Modi has got what it takes
Modi has got what it takes.Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week led the nation in paying rich tributes to two outstanding leaders, both former Prime Ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week led the nation in paying rich tributes to two outstanding leaders, both former Prime Ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew. While Vajpayee was conferred Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest award, the government declared a day of mourning and Modi was among the many world leaders who bid farewell to Lee, the world’s longest serving democratic prime minister, who died on March 23, age 91.
Like many, Modi admires them both. He modestly listed himself as one of the “crores of workers” who were and remain inspired by Vajpayee. Lee, he said, was a “lion among leaders.” This allows for a modest attempt at comparing him with the two and see how far he can benefit from them and the country gains from it.
Long before Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, he was the liberal face of the “Hindu nationalists,” most of them emerging from the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), their political face being the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh and currently, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was because of his liberal approach to political issues that he became acceptable to others who did not necessarily subscribe to his ideology.
Each government Vajpayee headed was a coalition. In forging them, his image worked with the Akali Dal of Punjab, the National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir, the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu and the parties of other regional satraps ranging from Navin Patnaik to Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu. Indeed, the NDA Government he led was a conglomerate of 24 parties.
The citation that went with the Bharat Ratna described Vajpayee as “a statesman known for a subtle sharpness that engaged, attracted and brought many together…. His example, both in politics and other wise, embodies the need for coexistence coupled with cultivating for the nation a strong sense of self."
This selective quoting from the citation is meant to emphasise the need for Modi, more than what was needed and done by Vajpayee, for carrying everybody along. It is not a verdict on what Modi has done or not done. That would be premature as he has traversed only nine months of his five year tenure. He has time and presumably, the intention, to view the challenges, current and those that lie ahead and affect, if, when and where necessary, any course correction.
This is so because Modi himself has not fitted into a single political strait jacket. It is no secret that as the PM, Vajpayee was unhappy with the way Modi, as Gujarat’s Chief Minister, had handled the sectarian violence of 2002. He had talked of Modi’s “raj dharma,” which was an indication that Modi had erred in his approach and handling of the crisis. It is also no secret that Modi would have been removed but for the advice given by some of the BJP leading lights and ministers of that time.
What his removal would have meant and led to shall remain a matter of if-and- but. The important thing is that he stayed on as the CM, got re-elected thrice and while never regretting those events, affected a course correction by pushing, with fair success, the development agenda for Gujarat. During the Lok Sabha campaign, his critics, while belittling his “Gujarat model” of development, charged him with being a hardliner in tackling political opposition and in dealing with the religious minorities.
This perception has changed but partially, since he became the Prime Minister. Governing a vast country now, he has reached out to his supporters and critics, frequently, but on his own terms. The media cannot lampoon him the way it did a V P Singh or a Manmohan Singh. Much of the criticism now is about what others in his government and his party are doing, or not doing. But answers and solutions lie with him.
The interesting thing, if ironic, is that many now see Modi as a moderate compared to the hardliners in his fold. He has more or less silenced those among his ministry and among the BJP lawmakers who made outrageous remarks about women and about religious minorities. But his writ does not run beyond Delhi. The many organizations affiliated to the BJP have their own agenda.
That agenda, contradicting the development agenda, is sought to be set by RSS, the umbrella organisation. And Modi has been a life-long RSS man.But Modi has got to stay on the development course without being distracted by the conservatives in his party and its affiliates whose vision is medieval. He has placed toilet over temple in his agenda. But that is getting repeatedly distracted and obstructed.
Issues like “ghar wapasi” and “love jihad” have already dented his image. More than anything else, they have emboldened his critics within his party fold and given the political opposition an issue on a platter. Frequent attacks on churches have succeeded in causing alarm among the religious minorities and foreign investors. That brings us to Modi’s Singapore visit that underscores India’s ties with a very important partner.
Lee and his Singapore model remain part of India’s development discourse judging the way leaders flock there for ideas, investment and perhaps, inspiration. Can India emulate Singapore and can Modi be India’s Lee Kuan Yew? Modi has some of Lee’s qualities – the aplomb, oratory and pragmatism. Both share a vision of development as the key to progress and well-being.
Modi has a way of reasoning with his critics. He has the intention and perhaps, the ability to carry them along. At least, he is not lacking in effort. The way his party is sharing power in Jammu and Kashmir shows he has ideas and long-term goals. The way he dealt with Obama, Abe and Xi Jinping shows he can handle foreign friends and foes. It is not all bravado.
Modi has the mental make-up to be India’s Lee. He wants to change India from a non-aligned balancing force to an emerging world power. But he is only an architect with a brilliant design for the Project India. An architect needs equally good and committed masons to build. The masons around him have yet to rise to the challenge.
Indeed, they are obstructing his path. Finally, individuals do matter. Modi is the man of the moment. But given the opportunistic politics and a history of our taking one step forward and two steps backwards in anything we do, are we ready to become Singapore?