It is not unusual for politicians to suffer electoral setbacks. Sometimes they are able to bounce back and regain their political poise. For their political recovery, they probably have to figure out why they lost ground in the first place and how they might recover this lost ground by deploying appropriate strategies. They fire their political advisers for providing bad advice and bring in new set of advisers. They modify their political rhetoric. They seek to bury issues that highlight their political vulnerabilities and focus on the ones that shine light on their strengths.
Think of Indira Gandhi in the post 1977 situation. The 1977 Lok Sabha elections were a watershed in Indian politics. For the first time since 1947, the Congress Party lost power at the Center. Congress could not win a single seat in North India and fared poorly in the West and the East. Its tally was 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), of which 92 were in the South. Indira Gandhi lost her seat in Rae Bareli and Sanjay Gandhi in Amethi.
The Janata Party came to power at the Center. It set up the Shah Commission to investigate the excesses committed during Emergency (1975-1977). It seemed Congress and Indira Gandhi will be in the political wilderness for a while.
Not quite. Indira Gandhi was a shrewd politicians. She scripted her comeback carefully. In 1977, there was the shameful massacre of Harijans in Belchi (Bihar) allegedly by the upper castes. I vividly remember reading in the newspapers how Indiraji visited Belchi riding on an elephant, her head covered by her white saree, and looking very grief stricken. She projected herself as a politician who connected with the masses, and cared for them. She wanted to bury the image of the dictator who imposed Emergency in 1975. She understood her image problems and sought to cast herself in an entirely new light.
Belchi probably gave her the political break she wanted. In 1978, she won the by-election from Chikamaglur, defeating Veerandra Patil by a solid margin. Rest is history. In 1981, she was voted back to power at the Center.
Compare this with PM Modi’s political strategy after the 2015 Delhi elections. Did he or the BJP learn anything? Do they realize that the AAP outmaneuvered them for the “aam admi” branding? Has the PM tried to downplay issues which made him come across as a privileged, arrogant individual, and not the chaiwallah of the 2014 Lok Sahba elections? I do not see much evidence in this regard.
My sense is that PM Modi is floundering. He is making politically unwise choices. This makes me wonder whether the PM has lost his political touch. Let me focus on the saga of the pinstripe suit.
This self-inflicted political disaster is getting worse by the day. One would have thought that the PM will understand the message of the 2015 Delhi elections and seek to reclaim his chaiwallah branding. Yes, Rahul Gandhi kept reminding people about the monogrammed suit costing Rs. 10 Lakhs. Yet, the suit controversy seemed to be receding. But the PM’s cover-up action has brought it back into the limelight.
Enter Mr. Rameshkumar Bhikabhai who claims that he presented this monogrammed suit to the PM. He further claims that the PM promised to wear this suit on January 26, the day of his son’s marriage. Of course, this coincided with the visit of President Obama.
Let me see if I got this right. The President the United States is visiting India, a very important diplomatic event by any standard. The world is closely watching every action and move of both Obama and Modi. And our magnanimous PM decides to wear a monogrammed suit to please his political supporter without thinking what sort of a message this might convey. If true, this is political incompetence. If not, this is dangerous narcissism.
BTW, I hope the PM has made sure that Rameshkumar Bhikabhai, the gentleman who allegedly presented the suit, actually has a son, and the son indeed got married on January 26. If not, the PM would have dug himself deeper into his monogrammed hole.
This PM wants to bring probity to public life. Great idea, much needed, welcome it. There were stories about his honesty and how he keeps his Cabinet ministers on a tight leash. There was the story of how the PM gave a dressing down to the son of powerful minster (in the presence of the minister, of course) for allegedly asking for bribes to facilitate the transfer of some officials. Or, how the PM calls ministers when they are boarding airplanes and reprimands them for wearing inappropriate clothes. The message is: the PM is very smart, he knows all and watches all, and will do most unconventional things to bring honesty to public life. Great stories and solid PR. Full marks to the PM!
But I do have a question. Does the PM respect the ethical standards he preaches? Specifically, do ministers break laws when they accept expensive (undeclared) gifts? The Home Ministry has a code of conduct for ministers on this subject: “A minister should not accept valuable gifts except from close relatives, and he or members of his family should not accept any gifts at all from any person with whom he may have official dealings,” ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Did-PM-Narendra-Modi-violate-code-of-conduct-by-accepting-suit/articleshow/46293691.cms). Apparently, ministers are not supposed to accept gifts worth more than 5,000 rupees.
So, why was this gift accepted in the first place? Who will be held accountable?
But it does not stop here. The cover-up has become even more ridiculous and is imposing real political costs on the PM. The suit which was initially valued at about $25,000 was sold at an auction for $694,000! The Rs. 10 lakh suit (that Rahul Gandhi talked about) was eventually valued at Rs. 4.31 crores. This perhaps another instance where RG got it quite wrong — but this is a conversation for another day.
This clumsy cover-up has ensured that the monogrammed pinestriped suit will remain in public memory for a long time. This is a serious political misstep that has undermined the carefully cultivated image of the PM as a chaiwallah.
How could such an intelligent individual as the PM make such a fundamental mistake? Clearly, he is losing his political touch. While his narcissism got him into trouble in the first place, his clumsy cover-up has focused on the negative aspects of his personality.
I hope he understands the political consequences of his actions. monogrammed or not.