A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Step

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For us, this isn’t a time to celebrate our anniversary, but to learn from our mistakes

Some days ago I called on an old friend now a minister in the Central government. Our meeting reflected our genuine liking for each other; the Darjeeling tea served in his office was top quality (no-sugar-no-milk) and the biscuits were his favourite topped with crystals of white sugar. Outside his room sat a secretary from the department, clearly an indication that our meeting should be a short one.

My minister friend started the conversation with a complaint: “Parliamentarian is a very good magazine but you have set its tone to one that is anti-Modi, anti-Jaitley and anti-Shah,” adding, “Is this your agenda, or a way of making someone else happy?”

I clarified telling him that “We don’t criticize people, but policies. And if there is something positive that is taking place, we don’t shy away from praising it either.”

But what I said fell on deaf ears and I have noticed this before, when somebody is in a position of power, there is a distinct impatience with or dislike of criticism. I would not like to call it intolerance although one cannot rule that out. My minister friend said that most of the senior journalists and columnists writing for this magazine are regarded as being anti-Modi in their outlook.

I was flabbergasted. Evidently, the ruler and his followers had made up their minds and there was no arguing with that.With a heavy heart I got up to leave, feeling much like somebody who had been tested and found wanting in his friendship. I told him: “Your ministry is doing very good work; it is being praised by one and all. We too spoke in the same vein, and published an interview by you. The rating of your ministry was a good one.”

“How does that make any difference?, he retorted. “ You write good things about me but fling abuse at my masters – this will only result in me losing my job.”

I looked at my friend’s face carefully. If I was upset so was he. His face was clouded, reflecting his concern, perhaps some anger, certainly impatience. Was this a mirror to the Modi government? And then suddenly it hit me, the mirror was pointed at me, it was reflecting what I felt and said, what I did. Those behind the mirror, call them the masters, are probably too scared to turn the mirror towards their own faces. It would only reflect the masks they themselves were wearing.

Why am I recounting all this? It is to share with you our readers, our experience as we mark the first anniversary of Parliamentarian magazine. Yes, we launched exactly one year ago and the last one year has been a struggle, of hope slipping through clenched fists, of dreams dashed yet we recover and move on.

In the last year, we have reflected only the truth, but that is never easy for others to accept. Power has sharp eyes but weak ears. It works with its brain, but takes every little thing to deeply to heart. Its arms may be powerful, but its soul is weak. So the way forward for Parliamentarian won’t be easy. Looking back, while giving shape to Parliamentarian, the consensus was on coming out with a magazine with a difference, one would that reflect the “legislative point of view”, the pulls and pressures in Parliament and the forces outside; parliamentary committees and what they did or not do and naturally, the people and politics behind the protests, the bills and the Acts.

We were full of enthusiasm and though resources were (and are) limited, we tried to give shape to our thoughts at a time when big winds of change were sweeping through the nation. It gave us a great view of the promises made, of great intentions and even greater dreams, and of course Narendra Damodar Modi was in the driver’s seat for India.

Those in the Opposition called him everything from “fenku” to “jumlebaaz” (one who resorts to rhetoric). But Modi was a one-man army who shook the very foundations of power enjoyed by the Congress party for several decades. He formed his government the way he wanted to, his “Mann ki baat” was his way of telling people of his ideas and priorities. Along the way he sidelined into the Margadarshak Mandal, all those in the party at odds with him.

But the people of India accepted his policy of “going solo”. His every initiative was praised to the skies, including and especially the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. But when the speed of delivery didn’t improve even after 18-19 months of patient waiting, when the cost of living became dearer and dearer, and the mood became despondent and in some cases vicious, people all over the country started reacting too.

The recent election results from Bihar bear testimony to this fact. His big words may have reverberated in Madison Square Garden, but he was not listening to his own conscience. Despite 32 marathon rallies and campaigns in Bihar, the BJP managed to get only 53 seats 38 less than what the party had got in the 2010 elections. In a way, it wasn’t just the BJP or the NDA that lost in Bihar, it is that Modi has lost the power of being The One.

Thankfully, Modi’s demeanour has seen a distinct change in Parliament. He is reaching out, eager to shake hands with even those who oppose him, he is showing interest in interacting with the party’s MPs. The lesson is evident: Modi will have to go well beyond “Mann ki baat”, he will have to go the extra mile in winning hearts and minds in India rather than in various parts of the world. He will have to make significant political changes, politics isn’t just about straightening the Opposition, it is also about engaging with them, about dialogue and compromise.

He also needs to engage with the NDA’s coalition partners, and spend more time talking to his party MPs who can give him considerable insight into how politics is playing out on the floor of Parliament.

On governance and the economy, there’s been much talk but less action.

It wasn’t just the BJP or the NDA that lost in Bihar, it is that Modi has lost the power of being The One. It is time for Modi to build a new team, and put his faith in teamwork. Party veterans and seniors should have a say and they should be respected

Foreign investment has fallen far short of expectations. Exports aren’t going up either and in fact, compared to last September exports dropped by 24.3 per cent in the same period this year. The rural economy has never seen such grim times even though the agriculture sector contributes 15 per cent of India’s $3 trillion economy. India is probably the only country in the world where the sustenance of 1.25 billion is directly linked to agriculture.

It is time for Modi to build a new team, and put his faith in teamwork. Party veterans and seniors should have a say and they should be respected. The new distance between the Sangh and the BJP should be set yet again. The party should also get a president who listens to what the party workers have to say. If Modi is indeed willing to change, some of the often negative perceptions about him will also change.

A word for my minister friend. Parliamentarian will always keep the country’s interests above all else, and will do so without fear or partiality, without attachment or ill-will. Modi had taken his oath during his swearing in last year, and we are implementing it in our work without worrying about the cost we might have to pay.

Many thanks to our readers, writers and advertisers, who have put their faith and confidence in Parliamentarian. The journey of the last one year has not been easy, nor do we believe it will be easy going in the coming year. Whatever the challenges ahead Parliamentarian will emerge a better magazine.

Power has sharp eyes but weak ears. It works with its brain, but takes every little thing to deeply to heart. Its arms may be powerful, but its soul is weak

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