Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s present plight reminds me of a simple arithmetical problem I had read in school: ‘There is a water tank filled up to its capacity (100 gallons). There is a hole at the bottom from which water is flowing out at the rate of 3 gallons an hour. Simultaneously, water is falling in the tank from a running tap at the rate of 2 gallons an hour. Calculate the time required to empty the tanker.’
When Modi was elected and formed the government when he was at the peak of his popularity. Since then he has been earning as well and losing his popularity. It is difficult to say whether the rate of losing the popularity is greater than the rate of earning it. His critics would say that notwithstanding all the loud claims being made by the Modi camp, he is losing his popularity at a very fast rate. The recent humiliating defeat of the BJP in the Delhi elections is cited as the best proof. After 4 rallies by him, the party could be in only 3 seats. At this rate, perhaps he should have addressed 48 rallies to gain simple majority.
On the other hand, his fans claim that notwithstanding all the hue and cry by his opponents, Modi remains the tallest leader in the country today. Perhaps, they are right but there is no denying the fact that his popularity has been declining.
Much of the erosion in his popularity is due to his own doings. Just consider three developments. He has been assuring all Indians, irrespective of their religious belief, of equality of opportunity. However, his detractors do not miss any opportunity to point out that he has not been categorical and forthright in assuring Muslims that would have earned him their goodwill.
The criticism and ridicule he invited by wearing a costly suit in public was unnecessary. Even if someone had given him a gift out of personal love and respect, he should have remembered that the people respected him for his simplicity and not for his costly attire
The latest erosion of his popularity is due to mishandling of the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill. Privately, even its detractors agree that some of the amendment sought to be made in the 2014 Act are very much desired. For example, compensation to be paid to the farmers is proposed to be 4 times as against 2.2 times in the existing law. This is what the Maharashtra’s Congress Chief Minister had suggested in August 2014. Another wrong impression created is that by doing away with social impact assessment, the NDA government is doing a great disservice while the fact is that exceptions are to be made only for the projects of national importance. Most of the state governments including the Congress governments had earlier expressed apprehension that the lengthy process of obtaining consent of 70% of land losers would make land acquisition almost impossible landing. Now the same non-NDA leaders are criticising the bill.
Modi wants to give the impression that he is not a weak leader to succumb to pressure. He has asked party MPs to go to the people to explain the good provisions of the bill. At the same time, he is trying to control the damage by sending messages that all suggestions are welcome. A little tact could have muted, if not completely silenced, his critics, from Congress to Anna Hazare. He should have done just a few things: (a) got a discussion paper prepared highlighting the shortcomings of the Land Acquisition Act, 1884 and Land Acquisition Act of 2014, suggestions received from various quarters including the Congress governments in the States and measures proposed to remove the shortcomings and hurdles; (b) included provision in the amendment bill that whenever land was to be acquired, the first effort would be to acquire barren land failing which less fertile land would be acquired and fertile would be acquired only when there was absolutely no option; and (c) invited comments/suggestions before rushing to the Parliament. He should have also got a compilation of laws and practices in other democratic countries.
The country has got a capable leader after a long time. It would be misfortune of the country if the slide in his popularity is not checked.