Shekhar Gupta: The air is thick with doubts, economic stress is hurting, and for the first time since 2013, NaMo is fighting back

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Shekhar Gupta: The air is thick with doubts, economic stress is hurting, and for the first time since 2013, NaMo is fighting back

Post by Rashmun on Sun Oct 08, 2017 6:06 am

Concern was visible in the Prime Minister’s spirited, hour-long speech to the gathering of company secretaries this week, hours after the RBI had lowered this year’s growth estimates further and denied the government the steroidal breather of a rate cut. The speech was vintage Modi. All fire, fury, ferocity and confidence. But, for the first time since 2013, he was fighting back. Combative for sure, but on the defensive. You could read it in his repeated comparison of his three years in power with the Congress party’s last two, which were so bad, it was reduced to 44 in the Lok Sabha. I bet his supporters went home all fired up again, such is his magic with words, and so magisterial his sway over public opinion. But worry showed on his face...

The government draws comfort from the state of the opposition, its lack of a leader to match the Prime Minister’s appeal, energy and focus, or a common agenda. But as we know, a most popular leader can also suffer a decline if people get so angry they vote against him, never mind the rival. That’s how Rajiv Gandhi lost despite his much larger majority in the Lok Sabha than Modi’s now.
That tipping point looks quite far yet. But there are interesting straws in this wind. Among the first indications of trouble for a leader is the appearance and popularity of inspired jokes, and in these times, funny memes. About the Modi government, that started about six months ago and has gathered momentum. Second, however broken the opposition may be, it has cracked the science of social media warfare. The BJP used it brilliantly to demolish the Congress and allies. Now it doesn’t look so one-sided.
In fact, the balance of firepower in this electronic warfare is shifting. AAP was always good at this, Congress has learnt it, and the very articulate and well networked community of what The Economist described this week as India’s “lingering Left-liberal elite” has added its might, and the BJP has competition. The BJP had put itself at great advantage by controlling the message. That control is now fraying.

The Prime Minister put his oratorical best foot forward this week. He has no competition there. But at this likely inflexion point, just this won’t be enough. Too much energy these three years has been invested in turning the party into an election-winning machine. Governance needs greater attention, ironically just when important state elections come closer. If the government doesn’t revive its waning momentum, a slide could be lurking. Just changing the message won’t do. To recover its mojo, the Modi government needs a more impressive set of economic figures to flaunt. And of its own tenure, not from the UPA’s past.


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