An Indian journalist has written in the New York Times that the Rafale scandal could bring Narendra Modi down. There is little hope of that

by Sunil Sharan

As long as India faces existential threats from both China and Pakistan, and as long as India’s indigenous defence production lags behind (miserably), India will have to import arms in large numbers.

Faced with the ghost of Bofors, AK Antony tried to stymie arms imports, but even during his tenure there was the Agusta chopper scandal. The truth is that the politicians, the bureaucrats, the businessmen, and even the military brass are all in, tilling the arms bazaar. So there is bound to be the stench of corruption in if not all, but many arms import deals.

Modi’s tenure has seen serious gaffes like demonetisation and GST implementation. His schemes like Make in India have gone haywire. Unemployment and farmer distress are crippling the land. But Modi still has not lost the support of the Hindu moderates who migrated to him from the Congress.

Hindu moderates may be aghast at the mock killing of the Mahatma by Hindu hardliners. But they know that the hardliners can do little else, except threaten a minority or two from time to time. They cannot even try to build the Ram temple. Modi may be spurned by the minority community, but under his tenure India has not descended into a Pakistan or even a Bangladesh where minority voices are not even heard.

Modi is too conscious of his international image to be seen as palling with the Hindu hardliners. If he runs his campaign on arrogance, as if he has done wonders with demonetisation and GST, he will put off voters. But most agree that he is hard working. So if he goes on the campaign trail with humility and asks for one more chance, his Hindu moderate base might still stick to him.

The problem is that the Modi government is increasingly seen as the Modi-Shah-Ambani-Adani government. Modi has been unable to hire an effective right-wing economist a la Manmohan Singh to guide the economy. Modi and Shah don’t know how to run the economy and the other three people in his combine are businessmen, who have made some of their money through crony capitalism, and do not know much about building the sinews of a functioning economic infrastructure.

The greatest threat to Modi comes from Priyanka Gandhi. She is highly eloquent and will drill holes into him on demonetisation, GST, Rafale, unemployment and farmer distress. Modi will have to counter her himself; Shah is too inarticulate for that. That means, (a) Modi will be pinned down to Varanasi substantially, and (b) even if he goes elsewhere, he will still be countering Priyanka’s arguments.

2019 could well be reduced to a high-octane battle between Modi and Priyanka. Didn’t the Congress always maintain that Priyanka was its Brahmastra. Modi has not developed a second line of leadership that can take Priyanka on. But that also means that other leading lights of the Congress, including Rahul Gandhi, will have to give space to Priyanka to shine and not override her with their own bumbling commentary.

BJP leaders are being foolish in attacking Priyanka for her looks or her husband. If she has the looks, she has the looks and if she has the husband that she has, she has the husband that she has. As long as the husband can keep quiet, voters don’t care. Just as Rahul Gandhi & Co. are being amiss in blowing up Rafale into another Bofors. Modi’s Hindu moderates do not care much about Rafale.

It is not a plane that will bring Modi down. If it is something, it can only be the Congress’s Brahmastra.