Modi’s reluctance to share power: ‘Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it’


Apoorv Pathak


2014 saw the rise of a new superstar on the horizon of Indian politics. Narendra Modi made a nation desperate for hope, dream again.

Modi came to power with a massive mandate reflecting the high hopes people placed upon his shoulders. Everything about Modi -his hard work, political acumen, his stellar record of governance- gave people reason to expect Modi will unleash India’s untapped potential.

But 19 months down the line, that dream appears to be fading with economy still struggling, social tension on the rise and political acrimony at an all time high.

What explains this surprising inability of Modi to deliver on the high expectations people had from him? I would say that Modi’s own and his government’s inability to share power lies at the crux of his troubles. Here is how-

Over-centralisation of power in party and government

Modi’s penchant for being a hands-on Prime Minister has been taken too far. From appointing Private Secretaries of ministers, keeping watch on what they wear to even suspending IAS officers, Modi has kept too many tasks with himself.

Apart from his over reaching role in governance, Modi also takes it upon himself to be his party’s campaigner in chief and the De facto foreign minister of the government. This leads to delay in decision making, decisions being made without proper consultation and process and important decisions needing his consideration not getting the due attention.

This centralisation of power is a critical failure to share power with his ministers and party collegues. Being a mortal with only 24 hours in a day, he cannot do all the things by himself. He must start intelligently allocating work so that he can focus on the most pressing issues. Let him focus on what are his core duties than do what a secretary can easily do.

Quest for Monopoly of political space

Modi often proclaims his dream of a Congress mukt Bharat. He is equally eager to reduce to margins his other opponents, whether they are Arvind Kejriwal or Nitish Kumar. This obsessive quest for reducing rivals to size again is a manifestation of unwillingness to share power with your rivals. This tendency has led to a breakdown of government-opposition relationship.

Blaming the Congress’ inability to accept 2014 verdict is a lazy argument, which tells only half the story. By threatening existence of his rivals, Modi makes them resolved to bring him down at any cost.

If a person or entity is subjected to an existential threat, then its only concerns become its own survival even if it involves ignoring common interest. Same has happened with Modi’s political rivals, they have stopped cooperating with the government and committed to making it fail as they perceive Modi government is trying to finish them.

Modi must tone down his rhetoric against his opponents and focus more on governance than winning more and more states. Let his party leaders do the fighting in the election. This will also leave him with greater time for managing the nation.

Shutting up Media’s access to government

One of the major changes this government brought in, early in its rule, was to stop media from accessing their sources in government. Ministers also interacted very less with media and PM, a very outspoken person, has till date not held any open session with two-way interaction with the Indian media.

This shutting off media reflects another avenue where power (here in form of information) has not been shared.

This inevitably leads to rumours replacing information as by shutting supply of information you can’t end the demand for information. This also restricts the government’s ability to manage its won perceptions.

So if today, even if senior persons in government and party are talking about government failing to mange its image, it has itself to blame. The government can change this by being more interactive and open with media and sharing information with it.

Monopoly of right wing over Social cultural appointments

Another dimension where Modi has failed to share power widely is in Social Cultural and Educational appointments. The government has unwisely decided to shut these appointments to liberals and other sections of intellectuals. Instead, it has decided to stuff these positions with individuals loyal to its own ideology. On top of this, elements within government and party regularly take to battering the different shades of intellectuals, not aligned to party- the secularists,the liberals,the leftists,etc.

This has created widespread unrest, even hostility in the intellectual community. Thus a large section of intellectuals feel that the government considers them as enemy (even Ram Guha noted that this government was the most anti intellectuals in India’s history).

A government can ill-afford to have intellectual community peeved so early in the tenure. Howsoever much the government is tempted to dismiss intellectuals as irrelevant, they do play an important role in forming society’s opinion. Also, only cherry picking of aligned intellectuals reduces the talent pool significantly, especially when the pool of intellectuals with views aligned to ideology of BJP is rather limited.

Thus we have seen how on various fronts Modi has suffered and will suffer due to not sharing power.

Now, lets try to understand from political theory and history why Modi would be wise to share power.

Importance of Power Sharing

“Sharing power makes people invested in your success and not sharing power in your failure”. This phase captures an important benefit of sharing power, it makes people take ownership of your aims.

It is one of the best ways to secure people’s cooperation. It also ensures people identify with you as in they don’t feel alienated. Power sharing also provides you an access to wider talent base and reduces possibility of mistakes due to lack of wide inputs. For all these reasons, more power sharing is said to be the essence of democracy and quintessential attribute for a successful democratic ruler. Modi would be wise to realise this.

Lessons from History

History is replete with examples proving the virtues of power sharing. India’s own history provide two interesting examples- of Aurangzeb and Indira Gandhi- on how inability to share power can lay foundation for fall of the most mighty rulers.

Aurangzeb inherited a Mughal Empire ruling over vast swathes of India, with a cultural achievement which was envy of the world and an empire which most of the population was happily loyal to. But his failure to share power destroyed all what he had inherited and caused the beginning of ultimate demise of Mughal dynasty.

He isolated other religions by not sharing power with them and concentrating power in Islamic theologists. This sparked many revolts including Jats, Sikh and Rajputs. It also weakened people’s loyalty to Mughals. His quest for political dominance also saw him undertaking many resource exhausting southern campaigns, which left the empire bankrupt and weak and thus proved to be the undoing of Mughal rule.

A more recent example of pitfall of not sharing power is provided by Indira Gandhi. Till her ascendancy Congress was a party with widely shared powers with space for different ideologies. This allowed Congress to rule with stability for a long time. But Indira Gandhi centralised power with herself, made Congress decisively leftist with no space for counter position.

This led to a brief revival of Congress but laid foundation for ultimate demise by turning a vibrant diverse and living party into a dead one.

One hopes Modi would learn from history and resolve to share power wider than he has been willing to do till now. If he doesn’t do so, it is difficult to imagine how he would be more successful than what he’s been up until now. Unwillingness to share power led to many a mighty rulers’ fall. Why would Modi’s fate be any different? As they say, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”

For the good of nation and his own, Modi should thus not ignore this crucial lesson from the past.

Apoorv Pathak has studied at IIT Roorkee. The views expressed here are author’s own


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