The Battle Of Nightmares: Both BJP and opposition are locked in a contest to scare voters into supporting them
If India’s 2014 general election was a vote for hope, then 2019 appears to be more about fear. So far, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party nor Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party has come up with a compelling reason for people to support them. But both the ruling party and the opposition can paint a vivid picture of why the prospect of their opponent winning should be viewed as a nightmare.
Let’s take the case against BJP first. In this nightmare scenario, five more years for Modi would reward a government that’s both malignant and mediocre. As the argument goes, this could end up fatally undermining India’s still immature democratic norms and institutions.
At the heart of the malignancy lies an inability, or unwillingness, to distinguish between a minority of Islamist extremists and the majority of peaceful Muslims. The unleashing of cow vigilantes on ordinary Muslims, thinly veiled hostility toward the meat and leather industries in several BJP-ruled states, and the appointment of the Muslim-baiting Yogi Adityanath to lead Uttar Pradesh all spring from this impulse.
At the same time, public discourse has plummeted to a new low. In which other democracy would well-meaning movie stars face threats of a boycott merely for standing up for a brutally murdered child? The heartless response of some BJP supporters to the Kathua tragedy suggests not just political partisanship run amok, but a society in moral freefall. At least part of the blame lies with Modi’s failure to set a tone at the top that befits his high office.
On the economic front, it once looked like Modi would use his finely honed communication skills to sell politically painful but necessary policies. Instead, he has used his megaphone to talk up relatively modest achievements, or to package harebrained ideas like demonetisation as bold reform. The recent botched move to sell Air India symbolises a deeper problem. In the end, for all its bluster, this government would rather sidestep tough decisions than take them.
The “tax terrorism” that BJP once denounced has only increased after the government armed officials with draconian new powers last year. According to Morgan Stanley, a staggering 23,000 dollar millionaires have left India since 2014. These are precisely the kind of people needed to jumpstart the economy and create jobs for the 12 million Indians who enter the labour force each year. Dubai, Singapore and London, among others, benefit from India’s self-goal.
Though most economists view the goods and services tax introduced last year positively, its numerous exemptions, fiendishly complicated structure and absurdly high rates make it the opposite of the “good and simple tax” that was advertised. Arguably fixing it will be much harder than getting it right, or at least closer to right to begin with, would have been.
The Modi government has trouble retaining top flight economic talent. A drumbeat of insults and innuendo accompanied Raghuram Rajan’s ousting from the Reserve Bank of India. Former NITI Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya has returned to Columbia University. Chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian will soon be back in the US too. Investors have reason to worry that key economic positions will be filled by people whose chief qualifications are political loyalty and being deemed “mentally fully Indian” by nativists.
Meanwhile, as the nightmare goes, foreign policy has been reduced to a series of gimmicky acronyms even as China muscles in on India’s neighbourhood. The government has stonewalled the appointment of judges it finds unsuitable. Ruling party leaders publicly warn that pesky journalists will meet the fate of the murdered editor Shujaat Bukhari. Fake news factories churn out pro-government propaganda. An army of vicious trolls polices Twitter. Even external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is not spared their wrath.
Luckily for BJP, it too has a nightmare to sell. For many voters, memories of Manmohan Singh’s disastrous second term remain fresh. How many people really want to go back to a pay-for-play model of governance where everything from coal to telecom spectrum to flats for war widows carried the taint of corruption?
Nor does Congress appear to have grappled seriously with the reasons for its fall from favour. For a large chunk of educated Indians, Rahul Gandhi remains the foremost symbol of everything that’s wrong with dynastic politics. It seems plain as day that several other Congress leaders have more political talent in one finger than Gandhi has managed to muster in more than a decade in public life. Yet they must remain resigned to playing permanent second fiddle to the Nehru-Gandhi scion.
Even if Congress recovers dramatically from its 2014 low of 44 seats it will require coalition partners to stitch together a government. For some people the prospect of a coalition united by greed, and driven by the narrow considerations imposed by caste or religious vote banks, would be worse than the current dispensation.
Which nightmare is scarier? Obviously, this depends on who you ask. But suffice to say that if Modi had played his cards better – by ramming through economic reforms early in his term and keeping Hindutva hotheads on a tight leash – he could have run confidently on his own record. As things stand, the 2019 election may well end up hinging on who does a better job of scaring voters.
Courtesy – The Times of India (Political)
1. Prospect – (Noun) The possibility or likelihood of some future event occurring. (संभावना, आशा)
Synonyms – Anticipation, Expectation, Hope
Antonyms – Doubtfulness, Unlikelihood, Retrospect
Ex. There was no prospect of a reconciliation.
2. Malignant – (Adjective) Evil in nature or effect. (घातक, दुष्ट)
Synonyms – Harmful, Malicious, Malevolent
Antonyms – Benevolent, Kindhearted, Harmless
Ex. He is in the hands of malignant fate.
3. Distinguish – (Verb) Recognize or treat (someone or something) as different. (अंतर करना, पहचानना)
Synonyms – Differentiate, Discriminate, determine
Antonyms – Paragon, Bewilder, Disregard
Ex. The child is perfectly capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy.
4. Discourse – (Noun) Written or spoken communication or debate. (प्रवचन, बातचीत)
Synonyms – Discussion, Conversation, Communication, Conference, Debate
Antonyms – Silence, Quiet, Compress
Ex. Nowadays the language of political discourse is not worth listening.
5. Harebrained – (Adjective) Having or showing little sense; foolish. (चंचल, बेअक़ल)
Synonyms – Crazy, Silly, Insane, Goofy
Antonyms – Clever, Logical, Reasonable, Sound
Ex. It was a hare-brained scheme by the Indian government.
6. Exemptions – (Noun) The act or an instance of exempting. (छूट)
Synonyms – Dispensations, Exceptions, Releases
Antonyms – Liabilities, Inclusions
Ex. Everybody wants to buy the vehicles that may qualify for exemption from tax.
7. Innuendo – (Noun)An indirect (and usually malicious) implication. (व्यंग्य, ताना)
Synonyms – Allusion, Slur, Imputation, Overtone
Antonyms – Evidence, Proof, Proven
Ex. She’s always making sly innuendo.
8. Stonewall – (Verb) To engage in obstructive parliamentary debate or delaying tactics. (अनसुना करना)
Synonyms – Fence, Hedge, Block, Elude
Antonyms – Cooperate, Acquiesce, Do a runner
Ex. She has also stonewalled queries about her love life.