May 26, 2014 by vishfulthinking
Just before the mega event, the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian PM, Narendra Modi on May 26th 2014 at Rajghat, New Delhi, it is not a bad idea to look back at the journey the Indian electorate took to find its new leader. This brief narrative is a retro-prospective analysis of recent Indian politics. Just like any narrative, this too shall have a three act structure to it.
Transition, Opposition and Transformation – An average Indian looks back ahead.
Scam-ridden and soft leadership are the words that will come to describe the Congress-led UPA government’s rule in the corridors of power for the last decade in India. The void created by a lack of strong leadership in the UPA government has paved way for a dramatic mandate to an in-coming non-Congress government for the first time in 25 years. This in-coming government carries the burden of being called, communal. However, this is just a rhetorical baggage our national political narrative has carried over time. The UPA government was indeed scam-ridden and soft but it was also a successful implementer of multiple social protection programs. In the last decade, these highly politicized and marginally publicized social protection programs have actually succeeded in raising rural India’s household income by about 7.2% annually. However, in a strange political irony, the efforts taken by the UPA government from 2004 to 2014 only resulted in creating a critical mass of young, first time voters; both urban and rural youngsters who became all the more aspirational and disconnected with the UPA’s ‘all inclusive’ slow growth policy. As Indian society became aspirational and a third of India’s youth were unemployed, a natural progression towards anti-incumbency became inevitable. Instead of keeping in touch with the growing aspirations of the Indian society, UPA was busy firefighting with the press and media to save its own image from multiple corruption charges and scams. Most of these scams were a product of inefficient implementation mechanisms rather than, bad policy making. Nevertheless, the discerning general public saw through these glaring inefficiencies in the government and they attributed it to the lack of a strong leadership at the helm.
In this period of growing frustration and anger came Narendra Damodardas Modi, as the BJP’s (NDA) nominee for the Prime Minister of India. Mr. Modi campaigned throughout the length and breadth of India, aided by ‘ear to the ground’ think-tanks and handsomely paid event managers. This sleek campaign, where the Indian public even saw a hologram of Modi speaking, successfully drilled the take home message – here is a leader with great managerial acumen, out-of the-box thinking and experience in upgrading Gujarat to a progressive state, which performs well above the national average in multiple sectors of importance. The young, first time voter, was overawed by Modi’s elocution and his presidential style of campaign, which was in a direct contrast to the Rahul Gandhi led UPA’s lackluster campaign, filled with rhetoric and platitudes. The lack of a strong, assertive and an independent political intellect on the part Rahul Gandhi did not help UPA’s cause. How you campaign tells a lot about how your reign at the helm will be like. Clearly, Rahul Gandhi’s campaign was pseudo-secular, characterized by the overused and abused rhetoric of maximizing the minority card for votes. Mr. Modi’s campaign, in sharp contrast set the BJP’s rhetoric of marginalization of the majority –The Hindutva card, on the back burner. Instead, he used the relatively new card of infrastructure development aided with proven examples of implementation in his experimental test tube – Gujarat. What followed was the aspirational Indian public, having been frustratingly conditioned by the left-of-center politics of the UPA government, gave Modi’s right-of-center, convincing dream-like promise, a major thumbs up.
Narendra Modi stands on a very unique platform of Indian politics. He has been the most vilified Indian chief minister due to his checkered past. A past of being allegedly complicit in the wake of a horrible riot that killed thousands of innocent Gujaratis, mostly Muslims and a past of peace, prosperity and progress for 12 successive years in the same state of Gujarat. As soon as he entered the national politics, he has had a love-hate relationship with the press, media, and general public. Right through the election campaign, he has made more fans than enemies, hence the victory, of course. Right now, even before his swearing-in ceremony, he is being hero-worshipped across various quarters as the most successful PM-to-be, India has produced till date. He has personally seen contrasting emotions from what might look to him as a schizophrenic Indian public at full display. His vilification is unjust because the courts have given him a clean chit. His admiration is partially unfair because his Gujarat model of good governance is only a small scale experiment, that hasn’t yet been tested at the national level. Therefore, it is fair to say, the general public has never really known the real Modi but only certain aspects of his personality that have largely been skewed by the media to make sensational prime time television. However, in this historic election of 2014, India proactively voted for a strong government, it hasn’t, however, voted for a strong opposition. Having said that, this time we have a very different opposition to Narendra Modi’s government, it is, all of us. Yes, all of us may not only have voted for him but we, also are the people that he needs to satisfy, hastily. Young India’s high hopes, expectations and lack of patience form the great opposition to Modi’s rule.
In this regard, Modi may want to act quickly on some low hanging fruits, which will provide some palpable benefits to India, in order to further consolidate his massive support. Separation of the Indian state from Indian sects may be his most difficult task at hand in the long run and he will be judged for it.
Dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s – Some key areas where Modi’s government needs to focus in order to satisfy India’s growing, aspirational middle class:
- Infrastructure development and upgradation
- Industry with labor intensive workforce for job creation
- Inter-linking Indian rivers for better irrigation and water supply
- Innovation in Indian research and engineering
- Integration of the South Asian Community for regional prosperity
- Trade with multiple nations
- Tourism Industry needs a much needed push
- Transparency in all levels of governance
- Terror threat related problems need to be dealt with severely
- Talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, Teesta river agreement with Bangladesh, border disputes with China and Human rights violation with Sri Lanka
Modi wanted this job more than any other person in India and oh boy, it certainly looks like he has got more than a handful to deal with. If he is aiming for the ultimate in his profession – political immortality, then these are just the right kind problems that he needs to solve.
Modi’s invitation to SAARC heads of state for his swearing-in ceremony has been applauded by both, Indian and foreign media, as a move made by an astute statesman, who wishes to raise India from the sandbox of foreign diplomacy to the regional and international playfield of greater leadership. Modi’s idea of presenting the Indian public with a report card at the end of his first 5 year term, for all of us to constructively critique his leadership will be an event to watch in itself. If the report card is good, it is definitely going to be the tool for his 2019 election campaign. In that case, other political parties will either have to bury themselves in the dustbin of Indian politics or reinvent their style and outlook to suite the aspirational India. In this paradigm shifting election, few things have become clear, governance with immense cerebration, efficient implementation, innovative presentation and substantive elocution matters as much, if not more than just the age-old arithmetic of an election. Keeping the history of doubts aside, pushing the future of hope to a corner, the present in Indian politics, looks neither too right-of-center, nor too left-of-center. It is rather, a firm, out-of-the-box center of multiple possibilities – ‘Modi’fied India.