Narendra Modi began his stint with the achhe din promise about the impending favourable days, which swept the electorate of its feet. The expectation was that it wouldn’t take long before a buoyant economy ensured jobs for all.
But the hope remained a pipe dream because the economy went from bad to worse and unemployment figures reached a four-decade high. Achhe din was nowhere in sight.
However, the unfulfilled assurance had no impact on the prime minister’s popularity. He continued to be an inspirational figure not only in India, but among the Indian diaspora as well as the recent gathering at the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston showed. Modi hai toh mumkin hai (anything is possible if Modi is there) became the catchphrase, articulated by even the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, during a visit to India.
What is the explanation for this ability to arouse hope in the face of failures? Any other politician would have been sunk if he had been unable to achieve what he had promised. But not in the case of Modi.
One key to the mystery is his oratory. It is his magic with words which convinces the audience that success is around the corner. If only the people have the patience to wait, they will experience the golden age.
All politicians peddle hope. But their bull run is never a prolonged one. Modi is an exception. His tenure as the PM has been entirely marked by hope and micro-economic welfare measures, ranging from health insurance, cleanliness, electricity in every home to alleviating farmers’ distress and pledging to convert Kashmir into jannat (paradise) once again.
It is this last promise, which poses the biggest challenge for Modi. If he is unable to deliver, his mumkin hai aura will be hit. He got away with demonetization. But can he do the same with Kashmir? As of now, it appears difficult.
The reason for the doubts is the incarceration of 4,000-odd politicians and activists, big and small, in the state which will become a Union territory on October 31. No democracy can keep so many people behind bars for long without being criticized.
Two months is about the limit before even some of its own supporters begin to feel uneasy. Already, a moderate saffron scribe has expressed the fear that the government is beginning to lose the plot in Kashmir.
The government’s argument that releasing those jailed – including three former chief ministers – will spark off disturbances with the Pakistani jehadis taking advantage of the unrest to create mayhem is out of sync with democratic norms even if the threat from the terrorists is real.
The government, therefore, will have to take the risk of releasing at least some of the detainees. And there will have to be several big names among them, for freeing a few small fries will not deflect criticism.
But that’s not all. For the real test will be not so much the act of letting the prisoners go as to let them speak in open forums. And there is little doubt that whatever they may say will not please the government.
Yet, the authorities cannot lock them up again if they rile the government, for that will reopen the Pandora’s box of censure both at home and abroad. The government, therefore, faces a dilemma. Releasing Farooq Abdullah and Co entails coping with their protests while keeping them under lock and key indefinitely can be politically damaging. Branding them as closet separatists will also not be generally believed.
It appears, therefore, that the government did not think the issue through before taking the fateful step. It was acting more in keeping with the saffron brotherhood’s ideological objectives than the realities on the ground. The support it received from several parties outside the NDA and even sections of the Congress may have confused the government and even encourages it to adhere to the path it has taken even if its negative side is gradually becoming apparent.
Both in the cases of the economy and Kashmir, the government’s remedies are still a work in progress with no surety of success. While the tax cuts in the corporate sector are seen by the government as the best way out of the economic morass, it is still engaged either in painting a rosy picture of Kashmir which is still far in the future, or in making curious claims about the actual situation as the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, did by saying that there is no clampdown, only a shutting of the terrorists’ communication channels.
The rest of the country remains in the dark, therefore, about what is happening, not least because no responsible political leader of the Opposition is either allowed to visit the Valley, or speak about it from there or on returning to Delhi. Instead, as the former BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, said, he was treated like a terrorist before being sent back from Srinagar.