Originally Published 2019-08-05 06:48:56 Published on Aug 05, 2019
PM Modi’s first term was about expanding political power. This term is about instituting governance.
Modi 2.0: From conquest to consolidation

About 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greeks unleashed history’s first wave of globalisation. Led by Alexander the Great, they established supremacy over a vast territory across three continents. By chance, rather than design, this project had two stages.

The first saw Alexander conquering nation after nation, from north Africa to central Asia. He was a relentless, ceaseless battle commander, not resting and rarely, if ever, coming back to a place he had left. The second stage came after Alexander’s sudden death. It gave rise to smaller but still sizeable empires that consolidated Alexander’s gains. It was left to Ptolemy in Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in Bactria-West Asia, and the Mauryas in the Indian subcontinent – in a sense also a successor state to Alexander – to busy themselves in humdrum governance, lasting institutions and start-up civilisations.

The “Alexander dilemma” throws up a tantalising question. It tests generals; even businesspersons. At which stage do you switch from accumulation to using your surplus to create a new identity for that which has been accumulated, be it territory or capital?

It is tempting to see contemporary politics through a similar prism. It tells us why the BJP-led government that took office on May 30, 2019, is not simply a continuation of its predecessor, but is, and has, to be qualitatively different. Already a nuanced shift has revealed itself in the party-government dynamic. In 2014-19, what India saw, assessed and rewarded was a government of the party. In the coming five years, the key to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s continued success will be to convert itself into the party of government.

This is not to suggest that there was lack of attention to governance in the preceding five years, or that the party will be ignored in the current term — that is not at all the case. Nevertheless the first phase of a political project inaugurated in 2014 is now over and the second phase is upon us. This phase will require Narendra Modi to be Ptolemy or Chandragupta Maurya, as it were, to his own Alexander. There is acknowledgment of this at the very top of the government, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Internally and externally, the metric for 2024 will be different from the metric of 2019.

The five years after 2014 were devoted to political domination. They repositioned the BJP as the primary all-India party, with a blockbuster election machine. At times, however, the government paid a price. Day-to-day administration was interrupted by frequent elections. The prime minister had to balance the sobriety and outreach of governance with aggressive campaigning in state after state.

This made it difficult to effect even tactical compromises with parties that had critical votes in the Rajya Sabha, but were rivals in state elections. Crucial Bills suffered. Haryana and Maharashtra, within six months of coming to office; Bihar, a year later; Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, roughly mid-term; Bengal, Assam and Tripura as new frontiers — through many victories and some defeats, it was non-stop permanent revolution.

This process required immediate deployment of political capital that the Union government had earned, as well as significant investment of prime ministerial resources. While the first Modi government achieved a lot — from housing for the poor to energy access, from Swachh Bharat to Ayushman Bharat — it would have achieved more if the party had not simultaneously been in a stage of rapid and unprecedented expansion. This is not a complaint; it is simply a statement of fact.

This commentary originally appeared in Hindustan Times.

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Rishabh Kandpal

Rishabh Kandpal

Rishabh Kandpal Student Masters in Public Policy National Law School of India University

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