In the run up to the 2009 general election, veteran political commentator TVR Shenoy (from whom we don’t hear much these days) wrote a column in the Rediff commenting on how the BJP had failed to break new ground:
The BJP, as matters stand today, does not have a single ally left in the States on the eastern seaboard. BJP has few or no chances of winning seats in a contiguous line of States running from West Bengal to Kerala. Take a look now at the States on the Arabian Sea. Gujarat and Karnataka actually have BJP Governments, and it is a major party in Maharashtra and in Goa. Barring Kerala, the BJP has a good chance of winning several seats, a situation that is diametrically opposite from that on the eastern side.
More than four years since that column was written, the BJP finally seems to have managed to carry the defining political debate of the present times to the eastern seaboard.
It was interesting to see Narendra Modi in Kolkota today rallying his party’s base in the Ground Zero of leftism. Narendra Modi’s speech to the BJP rank and file in Kolkota squared off a two-day speech fest that started in Delhi with an address to FICCI and continued on to Kolkota with an address to a different Chamber of Commerce. In between was a less fiery and more thought provoking discussion at the Think India Forum organised by Network18.
If there was one clear sentiment that ran through these four speeches, it was that the terms of the debate were being set by the challenger and that the incumbent had been forced into issuing defensive responses.
It was telling that Narendra Modi, at the conclusion of his last speech, alluded to this new trend — of the Prime Minister’s Office sly tweeting responses to remarks made in his speeches. The sly tweets by the Prime Minister’s Office need to be examined closely for they tie back to a bigger theme that emerged from the twin speeches by Narendra Modi in Kolkota today which themselves were built upon the first principles laid out at the Think India Forum yesterday.
In response to Narendra Modi’s comments on the biased and differential treatment to States by the UPA Government at the Centre, the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted a pretty-looking graphic perhaps meant to send policy wonks into a tizzy. The chart was a Cartesian plot of the actual-versus-normative allocation of funds to states via centrally-sponsored schemes on a logarithmic scale. Underlying that pretty picture of Cartesian clarity was meant to be a message conveying a linear lack of bias.
The truth however is not so linear as that logarithmic chart made it out to be.
The truth is that the UPA’s Planning Commission had called for a complete restructuring of Centrally Sponsored Schemes citing several reasons principal among which was the lack of transparency in allocation of States.
That was 2011. We are now in April 2013 and just yesterday Planning Commission Deputy Chairman promised a Cabinet note to implement the Chaturvedi Committee recommendations of 2011 on the restructuring of CSS. This promise, coming after similar promises made back in January 2013, leaving aside the multiple statements on this account between 2011 and 2013. To understand this delay by the UPA in implementing recommendations of its own Planning Commission, one must turn to this story in Mint by Kirthi Rao on the March 28, 2013. In that report we learn how Central Ministries were dragging their feet for more than a year on independent evaluation of Centrally-sponsored schemes to appraise their performance as recommended by the Chaturvedi Committee.
The PMO’s pretty picture tweet notwithstanding, the reality is that the UPA’s track record on States’ rights, federalism and devolution of power to States has been anything but pretty.
Little wonder that from the first principles of ‘minimum government maximum governance’ to political attacks on UPA’s ‘no government, no governance,” Narendra Modi made States rights and the UPA’s anti-federal excesses the underlying theme of all four speeches. On topics as diverse as land acquisition, privatisation, labour reforms, foreign direct investment and international relations, it was interesting to note Narendra Modi make advocacy on behalf of States a central political argument.
Whether the BJP breaks new ground or not in these eastern seaboard States, there is a clear and coherent line of thought emerging here on forging a new federal compact with regional parties that goes beyond the negativity of anti-Congressism while being based on greater freedom and autonomy to States.
In doing so, Narendra Modi has also addressed two main critiques of his speeches that have emerged from the media elite. The first critique was on the question of political vision for India. The second critique was on the question of applicability to other States. Interestingly, the answer to both is interlinked, as was evident from his answer to the question by Raghav Bahl yesterday on labour reforms. By advocating for greater freedom and autonomy to states and arguing that it ought to be left to each state to determine what works best for them, Narendra Modi has shown that he has both a vision for how to reform governance and that the vision is inclusive not by coercion of States but through freedom of choice.
The speech earlier this evening to BJP workers in Kolkota was marked by the sharpness of its attacks on the Congress Party. But it was also marked by a popular deconstruction of the first principles of ‘minimum government maximum governance’ laced with examples from the UPA’s misdeeds over the past decade.
It is the effectiveness of this popular deconstruction that will be equally on test come 2014, as will be the sharpness of those political attacks as the BJP looks to challenge the Congress by going beyond angry anti-Congressism to also present an alternate vision rooted in decentralisation, federalism and States’ rights.
YouTube Videos of all 4 speeches at FICCI, ThinkIndia Network18, Kolkota Chamber of Commerce, BJP meet in Kolkota below.