Tuesday, 17 May, 2022
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Modi: Your time starts now

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He delivers first single-party majority in 30 years, shatters age-old assumptions.

We had hailed the verdict of 2009 as an affirmation of the rise of an aspirational new India, leaving behind the old politics of grievance. The mandate of 2014 is a logical step forward. Aspirational voters are also impatient, unforgiving, uncluttered and more transactional. You come to them seeking the supreme gift in a democracy, the gift of power to rule over them and the first question they are likely to ask you is, what will you do for me? If you are old-fashioned and are disconcerted by this, you can call this the arrival of India’s selfie generation. But it’s a reality. We would, therefore, prefer to hail this as the rise of India’s post-ideological young generation. And politics.

This is a provocative formulation. It will be contested and, arguably, so. If BJP’s entire Lok Sabha contingent of 272+ does not have a single Muslim — which means a population segment of nearly 15 per cent has found no representation in what is a national wave — can you really call this verdict post-ideological? Isn’t this, on the contrary, a majoritarian assertion, the final victory of the social right, a garv se kaho hum majority hain moment? It would be tempting but avoidable to jump to hasty conclusions yet.

For one, Narendra Modi has not used any polarising language or articulated any exclusivist agenda through his campaign. On minorities and foreign policy, his language has been measured and mainstream. We are, of course, overlooking some of the campaign static from some of his supporters. Second, he has masterfully sold the dream of a fast-developing, booming India.

We should welcome the fact that this is a victory achieved primarily on an unqualified promise of economic reform never seen in our political history, soaked as it is in the fading pink of fake socialism. This result, therefore, is also a devastating popular rejection of outdated, Congress-style povertarianism: I declare all of you Indians hungry and wretched and will throw free food at you. I will feed you a free meal at my school even if I cannot teach you anything there because my teachers don’t come to work. This has been dumped down the garbage chute now.

It is also a mandate for Indian self-esteem. For five years we had a government run under an arrangement humiliating to India. No democracy likes the office of its chief executive diminished to dust while power lies with those with no accountability and who rule through coteries, cabals and arbitrary, fanciful extra-constitutional arrangements, be it the NAC, or the party Core Group. We had often described this as UPA-II’s auto-immune disease. The collective Indian immune system has now fought back. But is this the end of the Congress yet? In politics, you should never say never. In 1984, BJP had two seats. Today it has 282. But for Congress to rebuild, it will have to learn ideological, philosophical and strategic lessons. Its leaders have to accept that the party is paying, primarily, for their blunders. But if the Congress doesn’t modernise its mind, and cannot rouse itself from the seventies where it leaped backwards in the last five years, it may be the end. Its future lies in acknowledging that India’s politics will now be truly fought from the ideological left and right of the centre. It can choose to stay on the left but will have to find more relevant ideas than free this or that or a declining dynasty.

There have been bigger mandates, notably Rajiv Gandhi’s in 1984. But that resulted from fear, insecurity, sympathy and indeed the promise of a young new leader. This one is much more aggressive, assertive and muscular. That is why it is so valuable. It has raised Modi to the stature of possibly the most powerful self-made Indian leader ever: remember, even Jawaharlal Nehru was Motilal’s son. It is even more creditable given where he comes from, his limitations of caste, economic and social status; formal education; small, distant state origins; and lack of New Delhi experience.

He has run a brilliant and single-minded campaign. People have gifted him the power to change history, to mould it in his image. He needs to handle this very carefully. He insists he doesn’t believe in appeasement. But he will need to reach out to the minorities, many of whom fear his rise. This is no time for majority triumphalism and you cannot govern a nation as diverse as ours if so many of our minorities feel insecure, excluded and unrepresented. Good leaders in democracies win power but great ones learn statesmanship from power. That is Narendra Modi’s historic opportunity. Meanwhile, he deserves the best wishes of all of India as it savours the remarkable rise of this ordinary, yet extraordinary Indian.

This article was originally published in May, 2014.

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  1. Like good wine and some varieties of cheese, this column ages well. 2. In one of my first comments posted after that glorious summer campaign, I had held out the examples of Paramount Leader Deng and PM LKY, both modern Asian heroes, as role models for the victor. Some would argue that the city state of Singapore is too tiny to serve as a template for a subcontinent. True, but one visionary leader took it from a sleepy colonial backwater – no better than Calcutta or Bombay – to the First World within a generation. The comparison with China cannot be so easily ducked. We are comparing at least musk melons with watermelons here. That was a challenge successive Indian prime ministers since 1978 – more correctly 1980 – ought to have risen to. Partly because China is a major security challenge, more because it showed a way forward for a similarly placed India as well. Why the last five years have not panned out the way this column – reflecting the aspirations of most Indians, both 31% and 69% – had hoped for could be the subject matter of more than one National Interest column.

  2. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)

    Shekhar Sahib, ironically what to talk of learning statesmanship from power Mr.Narendra Modi has undermined the democratic institutions of India and lowered the dignity of the august office of Prime Minister of India !

    He did fritter away that golden opportunity of learning statesmanship from power because of his sheer insatiable lust for power by not delivering the goods on the ground ! His policies and programmes only aimed at promoting the affluent sections of society for his vested selfish and political interests instead of coming to the rescue of the have nots in the country !

    One who does not believe in learning from blunders and experiences of the past and course correction at an appropriate time can not
    even fancy keeping his popularity aura in tact. Statesmanship cannot be every one’s cup of tea as it demands too much on too many yardsticks and criterions !

    Hard luck for NaMo, I must say in this context !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala (Punjab)

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