They say two crucial activities in India do not necessarily run on fundamentals but on emotions: the stock market and elections.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India may have administered over two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses, got aatmanirbhar or self-reliant by developing two globally admired vaccines, built enormous stretches of infrastructure, or freed women by banning instant triple talaq and amending the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, or extended tap water to millions of homes. But it would take something that connects much stronger emotionally with the electorate for him to get the kind of mandate that he seeks.
Even abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in Kashmir, a tectonic civilisational change, will be five years in the past to stir up raw cadre and voter enthusiasm.
The BJP’s formidable election machine under Modi usually operates like an onion. As crucial elections draw close, peels come off layers and layers of dramatic decisions and events, creating a calibrated impact. Before 2024, one can expect the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya to be opened, parts of India’s education syllabi to be rid of Left and colonial bias, and big foreign policy or internal security wins.
But perhaps we are already witnessing a very potent poll weapon being put in motion. The anti-corruption missile.
The CBI and ED have become extraordinarily active, and instead of the small-fish hunting of yesteryear, it is going about highly visible or effective middle- and top-rung political leadership. Satyendar Jain, the financial fulcrum of the AAP, is in custody. So is Sanjay Raut, the publicly hated rabble-rouser of the Shiv Sena. The TMC’s corruption and scandals are unfolding with the arrest of minister Partha Chatterjee and his girlfriend Arpita Mukherjee in an ugly but captivating television spectacle. The party’s heir apparent after Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira are quietly doing the rounds of CBI offices.
Modi’s arch rivals, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, are losing the dregs of their political capital by facing court appearances and ED interrogations and throwing a mighty, monarchy-size fuss about it. Other parties and other leaders are nervously waiting their turn.
The government seems to be putting the emphasis back on black money. It recently said in Parliament that it had raised a tax demand of Rs 14,820 crore after analysing 368 cases under the black money law dealing with clandestine overseas income. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in the Lok Sabha that on deposits made in unreported foreign HSBC accounts, undisclosed income of Rs 8,468 crore have been taxed and penalties of over Rs 1,294 crore levied. The minister said that 648 disclosures involving foreign assets worth Rs 4,164 crore were made in the three-month compliance window under the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015.
But black money continues to rile up India’s hardworking and struggling middle and lower economic classes. Because Modi may have brought big-ticket corruption down, but it definitely is not out.
During the UPA regime in 2011, India had ranked 95 in the Transparency International’s globally recognised Corruption Perceptions Index. Ten years later in 2021, India was at a slightly better 85th spot, along with Maldives and behind nations like China, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Mauritius and Cuba.
It is admirable but not very impressive, given the massive hope people have on Modi. There is a fair bit of bloodlust left in the public to see big names dragged to dust for corruption, for stealing the exchequer and citizenry of lakes of crores.
This thirst for a public justice over ill-gotten wealth could be a very strong election plank. It will win over the poor and the middle classes.
As a bonus, it helps break up parties which are held together solely by the glue of corruption, nepotism and opportunism instead of grassroots cadre work and deep ideological focus.
The old-world equation of the corrupt getting public sympathy for being hauled over embers does not hold. The new India is unsentimental about crooks, as long as they are sure that those punished are indeed crooks. It is willing to stand up and applaud the entire photogenic arc of the missile.
One suspects Modi has already fired it with the target set for 2024.