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Modi’s time starts now

The spectacular victory for the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in one of the most fiercely contested elections in the world’s largest democracy has heralded a new era in Indian polity. This watershed moment in Indian politics catapults India on a takeoff path under the strong leadership of one individual who gave wings to the hope, aspirations and dreams of millions. What is a moment of comfort to millions is a period of challenge for the new dispensation that will occupy the Raisina Hill for the next five years.

This is not the first time that a Chief Minister is becoming the Prime Minister but Narendra Modi is probably the first one to have won a state three times and also fought a grueling election to the top job and won hands down, reducing his detractors to pulp. His ascendency to Chief Ministership of Gujarat and the demands of the job were challenging. His tenure as the Prime Minister promises to be even more challenging.

The transfer of power in democratic India has always been smooth except for times like the infamous Emergency. Almost thirty seven years later Modi will step into the PMO and may find little time to celebrate. The PM and his cabinet has to tackle precipitous price rise, mounting food subsidy, clear the rotting food stock yet feed the drought stricken, prepare for an uncertain monsoon, reign in the fiscal deficit, spur industrial growth---and much more. Besides, they need to do all these things even before the ink of the oath taking ceremony dries. The oath taking itself promises to be no less dramatic.

While Modi may be new to coalition politics, he is no stranger in this alley. When he took charge as the campaign incharge of the party and set his foot on the national scene, there were two other parties in the NDA besides the BJP. But as his campaign picked up speed he managed to get about a dozen parties as partners. As the exit poll results came more were ready to line up to support him. All this could not have been possible had not Modi convinced not just his party but also his friends in other parties that his style borders on the style of his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose oratorical skills he seems to have picked up. Those who keenly followed his body language during the campaign cannot miss the change in his style and demeanor he displayed after May 12. He has jettisoned his aggressive image displays a broad political outlook which will work wonders for him if he is able to exhibit more of it in testing times. Now with 272+ on its own the BJP needs no allies yet Modi has suggested that he will carry not only the NDA partners with him but each and every elected member will be considered part of his larger team as they represent the people of this country.

In the era of fluid political architectures and the internal dynamics of his own party Modi could find very little elbow space to maneuver through the labyrinths of Lutyens’ Delhi. The earlier he chooses his administrative team so much the better for him. The tough part of the task is to find the right person for the right job. Given his speed and impatience in implementing schemes one thing he cannot do is tolerate mediocrity. Between his promises and his team Modi will have to ensure performance, a tall order and a demanding situation. This is where his much touted twelve years of Gujarat experience is likely to come handy. While economic growth slumped in the country and investments dried up, Gujarat became a hub for automobile and pharmaceutical industry and home to India’s largest oil refinery and deep water port. But can what worked in Gujarat work elsewhere? Modi’s affirmative answer has to be in action.

Power and responsibility

With power comes not only authority but enormous responsibility. Narendra Modi’s rags to PMO story, pracharak to Prime Minister saga outcome is a unique blend of many streams. All the colorful hats that he wore during the campaign will pale into insignificance before the ones he may have to don as PM. His ideological and intellectual moorings in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) was never a subject of dispute nor did Modi himself shied away from accepting his pracharak origins. He cut his political teeth in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the erstwhile avatar of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The RSS cadre is believed to have worked hard in this election towards a decisive victory to fulfill their dreams. It is natural and even justified for them to now look to Narendra Modi to promote the precisian values and vision of the RSS. Many of Mody’s detractors would be quick to cry murder, but Modi has never been apologetic of his ideological origin. But RSS itself would expect Modi to fulfill his promises to the people and not carry the burden of the organization while discharging his duties as the Prime Minister of the country. Going by his twelve year tenure in Gujarat, it is easy to assume that he will now play the role of a fine statesman and a swayamsevak with brilliant balance and élan.

Letting the statesman rise

Narendra Modi has undoubtedly been the most demonised political leader in living memory, for all kinds of imagined wrongs, none of which has stood any scrutiny, judicial or otherwise. Rightly or wrongly, he has come to acquire an image and persona that thrills many but also deters certain others. As Prime Minister now, it is to be expected that he puts the politician behind and lets the statesman rise.

His own political campaign for the just-concluded elections are indication enough that he has the wherewithal and sagacity to achieve this, as he has resolutely refused to play the religious card despite innumerable provocations to do so. The same, alas, cannot be said of his ‘secular’ opponents in this election, who have repeatedly resorted to the politics of religious obscurantism and pandering to a clichéd secular versus communal debate. The image makeover of Modi will make him more acceptable to a larger audience and change the political discourse with far reaching consequences. The best part of the debate is that Modi is not only aware of this but is capable of best performance here. In his letter to the party workers after the last leg of campaign Modi writes, “The campaign was a wonderful opportunity to once again witness India’s celebrated diversity, the vibrancy of the people and the beauty of our culture. Working for the Organisation I have travelled across India in the past but this time it was very different”. Need one say more?

In the eyes of the world

Globally too, all eyes have been on Narendra Modi even before his stepping into the Prime Minister’s office. More than the trade, commerce and industry agenda, the geo-political class is ready to look at India with a different prism. In a complex and interconnected topography of Asia and mutually dependent world, the pursuit of India’s national interests has to be balanced with the ever changing geo-political realities. Foreign policy is a dynamic mix of pragmatism and principles. Modi’s team will have to include people who can articulate his world view in the best of diplomatic words and act decisively in situations that demand tough stance.

Going by the interviews that Modi gave during the poll campaign, his understanding of the global situation comes across as much matured. A section of the West which once sought to demonise him has come to realize the perils of a self-defeating policy of trying to isolate the world’s largest democratic nation of a billion and an economic power house at that. Japan, and significantly China too, have shown immense pragmatism in recognizing the transformational potential Narendra Modi holds for the Asian region.

The challenges India faces in the whole gamut of its relations with major powers will be among the major geopolitical test for Narendra Modi. A post-American Afghanistan will only be the beginning of a more turbulent neighbourhood. The Modi government will have to immediately tackle looming crises in defence and foreign relations and also the security front. The ousted UPA regime’s track record in these arenas is hardly flattering, to say the least. The Narendra Modi government will have to urgently undo the policy paralysis in external relations, which had hit our image and economy hard, long before the Lok Sabha elections.

The global economic situation and the regional security environment have changed and it would be naïve to advance the argument of our electoral preoccupations while resolving these issues.

Modi’s first few steps are likely to restore credibility of the institutions of governance, carefully weed out unhealthy practices that have hindered overall progress and restore the confidence of the people in politics as an institution of change in the society.

All through the campaign Modi asked for votes in the name of development, jobs, economic opportunity, equality and stability. In return he promised less government and more governance, decisive leadership as compared to a decade of dithering, economic growth as against stagnation, participatory democracy instead of a precipitous one and above all an all-encompassing inclusive democracy. His time to deliver starts now.

(Seshadri Chari is the National Convener, Foreign Affairs Policy Cell of the BJP)


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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 4:38:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/modis-time-starts-now/article6018051.ece

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