Fifth column: Ignore the pundits, PM
Most political pundits in the national media like to think they are guardians of India’s ‘pluralism’ and cannot believe that the voters of India rejected this fine ideal.
So it is settled. The finest political pundits tell us that Narendra Modi is finished because in his first month in office he has not been able to transform India. These political pundits and their comrades have been invisible since May 16, but they are back now. The day the railway fares and freight charges went up for the first time in more than a decade, was when they first started to reappear. Discredited Marxists, socialists in graded shades of pink, ‘secular’ political philosophers and ex-MPs manifested themselves on news channels to gleefully taunt the Prime Minister.
‘Where are the ‘acche din’ Mr Modi? See how you fooled the people with your campaign and now the people will soon discover that they were fooled’. This particular comment was repeated so often it became a communal chant. Communists who swear by China’s model of development were most vocal in the chorus. They know that theIndian Railways is a bullock cart on rails compared to China Railways and they do not want this to change. What puzzled me was that not a single TV anchor (in English or Hindi) tried to explain why the 14 per cent increase in the price of railway tickets had become necessary.
When I tried to analyse why, clarity quickly dawned. It is that old gang again. The same people who predicted that Modi would never become prime minister, the same people who said India would break again if he did become prime minister. These same people now want to ensure that he does not stay prime minister too long. So silly statements by novice ministers are magnified into serious political discourses. And any sign that the Prime Minister may really be signalling a new direction is ignored. His first speech in the Lok Sabha in which he reminded MPs that they represented the hopes of a billion people was mostly ignored by political pundits both on TV and in the newspapers. Why? It was the best speech made in Parliament in at least a decade.
If you want to understand why this happened, you need only YouTube any news channel’s reportage of last week’s summons to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to appear in a Delhi court on charges of fraud. The compassionate tone of the anchors, the imputation of malicious motives to the magistrate, the subtle support for the Dynasty will help you in seeing the nuances of current political analysis.
Most political pundits in the national media like to think they are guardians of India’s ‘pluralism’ and cannot believe that the voters of India rejected this fine ideal. But, there is more. They do not want to admit they may have misjudged Modi. They will be very disappointed if in the next five years there are no pogroms against Muslims. They pretend otherwise, so there was hysteria over the tragic killing of the Muslim IT professional in Pune. Notice that almost nobody blamed Maharashtra’s Congress government. The Prime Minister was blamed for inspiring ‘Hindu triumphalism’.
Political pundits who remained silent, or spoke only in whispers in the decade in which policies made by Sonia Gandhi and her extra-constitutional kitchen cabinet ruined the Indian economy, have now found their voice. And, it is a shrill, unforgiving voice. So in long years as a political columnist, this is the first time I have seen a prime minister judged on his first 30 days. He is right when he says that not only has he been denied the usual 100-day honeymoon, he has not even had a 100 hours of a honeymoon. He needs to get used to it. The national media seems to have resolved to play the role that Opposition parties usually play in Parliament.
The people of India will give him more time because it is they who ensured that he became the first prime minister in 30 years to get a full majority. So he needs to communicate with them directly and often. If this monsoon remains as bad as it is so far, the poorest Indians are going to suffer even more deprivation than usual and a contingency plan needs to be carefully worked out already. It is not good enough to start threatening ‘hoarders’ with dire consequences. It would be far more productive if the ministers in-charge of food and agriculture were ordered immediately to make better use of the mountains of grain rotting in the fetid warehouses of the Food Corporation of India.
It would be best for the Prime Minister to personally take charge of the contingency plan so that in rural areas where the rains may fail, there are provisions for free kitchens and other assistance for those who are most vulnerable. It is things like this that the Prime Minister must concentrate on without worrying about political pundits. They are not on his honeymoon.