Monday, June 9, 2014

A Modicum of Hope!!

The people of independent India, for the first time in its 67-year-old history, have voted a person, rather than a party, into power.  And riding the Modi wave, what a resounding victory his party, the BJP, managed to accomplish!  The huge mandate given by the people of India was as much a vote for change as it was one of hope.  The Indian electorate bought into Modi’s development agenda and the dreams he sold like a hungry child would dig into a chocolate bar.  Like it or not, he will be India’s Prime Minister for the next five years at least.  What does that mean to India and to the man himself, Narendra Damodardas Modi?

It is entirely up to Modi to choose how he wants history to remember him and how, and with what emotion, years down the line, we, the citizens of this great nation, will look back at and remember the date, 26th of May, 2014, the day on which he was sworn in as India’s 15th Prime Minister.  It marked the fruition of an immensely successful and staggeringly expensive campaign, a campaign wherein he managed to change the game completely and turn the Indian general elections of 2014 on its head and turn it into something similar to the US presidential elections.  Although in no small measure aided by a largely quiescent, shamelessly corrupt and flagrantly inept UPA government that was groping in the dark in terms of governance and leadership, Mr Modi’s success story so far has more to do with clever marketing and image projection.  The mere fact that Modi managed to rise above his own party (a party founded, led and run by religious demagogues) and project his own image and the agenda of good governance, leadership and development and, in the process, push the party’s main project of hindutva to the back burner is no mean achievement.  The challenges before Mr Modi are manifold and how he manages to grapple with them would decide what we, the people of India, have in store over the ensuing five years.  He has managed to rise above the party and make people vote for him across the nation.  Now his future would depend on how he manages to change the party and its agenda to be in sync with that of his own.

What turn India’s fate would take will depend on how he manages the RSS’ influence in policy matters and how he reins in the fringe elements like the Bajrang Dal, Sri Ram Sene or the Hindu Rashtra Sena, all of whom would be  expecting to have a field day under a favourable regime.  The BJP as a party has been in no way different from its main rival, the Indian National Congress in terms of corruption or policy making or governance.  In fact, from the time of its inception in 1980, the party and its policies have managed to pull the country back by a few decades at least and make it a fertile breeding ground for religious hatred, intolerance and superstitious nonsense.  In spite of all that and in spite of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat pogrom, the Indian electorate giving them such an emphatic victory shows the impact Modi has had within the party and his campaign on the electorate.  Modi’s campaign was largely based on half truths, rank falsehoods, hyperbole, and clever planning and marketing.  Like a seasoned artist, he painted a virtual image using bright and vibrant colours of development and good governance on the foreground, managing to push the darker shades of communal hatred and the blood on his hands to the background.  With deft strokes, he managed to create a chimaera of sorts of a developed Gujarat that is nothing short of a bed of roses, and seduce the Indian electorate into voting for an unreal idea.  But now the race is over and he has left the rest of the field far behind, gasping for breath, bewildered and confused, and looking for scapegoats and excuses.  He has managed a victory that the BJP, or even he himself, would not have expected even in their wildest dreams.  Now that he has emerged all powerful not just in the parliament but within his own party, he will have to walk the talk.  And if one is to go by what has been on show for the first three weeks that he has been in office, things do portend well for the nation's and Modi’s future.

Narendra Modi is a fiercely ambitious person.  From a position wherein the NDA’s election debacle in the 2004 Indian general elections was blamed squarely on his inability to contain the Gujarat riots by none other than AB Vajpayee himself, he was elected twice as chief minister to the Gujarat assembly.  The Modi juggernaut did not stop there.  His vision and ambition have enabled him to rise above his own party and what we have witnessed is the BJP toeing the Modi line rather than the other way around.  The mere fact that a lower caste Hindu, born into a poor family, has, against mountainous odds, managed to dominate a party that has been founded and led all along by upper caste Hindus, and make the party change its main focus from bigotry to good governance can in no way be termed a mean achievement.  The fact that he has reached the highest office in the country should be inspirational not just to members of the BJP, but to those in other parties as well.  The brightest thing about this elections could be the outright mandate Modi managed to achieve for the BJP, as this would mean that he cannot back off on the promises he has made.  And, as I mentioned, what we have seen from him so far has been impressive.   From the invitation to the SAARC leaders for the swearing in ceremony, to toning down of the pugilistic rhetoric that he had employed during his election campaign and sounding more inclusive and accommodative (befitting the chair he has occupied) and being open to suggestions, or to choosing a smaller sized cabinet - the smallest in 16 years -  and showing an attitude of being proactive, thus far he has conducted the new NDA government like a well-rehearsed and honed orchestra, with very little in the way of jarring notes.

Modi’s ascension to power could indeed be a blessing in disguise for India.  The fact that he won the elections in such a big way has given him the power, the magic wand, to change his own party and if he manages that, others will be forced to change and rise above the mire of petty vote bank politics.   If he manages to deliver on at least a quarter of the promises he has made, it could change the country for the better and Modi will remain the Prime Minister of this country for a long time to come.  And if he sticks to his promises and does not forget the fate of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Indian National Congress government in the 1989 general elections (they came into power in 1984 with an even greater majority than what the Modi-led BJP has achieved in this election), Narendra Modi’s ambitions will be realised and so will be the hopes of the Indian electorate.