Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his reply to the President’s address to launch a fiery attack on Congress in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, continuing in a similar vein in the Rajya Sabha. While he did emphasise his government’s commitment to give such things as good education, housing and infrastructure, much of what he said dwelt on what-ifs of history and record of Congress administrations previous his own. To observers his speeches not only set the tone for many forthcoming elections this year – including in the northeast this month and potentially even Lok Sabha elections – but also indicated what BJP’s poll pitch might be.
The PM may well be right in his argument that India would have been better off today if different administrations, perhaps owing more to Sardar Patel’s ideas, had been in charge earlier. But what is past is past. India is a predominantly young and aspiring country. Millennials as well as the aspirational set would be more interested in the present and future than in a reckoning with history.
Modi had once argued – when in the opposition – that the country should give a BJP-led government 60 months after Congress’s 60 years, to see what BJP can deliver. Forty four of those 60 months are already up; moreover, BJP and its allies presently control 21 states. It may help BJP better to keep its primary poll pitch a positive and hopeful one, rather than one dominated by negative messaging on Congress which is, by BJP’s own estimate, a has-been.
On its part, Congress did well by keeping its head down and not getting overly embroiled in legacy problems where they may be on a weaker wicket, pointing up instead discrepancies between BJP’s promises and delivery. BJP claims its schemes are transformative, but Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad has riposted they are not so much “game changers” as “name changers”. The PM demonstrated his customary virtuosity with words by describing his government as “aim changers”, but the point will have been scored. Indeed, by having to celebrate self-employment and the virtues of selling pakodas on the street, BJP has indirectly admitted the seriousness of the jobs crisis; also attested to by almost every social group demanding reservations. But politics is a fluid and dynamic field, and ultimately the Indian people will decide the claims of all parties when they cast their ballot.