The BJP has won yet another election, and victory is attributed to the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is in the seventh year of his term and appears to have lost none of his attractiveness for the voter. There is no data available on this, of course, and elections across the subcontinent are won on the back of tribalism, organisation and money.
But let us assume that it is the personal attractiveness and credibility of the Prime Minister that has yet again taken the BJP through in Bihar. The question is — to what end does he want to keep winning? Power is held for a purpose -- to be able to effect change. What change has Prime Minister Modi used his power for?
On the economy, the numbers cannot be kept hidden. The rate of GDP growth has gone from eight to seven to six to five to four to three per cent over the last 12 quarters. Something sabotaged the economy just before January 2018 and today is not the time to go again into it. The fact is that without Covid-19 and long before the lockdown, the Indian economy was wrecked. Hours after the Bihar election results were out, the Reserve Bank of India announced that in the second quarter, meaning July to September, India’s economy would again contract, and we were in recession.
The government did not acknowledge this or respond to it. The Prime Minister muttered some more things about development, but his heart is not in it. Do you remember the last time he spoke about his world beating economic performance? It is because there is nothing to say. Bangladesh has overtaken India’s per capita GDP. What more can be added to that?
As I am writing this, there is news that we have lost at least 11 more lives on the Line of Control in Kshmir. The media’s response to this in India has been to claim that Pakistan has also lost 11 lives (which Pakstan’s media or government has not acknowledged). It has become like a game, and if we are able to get enough of the other side out then it is fine for us to suffer the losses we have. This is lunacy but it is the product of the way that Mr Modi has characterised relations with neighbours, as being a zero sum game. Meaning that their loss is our gain. But this is bogus. We gain nothing material by killing their people. We lose when our people are killed.
On the Line of Actual Control, we are preparing to formalise the surrender that we have already effected on the ground. We have permanently been stopped from patrolling till Finger 8 in Ladakh and heaven alone knows what else has been given up amid the secrecy.
Prime Minister Modi’s refusal to acknowledge that the Chinese had intruded into and were holding ground that India had been previously patrolling was a clear signal to the other side. He has since stopped speaking on this subject. What is there to say? India has not even been given an explanation for why our leader thinks his friend Xi Jinping had launched his aggression. Our constitutional recklessness in Jammu and Kashmir happened without any understanding of the international ramifications.
As one defence analyst has said, Mr Modi changed the status of Ladakh on the map, while Mr Xi changed it on the ground. So much for the 56 inches. Our clinging to US President Donald Trump has not paid off and he is out. His secretary of defence, who was in India last week and promising an eternal military alliance, was fired by Mr Trump this week.
What else is there? We could talk about Covid-19. We carry the second highest number of infected people in the world, the third highest number of dead. What role if any the government has had in controlling it or mitigating it is unknown. The lockdown appears to have had exactly the opposite effect that we were told it would have. We are still clocking over 40,000 cases a day and have no real control over the epidemic. Two-thirds of India’s working women lost their jobs because of the lockdown. Reports have shown that the work participation rate for women fell from an already low 9.15 per cent in December 2019 to just 5.8 per cent in August this year. For men, it is down from 67 per cent to 47 per cent. Most of India is not working. Have you heard Mr Modi talk about this? No. What is there to say?
The good thing is that we are in Year 7 of Mr Modi’s reign. His words do not mean anything at this point. It is the numbers we must look at and the numbers are clear. If there is still support for Mr Modi among the population, it must be for something else, not his performance. There the record is quite clear.
Power is held to effect change. Mr Modi has shown himself incapable of effecting it in the positive sense. On the economy, on the border, on employment, on the epidemic. One wonders to what end he not only holds on to it but seeks to acquire more.