Has the Prime Minister developed a nostalgic desire to become a regional leader again? I ask the question seriously. There seems no other possible reason why he spends so much time during election season campaigning so zealously in provincial, and even municipal, elections. It was because of this passion for electioneering that he failed to notice the reprehensible mishandling of the Delta wave last year. He was too busy campaigning in West Bengal to notice. It was only when bodies started floating down the Ganga and long queues formed outside crematoriums, that he paid personal attention to grave mistakes made by his vaccination task force. It was because he took charge that a catastrophe was averted.
You would think that this grave error would have etched itself in his conscience, but this appears not to have happened. There are major political changes afoot in the world and as an elder statesman of the ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ we should be hearing Narendra Modi’s voice more often in international forums on matters of global importance. Whenever it has been heard like when he told Vladimir Putin that this was not an era for war, his advice was noticed and appreciated. But since that brief intervention, he has gone back to electioneering. In Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, he has campaigned as relentlessly as if his life depended on winning these states.
Gujarat is the state in which he spent more than two decades as chief minister, so to some extent it is understandable that he needs to ensure that the BJP wins yet another term. The recent tragedy in Morbi may also have alerted him to the sad truth that his ‘Gujarat Model’ is no longer seen as a shining star in the annals of governance. But if he were truly concerned about that utterly preventable disaster, would he not be ensuring that the boss of the company that caused the needless deaths of 135 people was quickly found?
If his need to campaign in Gujarat is understandable, his unrelenting campaign in Himachal is quite mystifying. Nor is it easy to understand why he has made the campaign entirely about himself. After telling voters that they should think of him and not the local candidate when they stamped their ballot-papers, he said something last week that reduced him from prime minister to regional satrap. He said, “I have had the good fortune of living amid you for many years. It is my lifelong duty to serve Himachal to repay your debt. BJP considers Himachal a land of faith, spirituality, and culture. That is the reason the BJP government has always believed in the service of this state.”
Good to know. But dear Prime Minister, have you no time at all to observe on your visits to Delhi that the capital of India has turned, as it usually does at this time of year, into a poisonous gas chamber? Frankly, I am sick of listening to BJP spokespersons use Delhi’s polluted air as a weapon against Arvind Kejriwal. It is true that he made a lot of foolish statements in years past, blaming the chief ministers of Haryana and Punjab for Delhi’s pollution. But do BJP ministers and spokespersons need to keep accusing the Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Punjab of allowing farmers to continue to burn stubble?
Air pollution is not just a Delhi problem it is a national health emergency in all our cities and towns and must be dealt with at the highest level. It is a real black mark against the Modi government that in eight years it has been able to do almost nothing to improve the filthy air we breathe. There has been a similar failure to clean sacred rivers like the Ganga and the Yamuna and again it could be because this is also being treated as a provincial matter and not one of urgent, national importance.
The Prime Minister spends so much time campaigning for regional elections that he has taken to allowing inexperienced subordinates to speak about serious national issues. This diminishes his dream of making India (via him) a Vishwaguru again. Instead of coming closer to realizing this dream we have moved further away from it in the past eight years because the Prime Minister has been so caught up campaigning for the BJP in every regional election. What is the point that he is seeking to make? Does he want to impress upon voters that it is only because of him that provincial elections are being won? Or does he want to prove that it is only because of him that the BJP has become what some call an electoral juggernaut?
If it is either of these two reasons that keep the Prime Minister in election mode permanently, then these reasons are doing him and the BJP more harm than good. In long years of covering elections, local, regional, and national, this is the first time that I have seen the country’s Prime Minister invest so much political capital on election campaigns that should be fought and won by provincial politicians. The Prime Minister would do well not to get so involved because some of the lesser leaders in his party conduct their campaigns in lesser ways making a lot of silly promises like a ‘Scooty’ for every college girl in Himachal. The Prime Minister’s stature is diminished by association with such promises.