NYT column on an Indian Prime Minister

I curated slightly, an NYT column on an Indian PM. The result is here, below. The fact that it rings so true – I dont know if it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country, history repeating itself, or just NYT’s slant in its coverage of India.


A flurry of personnel shifts, statements and actions by Prime Minister Modi, including some related to India’s latest confrontation with Pakistan, have prompted unusually strong criticism of his performance.

For the first time, questions are being raised in normally friendly quarters about Mr. Modi’s credibility and competence, even in the national security area.

This week the magazine India Today, usually supportive of Mr. Modi, assailed what it termed his ”irritability, petulance, smart-aleck responses in serious situations and seeming callowness in assessing complex problems.”

The criticism has focused especially on the dismissal of the Foreign Secretary, who learned of the action from Mr. Modi’s casual comment at a news conference last month. The action stunned, baffled and angered supporters of India’s highest ranking career diplomat.

Civil servants uniformly attacked the move, raising doubts about the bureaucracy’s willingness to cooperate with his policies. In an extraordinary slap, the Indian Foreign Service Association charged that it ”undermined the morale of the entire service.”

(He) was said to have irritated the Prime Minister by being overly talkative in public. But Mr. Modi’s ending a distinguished career with an icy remark that there would soon be ”a new secretary” was seen as callous.

Abrupt Transfer Questioned

Questions have also been raised about the Prime Minister’s abrupt transfer of (the) architect of India’s economic liberalization program, from the job of Finance Minister to that of Defense Minister.

(His) transfer was defended as necessary amid the war jitters arising from the recent buildup of Indian and Pakistani troops on their border. A partial pullback of troops was agreed upon Wednesday.

But most news commentary suggested the Prime Minister gave in to pressure over the Finance Ministry’s well-publicized crackdown on tax evaders. To many, Mr. Modi also seemed to be pushing a potential political rival out of the way.

Unfriendly critics suggested further that Mr. Modi might have exaggerated the Pakistan threat as a pretext for the transfer, or even to get votes in state elections due next month.

”I am disturbed,” an opposition member in Parliament, said. ”If you have a military situation like this, and the response is cynical questioning, it reflects a loss of credibility.”

Conciliatory Toward Dissidents

Despite these problems, Mr. Modi has many political assets. No one has emerged who can challenge him inside or outside his party, and parliamentary elections are not due until (2019).

He also can still claim credit for his conciliatory approach toward dissidents. He now has a firm alliance with the Chief Minister of the Moslem-dominated state of Kashmir…

Mr. Modi has also reached out to ethnic Gurkhas pushing for an independent state in the east, getting them to suspend their violent agitation for two months.

At his news conference, the Prime Minister was asked about charges that he yields easily to pressure. ”What government does not submit to pressure?” he replied testily. But he added, ”We do not get pushed around.”

”It is very easy to take confrontation on every issue,” he continued. ”It is also politically very popular. But the fact is, that is divisive for the nation. What we have to do is give confidence in every section of our society that their problems can be solved within the Constitution.”

Defending his record generally, Mr. Modi pointed out that the economy is growing and prices are under control. His aides note that he draws huge friendly crowds the minute he leaves the squabbling of the capital. Honeymoon Has Ended

But by his own admission, Mr. Modi’s ”honeymoon” ended more than a year ago, and aides see the recent criticism as more personal than before, as if people have lost their infatuation, if not their hopes for the future.

Once Mr. Modi was universally praised for bringing an outsider’s approach to his job, tangling with bureaucrats and politicians and giving the system a shake.

Now the criticism is that he is high-handed, petulant and unable to delegate authority. He has shuffled his Cabinet nine times in two years, and word has spread of Mr. Modi’s repeatedly dressing down subordinates in front of others…

…The episodes seem a symbol of his frustration over the seeming intractability of India’s problems, but even his friends are urging him to expand his circle of advisers and show more patience and consistency.

”It is a moment of grave danger,” wrote Arun Shourie, a columnist close to Mr. Modi. ”Among the people, the earlier enthusiasm that he will usher reform has given way to an apprehension that at this rate he will not be able to hold things together.”


The column is here – http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/08/world/gandhi-actions-stir-strong-criticism.html It was written in 1987 on Rajiv Gandhi


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