As the Adani shadow keeps growing Modi should avoid Manmohan's mistakes
The political-corporate nexus is taken for granted in Indian democracy. More so after the economic liberalisation, which gave birth to behemoth companies lobbying with governments to curry favour.
The issue became a barbed political tool to target the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) second stint in government. Opposition parties came together to allege policies were tailor-made to favour select corporate houses by the Manmohan Singh government. The 2G scam, the coal scam, and the KG Basin gas pricing issues were the highlights of the UPA government's fall from grace.
But now, the tables have turned and the the chief Opposition party then is in power now. What remains unchanged are allegations against the government and a few industrialists. Allegations that Gautam Adani-promoted Adani Group getting political favours from the incumbent government continue unabated in the fourth year of the Modi government.
The issue so far has not received much mileage from the mainstream Indian media. However, the latest campaign by the principal opposition party – the Congress – alleging that Modi government of shielding the Adani group in a Rs 50,0000 crore over-invoicing scam does not bode well for the government's image.
Even though the opposition is weak and has failed to capitalise on blunders like demonetisation, but in cricket and democracy, you are just one mistake away from losing the match and elections.
So far, what has worked in the favour of the Modi government is its ability to manage the mainstream media. There have been instances when news stories against the government have been removed from the websites of big media houses without providing a reason.
It shows the kind of hold the government has on the Indian media houses. The famous quote by BJP leader LK Advani that – “When asked to bend, the media crawled during Emergency” – is valid even 42 years after the passing of that unfortunate phase in the Indian democracy.
However, Modi must understand that unlike the American democracy, Indian political system depends more on public movements than media vigil. In fact, once a political idea gains strength – the Anna Hazare movement against the Congress was an example – the TRP and government advertisement-sensitive media are forced to change sides.
It would be naive to believe that people voted against the UPA government due to the 2G and the coal scam. The loss theories of Rs 1.86 lakh crore in the coal scam and Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the 2G scam were beyond a common man's comprehension. He would not be even able to count the number of zeros that these mathematically large figures entail.
What changed the game
But there was something that affected the lives of 1.25 billion people that forced them to believe in whatever was being alleged by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India and the opposition.
The declining growth in the economy, the below-expectation salary hikes for the middle class and the high inflation in the country made people conclude that their lives' problems were a result of those big numbers that were being discussed in the press conferences help by the BJP.
Modi came to power promising 'Acche din' for all. 'Acche din' meant new jobs, higher salaries, electricity for all, houses for all and 100 smart cities. He is not in a position to deliver even 10% of those stratospheric promises, despite having brought 2/3 of the Indian population under the rule of his party.
Sooner or later, people will begin to relate with words like 'Adani Tax' on power prices coined by Congress leader Ajay Makan in his press conference. That would be the time when Gautam Adani accompanying the PM on foreign tours would also be seen as problematic – not just by the opposition – but also by the poor man who Modi claims to be working for.
Unlike his predecessor, Modi is an orator, and has deftly cultivated an image of 'na khaunga na, khane doonga'. Once that image is falsified, the magic spell of Modi's rhetoric will also shatter.
For the Congress, the Adani group is fast becoming the key to bring down the invincible Modi. It is therefore important for Modi to come clean on all the investigations against Adani and dissociate himself, and the BJP, from the group.
For once the jobless Indians begin to hold Adani responsible for their misery, no amount of media management would be enough to change that perception.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen