Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rising stature in the country is not entirely because of his government’s performance or his grip over the political pulse of India. The biggest contributor to his increasing popularity is also the decreasing credibility of leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar.
According to political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, BJP’s claims of good performance may be inflated but with it is very unlikely that the claims would be challenged by a “credible Opposition” because of their “self-destructive pettiness and parochialism”. Talking about Kejriwal, Mehta says the AAP leader had emerged as a “genuinely new force”. “But instead, Kejriwal’s own conduct and public interventions seem to now reek of daily pettiness, where the line between a dignified CM and low troll seems to be vanishing,” he writes in the Indian Express.
Mehta points out that a political party signals its loss of direction when it starts claiming everything as “media conspiracy”. “AAP, despite the media rooting for it, has reached that point rather swiftly.”
Another leader, Nitish Kumar’s has undergone a “spectacular” fall. Despite being instrumental in changing the image of Bihar as the state’s CM in alliance with the BJP, his image has taken quite a beating. He is not only unable to find out next development model of Bihar, but also unable to stamp his authority in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Congress. Mehta says, “The scandalous release of Shahabuddin has cut Nitish’s authority and credibility to size.”
Nitish harbours the ambition of becoming the PM of India. For this, he needed to create a new buzz around his state. “Now it is the conventional buzz of Bihar that is making him look like a floundering leader,” writes Mehta.
Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, who has embarked on an “old-fashioned” campaigning in UP, has not yet evolved as a national leader. He has not been able to show that the Congres can overcome past mistakes and show “principled” leadership in moments of national crisis and take strong decisions.
Mehta says that all three leaders are “veering towards the left”. It would have been fine if they stood for promoting a participatory economy. Instead, their focus is more on public expenditure and “old instruments” of welfare. According to Mehta, it should be worrying for Modi’s competitors that no economic model has emerged from states like Bihar and Karnataka (ruled by Congress) or Delhi.
Even as electoral space is opening up in BJP-ruled states, the absence of a “national perspective” among Modi’s opponents is giving BJP a free run of this space. Amidst problems like Kashmir crisis, violent agitations in states like Haryana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, brewing caste-conflict in Maharashtra, crime and communalism in UP and violence in Kerala, India will need deeper political resources. Mehta says, “All it might get is an Opposition that seems not to want to rise to challenges; they are all making Modi look larger than he is.”