Is team Modi finding it difficult to assert authority within the BJP system?


The NDA government finds itself in a unique, unfamiliar and somewhat unexpected situation towards the fag end of its term. Suddenly, it has a lot riding on the Supreme Court. And it’s not just about the Ram Mandir, or any such hot-button political issue. This is about the authority of its government, built assiduously around the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The fight within the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the related demand for investigation into the Rafale deal may appear distant from the dustbowl of electoral politics. But they strike at the core of government authority, its power and also the limits of this power.

It was this edifice that began to crumble for the Manmohan Singh government when the then CBI director Ranjit Sinha, in April 2013, alluded to GoI interference before the Supreme Court. This triggered an implosion of authority within the government. The word of the court ruled, as the government backed off, ministers resigned and CBI functioned with complete backing of the court. The same director, ironically, is now facing a court-ordered investigation for his role in the same coal block allocation case.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval recently reminded everyone that UPA-2 as a coalition was inherently unstable due to its in-built contradictions.

So, how has NDA landed itself in such a situation?

The fact is that contradiction is inherent to politics. In coalitions they are more overt and apparent while in majority governments they simmer below the surface with equal intensity. It’s for the leadership to effectively manage and control these tendencies regardless of the arrangement of the government.

CBI Crisis

The crisis in CBI brought out these contradictions for the first time in the present ruling combine. The usual decisiveness gave way to procrastination. Warning signals were knowingly ignored and misdemeanours went unpunished as months passed with the problem ballooning in the backdrop. And this happened because everyone loves perks and benefits of playing CBI.

The institutional rot in CBI is not because of any lack of autonomy or political arm-twisting. Both have coexisted in strange harmony, either being used to conveniently negate the other, but both guilty of cloaking the rot within.

The problem is the lack of professional culture. CBI has hardly ever successfully concluded any high profile case of political corruption. The Bofors case hit another dead end last week; the signature case against the Vajpayee government on the purchase of anti-materiel rifles from South African state-owned military manufacturer Denel was also closed recently to restart bilateral business with South Africa; the adverse order in the 2G case and the failure to probe the financial trail beyond the shores of India all underline this dubious trend.

The agency has, however, been a happy conduit for purposes of political expediency. Over the years, it has blurred the distinction between intimidation and investigation. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), armed now with the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, is a deadly accomplice, because once a predicate offence is registered by CBI, ED can move in and unleash its fury.

So, when one talks loosely of political interference, it essentially boils down to the power to intimidate and harass where, frankly, it’s more than just politics at play. Suffice to say, there are several stakeholders who gain from intimidation, and would not want investigations to achieve closure.

Results Matter

For Modi, however, results on corruption cases matter. It goes with the image of a strong-willed government to achieve high-profile convictions in key cases. But is everyone in government, BJP and the party’s extended universe, on board?

The truth is that competing interests from within have come to the fore and GoI has found it difficult to deal with this. In fact, there’s a view that the PM was even misled at key junctures. While all of this may still be speculative, the fact is the late-night swoop on CBI was a rearguard action to salvage a deteriorating situation. The result, which may not necessarily be the best outcome for GoI, is that the ball is now in with the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, it’s become incumbent on the PM and his team to find ways to assert authority within the BJP system. Four years in power will lead to stakeholders developing interests, some becoming more entrenched than the others. And while the fear of the leadership remains, a lot can happen in the shadows.

This crisis has ensured that in the next few months, PM Modi will, among other things, have to also address the problem arising out of internal contradictions and competing interests. To assume that they don’t exist in a majority government would be a mistake. Implosive tendencies can be quite debilitating, even causing serious embarrassment just ahead of the elections.

The art of managing and balancing out contradictions is always a leadership challenge. Not because it’s a difficult job, but because it almost always defines the nature of political authority, which is how assertive or accommodating a leader can be. In an election year, that call can determine the course of action for many a stakeholder, which is why it’s tricky—yet necessary—for the PM to draw the line.

Source link


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.