I am a human being – Homo sapiens. But does that mean I am poor, brutish, nasty and small? That is what Thomas Hobbes had thought. Machiavelli’s prince had also said that if you want to control people, the masses, the electorate – then you’ve to keep a whip in your hand like the ringmaster in a circus. Only a strong leader can control the mobocracy.
The great Indian political circus has also had several Prime Ministers. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi. Each Prime Minister is unique The modus operandi is different. In 2014 when Modi entered Lutyen’s Delhi, the popular perception was that a strong man has arrived. Like the arrival of James Bond, after the World War II to dispel the darkness of the depressed British masses. Plato had preached that for a philosopher king who would also be the representative of God – that he will bring justice to mankind.
Today in a democracy, we chose our leader through the process of election. There is no monarch. Nor do we have a philosopher leader like S. Radhakrishnan. We have Modi and the popular perception persists that he is a ‘strong leader’. At the eve of another election, the discourse on strong leadership has started again. But we need to understand that strong leader doesn’t mean an undemocratic leader. I think that even in a coalition government one needs a strong leadership to run the coalition. A strong leader does not mean that he will be blunt to the ideas of others – that he or she will not listen to the voice of the people. Rather, if you want to frame policies, you’ve to talk to experts, bureaucrats and even other people.
After getting 282 seats, was Modi reluctant to listen any other opinion?
I think this belief is absolutely wrong. I know his style of functioning and I can say, bluntly, that each and every day he spoke to several people on different subjects. In Lutyen’s Delhi, there is a wrong perception that he takes his own decision – this isn’t correct. In Delhi, he begins his daily routine with briefing meetings. Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra meets him first. Then P.K. Mishra and other PMO officials. He talks to his PS and APSs daily. Then, the PM conducts video conferences with his department secretaries. He would also hold such conferences with state government officials.
He also has his own unique way of taking inputs from the feedback from the ground; a team, a set-up that isn’t just restricted to social media like Twitter or Facebook. He seeks opinion from the chaupals of different villages. Before the declaration of the election, he conducted a review meeting. The PMO wanted to know the status of implementation of different Government of India schemes in the country’s 29 states and 7 union territories.
It is true that Modi didn’t encourage the Dalal Raj of the political system. In Maharashtra, what is the reason for the deteriorating relationship between Uddhav and Modi took in the past 5 years? Was it ideological? Was it the just the BJP’s single party mindset? An arrogance of big brotherhood? The informed political circle know that the actual reason is because Shiv Sena couldn’t get the malai of Delhi’s power. It started with the Mumbai corporation and ended in a cabinet birth for Shiv Sena.
When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, Balasaheb quarrelled on several issues. But the supply line for Shiv Sena was never disturbed. Vajpayee was the first NDA PM in 1998. The Vajpayee era could easily be said as the beginning of the ‘swarna yug’ of Indian economy. It was under his leadership that India went for Pokhran 2, but was he a strong leader? The Indian mythology of strong leadership would dictate that he wasn’t.
Vajpayee was, after all, a man of political consensus. How can such a leader be characterised as strong? Here lies the fallacy. Once the late Pramod Mahajan of the BJP told me: “Do you know what is our major problem in this party and government? And what is the advantage the Gandhi family of the Congress have?” He explained: “In our party it is a tyranny of democracy. Vajpayee may be the leader but there is an oligarchy. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha. And beyond these leaders there is Nagpur. Humhara yaha fayasla lenese jada chintan manthan hota haye!”
In congress there is a working committee but only one Gandhi will take the final call. Nobody can object. Sharad Pawar and Purno Sangma raised issues and they had to leave the party. Only once Vajpayee did not disclose the decision to Advani also — and that was the Pokhran blast and that event made Indian leadership strong! See, Advani pressurised Vajpayee to hold general election six months early. And Vajpayee accepted. He lost the election.
Can anybody dictate Modi like this today?
In the party national executive meeting held at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh), the BJP leadership led by Advani took the resolution in 1989 to start Ramjanmabhomi movement. Vajpayee objected but he was a loner and a minority voice. Now this model of Vajpayee leadership is desirable? When a General cannot issue order to his soldiers forcefully? Second, when you are a victim of political blackmail. P.V. Narasimha Rao had to manage JMM MPs to win the no confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. How can he be the strong man? Manmohan Singh did not like it, but chargesheeted Lalu Prasad was in his cabinet. I recall that once, while accompanying him during a trip, he said on record that keeping Lalu in cabinet is coalition compulsion. Manmohan Singh wanted to go to Pakistan to talk. The party said no. How can he be a strong leader?
Today we need a strong leader and strong nation. But this doesn’t mean that it has to be against the culture of political pluralism. Such a leader need not be against federalism, need not run an unitary government. Our Constitution suggests a quasi-federal structure, and such a leader can be a symbol of that political entropy. But creating a hate campaign against Modi, projecting him as an autocrat – is that democracy? Actually, till today, I have not seen one Devkant Baruah statement in the BJP saying ‘Modi is India’.
(The writer is a senior journalist)