State Elections

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(ii) Failing to Build Consensus, Adopting a Confrontational Attitude and Playing Victim Politics

Delhi is not a full state in many respects and Kejriwal has been in confrontation with the center regarding control of Delhi Police, for appointment of officers, defining roles and responsibilities of LG etc. For any and everything wrong happening in Delhi he puts the blame on the center. Crime rate has increased from 1.25 lakh cases registered under IPC to 1.58 lakh cases in the first 10 months of this year. Center is squarely to blame as Delhi Police falls under Home Ministry and not AAP. All governments in Delhi have functioned smoothly prior to this and only AAP is having an issue. The latest addition is CBI raids on his principal secretary which he termed as Modi attempt to threaten and finish off AAP. There have been few instances of BJP MLAs thrown out of house by Marshals, they can’t even handle 3 opposition MLAs.

Similarly, BJP has not been able to pass many important bills as it doesn’t have majority in Rajya Sabha. It has been putting the blame squarely on opposition to not let government function and blocking development. The government had to take the ordinance route for Land and Insurance Bills. Many important bills like amendment to Juvenile Act, GST, and Real estate regulator bill are stuck in Parliament. Of course Congress and some regional parties are not letting upper house function on some pretext or the other over the past 1.5 years – Lalitgate, NH case etc.

But it’s also a fact that government floor managers have failed in their responsibility to build consensus and manage regional parties. Rajya Sabha is a council of states and states need center help to run their governments smoothly. Hence they may be more amenable to work in tandem with government than Congress. Instead of “chai pe charcha” with Sonia, “chai pe charcha” with regional satraps would have helped. The government has an option for calling a joint session which it has not yet chosen. BJP also seems to have rubbed some of its allies like Shiv Sena and Akali Dal the wrong way.

iii) Adopting a Defensive Approach

Both Modi and Kejriwal created an aura around themselves and vowed to change politics. That’s what has always happened. Others have done it too. These statements are being thrown at audience continuously. They have become increasingly risk averse. The tiger doesn’t roar anymore. Roars only when he is addressing NRIs abroad. Kejriwal is missing the out of box approach which he brought along with him – transparent funding, inclusion of public feedback on manifesto, selection of candidates etc. His odd-even traffic formula did remind of his good old days but his handling of the CBI raids brought him back to square one.

Modi’s insipid handling of fringe elements in the party, his flip flop Pakistan policy, his climb-down on Land bill, his complete silence on rupee depreciation which he made a big election issue (-14% since the day he was sworn in) and poor handling of media shows he is playing it safe and already worrying too much about the second term. While a section of people have started saying Kejriwal has become a politician, others are saying there’s nothing special about Modi; he is like any other PM.

Both of them need to get back their old charisma and innovative thinking, for e.g., something like clear demarcation between party and government. Otherwise, they would be accused of squandering a huge mandate.

To sum up, public doesn’t like helpless / rudderless leadership. If Modi would have said in election speeches, BJP doesn’t have majority in RS and hence all we promise depends upon opposition co-operation. If Kejriwal would have said in rallies, Delhi government doesn’t have all powers and fulfillment of manifesto items depend upon center’s co-operation, they might not have got such huge mandates. People won’t give in to these excuses at the end of their terms. So they better start taking advantage else history will remember them as wasting popular mandates…

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