Challenges and opportunities in a new innings
“Mr. Modi thus comes to power in an atmosphere of great expectations and in the end an unforgiving public in case he does not measure up. In the popular mind, he is the doer, a man who takes decisions and has clear-cut policies that will put the country on the path of rapid development. But as opposed to a state with a people known for their entrepreneurial skills, governing a diverse country with a bewildering variety of problems is another matter”, says the author.
Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister-designate, is on the cusp of a moment that comes rarely in a nation’s history, a moment of hope tinged with anxiety stemming from his antecedents and the shadow of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. For the present, hope trumps darker thoughts because the nation’s mood is to give him a chance. This comes against the backdrop of a widespread feeling that the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government was prey to indecision, paralysis and a stream of scams that bled the goodwill the UPA had enjoyed in the first term.
Indeed, one aspect of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s impressive victory, in addition to Mr. Modi’s super packaging, was a desire for change. Mr. Modi thus comes to power in an atmosphere of great expectations and in the end an unforgiving public in case he does not measure up. In the popular mind, he is the doer, a man who takes decisions and has clear-cut policies that will put the country on the path of rapid development.
But as opposed to a state with a people known for their entrepreneurial skills, governing a diverse country with a bewildering variety of problems is another matter. Underneath these problems is the sneaking suspicion that the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh, which has invested much in his dramatic rise, will demand its pound of flesh. For the RSS, its tenets of spreading its creed revolving round the Hindutva philosophy is far more important than immediate political gains.
Mr. Modi has demonstrated that in governing Gujarat, he was able to keep the RSS and fringe elements at a distance. But the stakes at the national level are much higher and the RSS is unlikely to be easily sidelined. Apart from dealing with his internal problems of the Sangh Parivar, Mr. Modi faces two kinds of challenges. The first is to get the vast machinery of national government to function efficiently in an essentially colonial “filepushing” culture.
The other is the larger problem of convincing the administrative and political class that he means business and his slogan of governance, rather than a bloated government, is the solution of the country’s problems. At the broader philosophical level, Mr. Modi needs to convince India’s large Muslim population and other minorities that he will play fair by them.
The stain of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom has not gone away and he needs to do something more than to suggest that he will lift all boats in the water through the strength of his economic policies. What strikes odd to many is his refusal to give an apology for 2002, having muddied the waters by his unfortunate analogy of feeling sad if a puppy comes under the wheels of a vehicle in which he is travelling. Thus far Mr. Modi has shown that he is less than happy in a media environment he cannot control.
There was the infamous case of a television interview he aborted midstream, rather than answer the difficult questions he was asked. He is a rare politician who has demonstrated his métier for employing modern technology in his dramatic political journey. As Prime Minister he must learn to field inconvenient and rude questions from journalists who are not beholden to him. Despite these question marks, there is a lot going for him. Like the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party, Mr. Modi is a breath of fresh air in a political environment that had been atrophied by a “Congress culture” that had become synonymous with inertia and a refusal to take risks after weighing all options.
And sad to say the dual nature of the power arrangement at the top accentuated a culture of consensus building almost for its own sake. Much will depend upon the team of politicians he picks in his Cabinet, warding off obvious political pressures from the RSS and his allies. It will be an easier task to put together a competent team of bureaucrats and it is a given that the Prime Minister’s Office will again enjoy a clout rarely seen after the days of Indira Gandhi. The country can take it for granted that, unlike in the Manmohan Singh era, Mr. Modi’s policies will be presented countrywide in the best light, as demonstrated by the slick and lavish campaign that tilted him to the top office. But in the end, propagating policies will be as effective as substantive action.
What is beyond doubt is that with the advent of Mr. Modi, the country has entered a new era. How good it will be will depend upon the new Prime Minister’s ability to move mountains. He is by all accounts a man of prodigious energy and a quick mind in understanding the essence of abstruse problems. But will the very different work culture and problems compared to the placid banks of the Sabarmati fox Mr. Modi? Even those who disagree with the philosophical framework of the new Prime Minister will give him the benefit of the doubt if he can bring life to the tired sinews of government and give a fillip to the country’s economic development.
If he can bring Gujarat’s resultoriented work culture to the filepushing babus of the Central Secretariat, he would be performing a great service. However, the underlying philosophical underpinnings of the new government will not go away because it affects the idea of India and the new India built over more than six decades on the sacrifices of the Independence generation and the vision they enshrined in the Constitution.
It represents more than the welfare and development of the majority community and empowers the entire citizenry, whatever its ethnicity and religion. It is, of course, true that the bloody birth of the independent states of India and Pakistan on the basis of religion will remain a disturbing legacy. But it is for new generations to rise above the past and look to the future. The Sangh Parivar has a greater problem in reconciling with history than the rest of us because it seeks to employ history as a badge of its distinctiveness. Mr. Modi will have to surmount this handicap to become a successful Prime Minister.