Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Wake-Up Call

Setback in local New Delhi election hopefully will help Modi go beyond catchy one-liners
February 26, 2015 Updated: February 26, 2015

The huge success of the Aam Admi Party (AAP)—the “Common Man’s Party”—in the local New Delhi election of Feb. 10, capturing 67 of the 70 seats, may not have any direct impact on the overall government mandate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was elected with an impressive absolute majority about nine months back to form the central government in New Delhi.

However, the AAP’s win has dented Prime Minister Modi’s image of invincibility. He had personally campaigned for his party in the Delhi election, and hoped to achieve another election victory.

The New Delhi election result will also, invariably, re-energize the politically battered opposition and strengthen the common man’s struggle against the rampant corruption not only in New Delhi but also throughout the country. Other issues on which this election was contested included water supply, energy, law and order, and others.

Strategically speaking, the AAP could successfully flesh out corruption as the single-most important issue that has been close to the heart of the average Delhiite and, indeed, Indian.

The daily business of Roti, Kapada, aur Makan (food, clothing, and housing) is the millstone which the average Indian has been carrying with him for the 67 years since the country was given independence from British colonial rule; he is still not able to breathe freely in India’s bureaucratically constricting environment. Indeed, the ubiquitous bureaucracy has snaked into the average Indian’s life, regimenting his day-to-day living and sometimes even coming in the way of him gaining personal growth and development.

Life in India is more than the usual rat race. It can be a pitched battle for survival and one can only admire the average Indian’s resilience and social innovativeness to not only get things done but also, in many cases, even beat the system. Yet, one might ask if things could not be made simpler by dismantling the humongous bureaucracy that is a big obstacle in the way of India’s development and its aspiration to not only match but even surpass the economic success of China.

Modi Put On Notice

The New Delhi election fiasco has made the BJP sit up, making it aware that the goodwill which Modi enjoyed—and still continues to enjoy—can easily run out if the government does not perform and demonstrate that its pre-election promises were not just hollow rhetoric. Indeed, it needs to work fast to retain the still-existing public support for Modi and the party.

Both Modi and the BJP were given a strong mandate to govern India because they promised, among other things, to make life easier for the average Indian and dismantle the bureaucratic and other structures created by the previous Congress Party government that was steering the country toward institutionalized corruption by tolerating and even fostering it through a culture of sycophancy and nepotism. Modi will have to ponder why his streak of electoral success—the New Delhi election was, in fact, his first major defeat since he ventured into national politics after having been a successful chief minister in his home state of Gujarat—ended in New Delhi.

However, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to know the urgent priorities of the majority of Indians—rampant corruption, little or no medical care, pollution, and environmental destruction, rising prices of basic daily needs of the people, lopsided economic growth, which hardly benefits the average Indian, law and order problems, and more. The BJP, known as a party that supports traders and big business, cannot orient itself just to this constituency, and must ensure that the poor are not ignored, working towards all-inclusive economic development.

Modi is a charismatic, proactive leader who feels and understands the pulse of the nation. The New Delhi setback will, hopefully, shake off the complacency that can grip the leader and the ruling party after a series of victories, producing a “nothing-can-happen-to-us” kind of a comfort zone; complacency can easily become a recipe for more setbacks.

The BJP and Modi need to listen to the people and act, rather than make tall claims and formulate catchy phrases that lack substance. The one-liners that Modi is fond of coining are catchy phrases but they will have a hollow ring if they are not impregnated with substance and action.

The people of India elected the BJP and Modi to replicate the “Gujarat miracle” at the national level. The people cannot wait endlessly for things to change for the better. The much-touted Modiphoria is still there but the people are also gradually becoming impatient. The New Delhi election fiasco should serve as a wake-up call for the BJP and also for Modi.

Manik Mehta is a New York/New Jersey-based journalist who has been covering global economics, business, and social-cultural issues for more than 20 years.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.