Narendra Modi’s new political narrative

By Chanakya

 

Over the past week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in Parliament thrice — while responding to the discussion on the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and bidding farewell to retiring Rajya Sabha members, particularly Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, Ghulam Nabi Azad. The speeches throw up a broad outline of PM Modi’s new political narrative, the areas of focus for the government, and the possible political fault lines ahead.

 

The key was not the manner in which he articulated his points, but the content of his speeches. A new political narrative is taking shape — which may well last till the 2024 elections — and this revolves around three pillars.

 

The first is political ownership of economic reforms, and embracing the task of communicating the efficacy of these reforms. Over the past four decades, India has seen a range of economic reforms — the process started with Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980, continued under Rajiv Gandhi, witnessed preparatory work under the VP Singh and Chandrashekhar governments, and then got a boost under the PV Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo in 1991.

 

But no political leader till then was willing to own the reforms — even Rao had to frame it as a continuation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy to neutralize the opposition within his party.

 

Modi lauded the role of the private sector as wealth creators, linked the process of wealth creation with employment generation and wealth distribution, openly took on the bureaucratic stranglehold over public sector enterprises and the power of the IAS officers, and provided a robust defence of farm laws — on the grounds that agriculture needed investment and modernization, that land fragmentation was making livelihoods increasingly untenable for farmers, and laws expanded economic freedom even while the old State-supported structure of mandis and minimum support prices would remain.

This political message is also significant for the budget has laid out an ambitious privatization agenda — including of public sector banks — which is bound to provoke resistance from unions and the Opposition. But PM Modi has clearly decided that the next generation reforms cannot be held back anymore — and that he will politically own it and attempt to convert it into an asset rather than fear the political costs associated with it.

 

The second, related, pillar of the PM’s speech is nationalism. But this nationalism now has both an economic subtext in the form of a self-reliant India — playing on Indian pride about becoming more autonomous across sectors or encouraging domestic alternatives to foreign platforms — and an emotive appeal in the form of rhetoric against critical foreign interventions.

 

Finally, the PM appears to have decided that he will adopt both a conciliatory and confrontational approach with those opposing him. His emphasis on the purity of the farm movement was an attempt to directly reach out to farmers; his focus on small farmers was an attempt to showcase the diversity within farming communities and woo the weaker segments.

 

How the Opposition responds to this new Modi narrative — based on reforms, welfare, nationalism, with a mix of flexibility and aggression — will determine India’s future political trajectory.

 

Source: The Hindustan Times

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy PTI)

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