Interview: Economist Parakala Prabhakar answers the “If not Narendra Modi then who?” question

“Before the people of India, even leaders like Narendra Modi look like Lilliputs,“ political economist and author Parakala Prabhakar says.

ByNolan Patrick Pinto

Published May 24, 2024 | 4:36 PMUpdatedMay 24, 2024 | 4:40 PM

Parakala Prabhakar.

Renowned political economist and author Parakala Prabhakar delves into the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, emphasising the unique dynamics at play: A contest between the people of India and the ruling regime.

Highlighting the absence of viable alternatives to Modi in the conventional sense, he highlights that Lok Sabha elections 2024 is like none other the country has seen before. He critiques the BJP’s governance and calls for a shift towards addressing pressing national issues.

He says that since the current regime did not speak of its governance, it seemed like it had nothing to boast of and they were talking about Hindu-Muslim, food, Ram Janma Bhumi, etc.

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Edited excerpts:

Q. What is your take on pre-poll surveys? Political consultants. Pollsters are insisting that the BJP will come back to power and won’t lose much vote share or seats.

I do not want to comment on any particular psephologists, political consultants or pollsters. It’s not fair, they’re doing their job, they probably have done very diligent work and they’ve come to the conclusion. I also have some familiarity with this field because I’ve also done something.

But you see, generally, the point of view is that who is the alternative to Modi?

And which party is in a position to challenge the BJP, which is the alliance, and which is in a position to challenge the NDA?

This is how people look at this, how psephologists look at this and political consultants look at it. They position people, they position parties, they position the alliances.

But this election, to me, is a very, very special kind of election because it is an election, a fight, between, Narendra Modi on the one hand and the people of India on the other. BJP on one side and the people of India on the other. NDA on the one side, and the people of India on the other.

In front of the people of India, even the tallest leader, as tall as Narendra Modi or even taller leaders would look like a Lilliput.

Even the most formidable election fighting machine that you know, even the BJP, will look like a toy car in front of the people of India, in front of the might of the people of India.

You know, even an alliance, a big alliance like NDA would look like scattered scrambling ants. So this is a very unequal fight.

But if you look at Narendra Modi versus one leader and BJP versus another party, NDA versus an alliance, you might come to the conclusion that Narendra Modi is very strong and there is no alternative and BJP is a very strong election fighting machine.

They might conclude that NDA is a formidable alliance. But you need to look at this election in a different way.

I think most psephologists, consultants and pollsters have missed the point that there is something happening in the civil society of India — unknown, unnoticed by the political parties — independent of the political parties.

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Q. JP Nadda recently said BJP didn’t need RSS anymore and it runs independently. How do you read this statement?

I do not know what prompted Nadda to say that but that’s not true because the RSS has a number of parivaar (family) organisations and BJP is one of them. BJP is the political party that looks after the political part. RSS has so many other organisations.

It is a known fact that the BJP is one of the parivaar organisations of the RSS so the umbilical cord is not cut. I do not know what prompted him to say that. Even if he says that who is going to take it seriously?

Today, in the BJP hierarchy, there are 10 important people and all the 10 slots are filled by Narendra Modi. Number one, number two, number three, number 10 also is Narendra Modi.

The reason why I say this is because when the BJP was in alliance with other political parties it was called the National Democratic Alliance.

They used to give out election manifestos called an agenda for governance and things like that. They used to be called NDA government led by the BJP, led by Vajpayee or led by somebody else.

But today, it is not the NDA government. It is not even the BJP government, it is the Modi government, Modi Sarkar and the manifesto is Modi’s guarantee. It is not the BJP guarantee. It is much less the NDA guarantee.

So, if Modi comes about and says that, look, I’m independent of RSS, probably one can think about it and talk about it and discuss it. Nadda saying it is nothing to be taken seriously.

Q. What according to you are the key takeaways from the Modi government’s 10 years in power?

I want to put that question to you or through you to Narendra Modi.

What are your key takeaways from your own 10 years? So far, I’ve been following the run-up to the election, the campaign and before that and so far neither Narendra Modi nor anybody important from his party has said, look, we’ve solved this problem.

Problems like unemployment. We’ve created this many jobs, we reduced the prices, we have doubled the farmers’ income or we’ve done this, we brought black money back, we’ve increased the industrial production, etc.

We’ve not heard anything.

In fact, they do not themselves come out and say these are the main important milestones of our governance. They are rather talking about Ram Temple and something else, not part of their manifesto or their offering to the electorate.

So, the answer now looks like the government has nothing to boast of and they are talking about, Hindu-Muslim, they’re talking about food, they’re talking about Ram Janma Bhumi, etc.

In fact, there is no narrative which addresses the rural distress or price rise or common people or middle class or lower middle class or nothing of that sort.

I do not expect the prime minister of the country to project himself and talk as though he leads only a part of the nation and not the entire nation.

What is more surprising is what they do and their claim that the entire earth is one family. If the entire earth is one family, what about Manipur?

The prime minister is a globe trotter. He travels in India too. Why did he not find a day or half a day to go to Manipur and talk to them and find out what their grievances were?

And when in Ladakh, (Sonam) Wangchuk launched that kind of a protest and thousands of people gathered, if not the prime minister, somebody else could have gone on behalf of the prime minister as an emissary and sat with them and spoken about what exactly are their grievances?

Why is this government not talking (to them)?

Also Read: PM Modi should quit public life for indulging in Hindu-Muslim rhetoric: Kharge

Q. Often wondered and asked, ‘If not Modi then who,’ what do you have to say about this?

The question now is between the people of India and the regime, whoever it is. This regime has to go.

To give you a very mundane example, suppose, imagine for a minute that this hall is on fire.

When it is on fire, would you and I sit and discuss where to go before getting out? No, you first rush out of it, isn’t it?

I think that is what the people of India should do and would do.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)