Adani, Rafale, Pegasus and the question of what worries the Indian voter


Representative image. Voters line up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the second phase of the Diyara Assembly elections in Danapur on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Photo: PTI/File

Last week, a congressional spokesperson asked me if the adani question the ordinary voter wouldn’t care.

It was clear that he doubted how the campaign against Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would play out politically and electorally.

Will it affect Modi’s popularity?

Some sections of the Congress Party may be asking this question, especially after Rahul Gandhi upped the ante dramatically with his captivating Lok Sabha speech on the unique relationship between Gautam Adani and PM Modi. Much of the speech has been redacted, showing that the issue worries to Modi. But Modi has also repeatedly demonstrated his ability to emerge politically unscathed, prompting doubts in the opposition.

On an earlier occasion, sections of Congress had expressed similar doubts when Rahul Gandhi had campaigned relentlessly against Modi’s handling of the Rafale deal. Even then, some opposition leaders considered Modi to be considered personally incorruptible, so simply attacking him with accusations of corruption would do no good. The same logic was used when the Pegasus affair broke out in Parliament and almost an entire session was adjourned. How will the Pegasus issue affect voters in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Rajasthan?

It was clear that he doubted how the campaign against Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would play out politically and electorally.

So the bigger question is this: should the opposition choose political campaign issues based solely on how they would resonate electorally and how much they would affect Modi’s image? If this is the dominant consideration for doing opposition politics, then it would be severely self-limiting, and even counterproductive.

Politics cannot function on such a narrow and instrumental basis.

It is true that Modi has a certain Teflon quality to it, something they also used to say about Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Many corruption rackets in Vajpayee’s day didn’t stick to him personally. But that did not deter the opposition from campaigning on those issues. Of course, the Vajpayee government was less centralized, which helped the Prime Minister’s Office deflect blame onto coalition partners. Pramod Mahajan was then believed to be the main fundraiser for the party and it was Vajpayee’s policy to keep some distance from such activities.

How can India be self-sufficient in pulses?

But nothing is static in politics. Vajpayee lost power despite retaining much of his aura of personal incorruptibility. So the opposition would do well not to be intimidated by what appears to be Modi’s impenetrable Teflon image. More importantly, the dharma of the opposition is to campaign around the issues without always weighing the outcome in terms of electoral dividends. In politics, results do not usually accumulate linearly. Many things accumulate in the deep consciousness of the electorate before manifesting itself suddenly.

Modi Adani 1
Narendra Modi and Gautam Adani at Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Photo: Twitter/Files

So all the issues that deserve an intense campaign must be addressed, regardless of the immediate electoral benefits. Rafale was a big problem because it was clear that all the established procedures for defense procurement, sanctified by the cabinet and the President of India, had collapsed overnight. Corruption is not just about taking bribes. It is also about how established institutions are deliberately weakened and destroyed.

sections of Congress expressed similar doubts when Rahul Gandhi had campaigned relentlessly against Modi’s handling of the Rafale deal

As for Modi’s policy of actively contributing to the expansion of big business, the question is not whether he has personally benefited from his close ties to them. It is more about how that nexus with big business affects democracy and key democratic institutions.

The opposition must properly qualify their message by suggesting that you don’t have to be personally financially corrupt to perpetuate yourself in power by hoarding more than 85% of all big business funding for one party. People who vote and care about Indian democracy will come to understand this logic. Therefore, it is not a question of whether a leader accumulates personal wealth or not.

It seems clear that the campaign around Modi’s nexus with big business has to be directly related to the opaque way in which election bonds finance Indian politics. Hopefully, at some point, the voter clearly understands what is at stake. It would make no sense for the opposition to sit around speculating on how quickly the voter might respond to these types of campaigns. The opposition must do the right thing. As simple as that.

Article republished from The Wire as part of an agreement between both parties to share content. Link to the original article:

MK Venu is founding editor of The Wire. As an active economic and political writer, he has held leadership roles in newspapers such as The Economic Times, The Financial Express and The Hindu. He has written extensively on economic policy issues for more than a quarter of a century after India opened its economy in 1991. He regularly wrote political economy columns on the editorial pages of The Economic Times, Financial Express and Indian Express during the two last decades. He also hosted a regular debate on political economy called “State of the Economy” on the national public channel RSTV. He has also been invited by parliamentary committees to give his opinion on public policy issues.

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