Senior BJP leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s devastating critique of the Modi government’s handling of the economy is turning out to be one of the most widely shared articles on social media.
The article, published in a leading English daily over a week ago, has been shared 96,900 times already on Facebook. And the number is rising everyday. Those familiar with social media say this is a phenomenal figure for an opinion piece. Usually news stories get this kind of feedback on social media. Obviously, Sinha’s article has struck a chord and continues to resonate more than a week after it appeared.
That the article hit where it hurts is evident not just from the reactions of BJP leaders, particularly his successor in the finance ministry Arun Jaitley, but also from the sharp words of caution from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in his annual Dussehra address.
Bhagwat dressed it all up with nice words of praise for the government’s economic policies. He defended demonetisation and praised GST. But he also criticised the government’s economic advisors, particularly NITI Aayog, asking them to shed their “economic isms”.
It was a direct hit at the new appointees in NITI Aayog and the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. NITI Aayog recently got a new head, Rajiv Kumar. The PMEAC was reconstituted just last week under a chairman who also doubles up as Member NITI Aayog, Bibek Debroy. This is the first time that the RSS chief has targeted Modi’s appointees. And it brings back memories of the vicious attacks that the RSS under its late chief K Sudershan used to make on the Vajpayee government’s economic policies and advisors. Bhagwat raised the swadeshi banner in his speech. While he has done this earlier, coupling swadeshi with criticism of advisors known for advocating neoliberal economic policies signals a new level of friction.
It is clear that the RSS is worried about the economic slowdown and its impact on its core base of small traders, small businesses and small farmers. And Bhagwat made no bones about this concern when he urged the government to keep the interests of these sections in mind and invite feedback from the ground.
If the economy does not show signs of improving in the next quarter, or if Modi does not accommodate the concerns raised by Bhagwat, will the RSS sharpen its criticism?
Son vs father
Pitting son against father has turned the debate on the state of the economy ugly and personal. Finance minister Arun Jaitley was in desperate damage control mode from early in the morning after the publication of Yashwant Sinha’s hard-hitting article criticising the Modi government’s handling of the economy. And he turned to none other than Sinha’s son and civil aviation minister Jayant to help him out. It seems Jayant was summoned by Jaitley to pen a reply to the article.
Time was short because the government wanted Jayant’s defence to be published the very next day. A source in the government said that they fished out an article Jayant had written some weeks ago and decided to rework it as a response to the elder Sinha’s criticism. Jayant’s earlier article was part of a new series the government has started to publicise its achievements. Senior ministers like Nitin Gadkari and J P Nadda have also contributed to this project.
These articles are circulated on government websites and Modi’s App. Jayant spent the better part of the morning tweaking his original article to address some of the points his father had raised. Jaitley put the finishing touches.
The source pointed out that when the article was published on the edit page of a leading English daily, it carried the same title as the original one: A New Economy for New India. The original went unnoticed. But the updated one has gone viral and is now rivaling Yashwant Sinha’s hard hitting piece for attention on social media.
Yogi loses sheen
UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has lost some of his sheen, even within the BJP. This is evident from the lukewarm reception he received at the recent National Executive meet of the BJP. Just a few months ago, when the National Executive met in Bhubaneshwar, Yogi was the toast of the party. He had just been appointed UP CM and as the handpicked nominee of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, he was even being talked of as a possible successor to Modi in the future.
But six months of spiraling crime and the recent encephalitis deaths on his home turf of Gorakhpur have lowered Yogi’s stock. This was the buzz at the National Executive meet. Yogi’s poor administrative abilities and his mismanagement of law and order in UP were the main topics of conversation among members of the National Executive. The conversations from UP were of gloom and doom as they predicted a poor showing in the state in 2019 if Yogi is allowed to continue.
The BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and managed to cross the majority mark because of the bumper harvest from UP. Members recalled that at Bhubaneswar, Yogi hoardings dominated the venue of the meet and were as prominent as those of Modi and Shah. And when he arrived at the conference hall, he was given a standing ovation. This time, he entered just like any other chief minister and kept a low profile.
Modi for Gujarat
As the battle for Gujarat heats up, Narendra Modi is expected to put in even more effort to win his home state than he did to sweep UP. He has already done two roadshows, one in Rajkot and another in Surat. BJP sources say at least three more are lined up for him in the next few weeks.
The next one will be through Bhavnagar in Saurashtra where the BJP is the weakest because of rural distress. According to party circles, Modi’s roadshows will be so extensive that by polling day, he will have crisscrossed all 26 districts of the state.