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Sunday, May 29, 2016

The makeover of Modi and the remaking of India

By Swapan Dasgupta 

Maybe it was the resounding win in Assam just a week earlier or even the equally conclusive rejection of the principal opposition party in the same set of elections, but the commemoration of the second year of the Narendra Modi government has been significantly less tentative than the first.

The first year of any administration, especially one where the ministers are new to the job, invariably involves on-the-job learning and blending discovery with disappointments. For the Modi government, elected with the dizzying promise of ushering achhe din, there was first the discovery that its inheritance was dire. The belief that the return of political stability and decisiveness would automatically kickstart a listless economy was quickly shattered. The economy, it was quickly realized, would require prolonged healing. Equally, it was realized that radical prescriptions of change would have to be tempered because the country was loath to digest shock therapy. In short, effective governance would have to involve intelligent innovation, unending application and perseverance.

The government can boast tangible achievements that include a significant enhancement of India’s competitive edge, the upgradation of infrastructure, a focused foreign policy, devolution of resources to the states and, above all, a sharp reduction of corruption in official decision-making. Most important, the past two years have witnessed a steep rise in the energy levels of government. There was scarcely a month that went by without the launch of a significant initiative that touched some area of the citizen’s interaction with the government. These included lofty programmes such as the Swachh Bharat initiative that involved the daunting task of altering the popular mindset. By way of early returns, many of India’s railway stations are today cleaner than they have ever been in living memory.

In 2014, it was Modi’s perceived qualities of leadership that motivated voters — even in places where the BJP had only a nominal presence — to turn a parliamentary election into a quasi-presidential one. The two years of Modi is, therefore, equally an occasion to assess the evolution of a prime ministerial style.

The most striking difference between the Modi who was chief minister of Gujarat for 13 years and the man who is now Prime Minister is the extent to which he has tempered his aggression. True, Modi remains pugnacious at election rallies but in matters of state, his combativeness has been replaced by an eloquence that seeks to bring the disparate strands of India together. The passion that made him one of India’s foremost orators is intact, but has been replenished by a broadening of national concerns. In his Mann ki Baat, for example, there is a conscious desire to move beyond partisan political concerns and address societal themes that touch people’s daily lives. As Prime Minister, Modi is attempting to position himself above the daily bickering of politics. While this exposes him to charges of wilful silence on awkward subjects, it has also raised his profile to beyond that of a humdrum politician.

In line with his status as the unquestioned head of the government, Modi has tried to position himself above political dogma. Nominally, he may be rightwing but this is coupled with an astonishing show of flexibility that comes from doing what is necessary and what is effective. Thus, in view of the private sector’s inability to invest adequately in India’s growth, Modi has undertaken an expansionist approach that is best described as Keynesian.

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Modified: As Prime Minister, Modi has tried to position himself above political dogma, showing flexibility to do what is necessary and effective

Schemes such as Aadhar and MNREGA that had been debunked by the BJP while in opposition have been revived because they have a contextual utility. And privatization, which the BJP favoured during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee years, has been put in cold storage because it is deemed politically hazardous. For Modi, dogmatic absolutes have been substituted by managerial flexibility.

Finally, Modi has injected a sense of no-nonsense austerity into the lives and political styles of the political class. Whether it is the crackdown on needless foreign junkets or ministerial opulence, he has challenged the penchant for the easygoing and the shortcuts. Modi is governing by example and its impact is still skin-deep and the possibility of regression is still high. But if he has made a mark in just two years, the possibility of him reshaping India is enormous.

If Modi gets 10 years and doesn’t trip on his sword, the India of 2024 will be a vibrant country. More important, the Indian may be a very different being. We could be on the cusp of an exciting Modi Revolution. Only the ranks of the entitled and the chalta hai brigade need to be very afraid.

Sunday Times of India, May 29, 2016



1 comment:

anjansingh said...

I am a follower of your opinions on politics. But please put 'share' buttons for Facebook, Twitter etc in your blog, so that I can share this to my friends!
As you must know, a writer needs readers :) help me connect you