Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s embrace of technology is well-known. There was the robot ‘Mitra’, which greeted him and Ivanka Trump as they launched the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad in November 2017.
And then there was the robot at Kevadia Colony in Gujarat Thursday, which released a coffee table book as well as the newsletter of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, welcoming the Prime Minister in its USS Enterprise voice.
Here’s how a coffee table book and newsletter of LBSNAA were released in Kevadia. pic.twitter.com/CwDaV1K28F
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 31, 2019
But Kevadia, circa 2019, will be remembered for other things too. On Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s 144th birth anniversary, Modi not only paid fulsome tributes at the feet of the China-burnished Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world at 182 metres. Climbing up a rostrum that reached the Sardar’s feet, Modi stretched his arms and let the wind carry away the flower petals.
Not sure any IAS, IFS, IPS and other civil service officers-to-be have ever taken a vow like that before.
Certainly, Modi has made it clear that he idolises Sardar Patel. Since he came to power in 2014, he has ordered that 31 October be celebrated as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas. If not for Patel who integrated 560 princely states into the Union of India, Modi believes, the country would have fallen apart at the time of Partition. He said as much at Kevadia.
“Centuries ago India was united by Chanakya, and after that Sardar Patel did it,” Modi said.
Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi, who broke up Pakistan and whose death anniversary also falls on 31 October, was dismissed in one matter-of-fact tweet early morning by the PM. I pay my “vinamra shradhanjali,” respectful condolences, to the former PM’s memory, Modi said.
The rest of the day was spent lauding Congress leader Sardar Patel, whose strongarm tactics in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, saved the day for India, according to Modi. Moreover, Jawaharlal Nehru’s absurd notions about giving special status to the Muslim-majority state in 1950, through none other than Article 370, exacerbated the problem. The Sardar died too young, otherwise the character of India’s democracy would have taken a different trajectory. It was now up to him, Modi, to bring the country back to the right path.
Modi clearly believes he is completing Patel’s agenda. That’s why he picked 31 October, Patel’s birth anniversary, to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
But as the historian Srinath Raghavan has pointed out, the truth is quite the opposite. It was Patel, not Nehru, who was the architect of Article 370 in the Constitution. In fact, Patel – not Nehru – had been willing to let Kashmir accede to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad, which Patel was eyeing because it was a state located right in the heart of southern India.
Certainly, the relationship between Nehru and Patel depends on the lens it is looked from. According to Vidya Subrahmaniam, the two men admired each other greatly. According to Hindol Sengupta, Patel has not been given the recognition that was due to him.
Modi has been clearly trying to fix that problem for some time. The Kevadia celebration was like an avenging of Patel, especially with regard to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Article 370 is a wall that has gone now,” Modi said at Kevadia, dedicating the removal of the statutory provision to Patel.
The downgrading of J&K into two union territories also means that Modi wants to retain control over the state’s politics, at least for the time being.
In fact, Modi’s obsession with control, order and discipline demonstrates his need to transform the essentially chaotic nature of India’s democracy into a regulated space; because it’s a short step from democracy to anarchy, and anarchy implies an absence of control.
That’s why Modi leans so vehemently in favour of the “One Nation” formula: One Nation/One Tax, One Nation/One Flag, One Nation/One Language, One Nation/One Election, and last but not least, One Nation/One Ration Card.
It’s perhaps why, at Kevadia, he implored the civil service trainees to employ the “One District, One Problem, Total Solution” method of governance.
Clearly, this has been an important week for Modi. But it’s not over yet. In the coming days, India has to decide whether or not to join the pro-Chinese Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) is violently against because it believes competitively priced foreign goods will wipe out Indian products.
Will Modi capitulate to the SJM or will he vote in favour of trimming the flab so that the Indian economy can at least compete with the outside world?
One of the biggest decisions of his prime ministership awaits Modi.