As brave Abhinandan Varthaman walked across the Wagah checkpoint, an imaginary scoreboard somewhere might have been unflattering to National Democratic Alliance. Two versions of the government, helmed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have ended up ceding the higher ground to terrorists and terrorist nursery Pakistan—first in Kandahar and now at Wagah. While political theorists and historians are perhaps better equipped to analyse the BJP’s internal contradictions and dialectics, it is tempting to ascribe the twin failures to the party’s severe capacity deficit (no party with a semblance of an internal democratic structure would have green-lighted demonetization or ignored the severe agricultural distress) and an over-dependence on rhetoric and bluster rather than execution.

A lack of respect for strategic theory, especially game theory, and its applications has perhaps led to this embarrassing juncture. In hindsight, it seems the fatal terrorist attack on India’s paramilitary forces at Pulwana was custom designed for a party leader who has been stuck on the electoral treadmill since taking office in May 2014.

Faced with electoral reversals in three state elections and economic stagnation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt compelled to act and he stuck to the script. With the terrorist attack occurring so close to elections, Modi despatched Indian fighter jets deep into Pakistan territory. He was, of course, egged on by bellicose TV anchors, his army of social media followers and India’s privileged middle class which voyeuristically views war as a way of settling scores. And while it is true that Modi did appear to act decisively against terror, especially when compared with his predecessors, it is arguable what will remain imprinted in the electorate’s memory: his assertive action, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan taking the moral high ground, or the proud walk of pilot Abhinandan across the border.

An alternative view is that what matters most is the shifting of the narrative away from the government’s failures on the economic front—stagnating wages, rising unemployment, farm distress, collapse of the rural economy. The dominant image has changed and the hardships forgotten in the blizzard of nationalistic commentary and imagery. Yet it is questionable whether the farmer, the indigent or the jobless might find any comfort from India’s war metaphors.

It is this column’s view that the government’s lack of strategic intent or policy clarity, especially in economic policy, is what will remain. Having spent most his term advocating foreign direct investment and Make In India, Modi’s policy tilt over the past few months has distinctly turned protectionist and designed to favour a few local industrialists. And in framing these policies, it unmistakably resembles Congress, a party it seeks to replace from national consciousness.

Take the example of the National Policy on Electronics 2019. A 22-page document, it is less policy and more of pious intentions. Sample its lofty promises: from a current market share of 3% of global hardware electronics production, the document wants India to become the “global hub" for electronics system design and manufacturing (ESDM). In terms of hard numbers, the document wants Indian hardware electronics production to go up from $59 billion in 2017-18 to approximately $400 billion by 2025, roughly doubling every year. Yet the document outlines only some generalities on how to get there. Indian industry has been demanding an ESDM platform for at least two decades but has got nowhere, primarily due to poor infrastructure, inadequate supply of quality power and the non-availability of the right ecosystem.

Clearly, the document has been drawn up in haste in view of the approaching elections. The ministry for electronics and information technology has also released another voluminous document on the progress of India’s digital economy and the glorious future that awaits it. Usually, ministries use their annual reports to indulge in this ritual of immodesty, but impending elections seems to have forced ministries to hit the fast-forward button; railways minister Piyush Goyal also released a report detailing his ministry’s achievements.

The other interesting example is the draft e-commerce policy released a few days ago. The policy seems designed to placate local brick-and-mortar shopkeepers who have been BJP’s steadfast supporters, consumers through grandiose statements about protection and some select Indian companies through the data localization policy or inventory-based e-commerce rules.

While the draft policy uses specious logic to wrest control over private (or personal) data of individuals from corporations in the name of “national interest", it is clearly a workaround to side-step the Supreme Court’s judgement on privacy. Columnist Rahul Matthan wrote in this newspaper a few days ago: “This is a dangerous line of thinking in that it allows, in the guise of safeguarding the privacy of Indian citizens, the state to nationalize personal data."

At Mint’s recently concluded Investment Summit, more than one participant confided that public criticism of government policies inevitably invites a telephone call from Delhi. This is definitely not the sign of a confident government when harangue has become its stock-in-trade and rant the bludgeon of choice.

RaJrishi Singhal is consulting editor of Mint. His Twitter handle is @rajrishisinghal.