Rise of Modi and Indian Politics


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

The absolute majority of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Narendra Damodar Modi, in the lower house of Indian parliament has made international news. It is the first time since 1947 when India got independence that a political party other than the Congress secured absolute majority in the lower house.

The media mostly reminds Modi, the Prime Minister-designate, of the 2002 riots and offers advices. Some of the writings have expressed doubt whether Modi will rise above his association with a Hindu organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and put India before his religion and party.

Modi emerged from a humble background. His father was a tea seller. He does not speak British or American English, and not a regular in Delhi elite circles. He was a RSS pracharak. But the membership of RSS does not make one fundamentalist. RSS is guided by Hindu philosophy, which is eclectic. Also, one can not club all RSS members into same mould. Modi’s mentors, Vajapyee and Advani, are known for their association with the RSS. Vajpayee is known as a moderate in politics. The point is association with RSS does not make one fundamentalist.

Barring the scar of 2002, Modi has no taint. Though sections of people believe his complicity in the communal riots in Gujarat when he was the chief minister, the judicial system in India has not found fault with him.

Modi has strong views, unlike Manmohan Singh who preferred to remain silent on many crucial issues. Whether Telecom scam or Commonwealth Games scam, Singh did not exercise his power his office bestowed on him. It was but natural as he had not the real command. The party high command had the baton of power. Modi will not have that handicap. The elections were fought under his leadership. Manmohan Singh did not rise as a politician from the grassroots; rather the prime ministership was thrust on him, while in case of Modi it is different. Manmohan Singh, a celebrated economist known as father of India’s economic reforms left office of PM in ignominy. This is sad for his political legacy, but certainly he will be remembered as one of India’s best brains, which could have been used more effectively.

I remember the famous debate between the two well known economists – Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati. Bhagwati was a protagonist of Gujarat model of development, while Sen was not. The first one prioritized rapid industrialization and private sector development, while Sen’s model focused on a society-oriented inclusive economic growth. Both models have their merits and demerits. The point is that Congress government under Singh followed Sen’s advice and launched welfare programs (marred by massive corruption), but the electorate of India preferred to vote for Modi.

It is yet to be seen how Modi will replicate the Gujarat model for the country. The people of India, particularly the youth, have high hopes on him.

Some of the great Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were from Gujarat, the home state of Modi. Some of the great saints like Narsinh Mehta, who wrote famous Vaishnav Jana to Tene Kahiye (Gandhi’s favorite) were from Gujarat. Mehta and another saint-poet Kavi Jayachandra, also from Gujarat, had influenced Gandhi and shaped his life philosophy. Modi particularly talks about Patel, and is apparently influenced by him. Patel was known as Iron Man of India as he played a key role in assimilating disparate regions of India into one single federal union during early years of India’s independence. Will Modi follow Patel’s footsteps?

As Prime Minister, Modi will lead India, not a particular community or religion. Hence, he is not only a leader of Hindu, but also of Muslim or of any other community in India. Pessimists will always bring back the specter of Godhra and paint him black. But, I am not in a hurry to see Modi in that way. I am an optimist, and will prefer to wait and watch.

Modi has the advantages which some of his predecessors lacked. He does not have a dynasty to promote, or an immediate family to bestow largesse. In that sense, he will be more like Vajpayee who once commented that it is good that he has no family. He said this as a retort to corrupt politicians who put family before the country. Modi will not fill the seats of his official aero plane a la Deve Gowda who flew whole family with him during some of his official trips. Modi will not have to pay bribes to parliamentarians to support his party during no confidence motions as he enjoys absolute majority in the lower house of the parliament, the decisive body for no confidence. He will not have to indulge in horse-trading (a code name for breaking other parties to win majority), nor he will have the need to engage in scams and forgeries.

Modi is known as an effective administrator in Gujarat. One hopes that he will be an effective administrator in New Delhi. His lack of aristocratic mien will be to his advantage.

Modi’s years in New Delhi will be challenging. Any Mumbai style attack coordinated by hardliners from Pakistan will be a big headache for him. While his Pak counterpart, businessman-turned politician, Nawaz Sharif will prefer to work with him, the hardliners in Pakistan will do everything to scuttle the process. They will plan to orchestrate terrorist attacks to generate a violent response from Modi to further paint him anti-Muslim.

As Prime Minister, Modi will have to take decisive actions on matters home as well as abroad. He should not only be acting above religious bias, but also needs to be seen so. Perhaps he needs to be apprised by his officials the messages from The Prince, written by Machiavelli. The key message – the King (read the person in power) must not only be benevolent towards his subjects, he must also be seen benevolent. Already the Godhra aligned with him, any utterance of M word, will be interpreted differently. To address this, he may have to be innovative. He may have a ministry on communal harmony led by Muqtar Abbas Naqvi, or a cell in his office on it led by religious leaders of all communities. Learning from other models may be useful. Akbar’s Din-E-Elahi is perhaps a good model. Modi can take a cue from it. Even otherwise, there is ample guidance from Sanskrit texts: Sarva Dharma Sambhava and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam are two strong messages which any leader wishing to rule multiethnic and pluralistic societies needs to learn.

India has poverty, unemployment, environmental pollution, population explosion, rising Maoism, communal violence, extremism and terrorism, women insecurity and many other problems. Modi knows all these problems, and has promised to address them. It will take time. It is naive to expect that he will successfully address all these problems in one month. One important thing that Modi needs to do is to appoint persons of merit and vision, not sycophants nor corrupt, to high offices. There is no lack of talent in India, and Modi will be able to find enough merit in India to assist him in the mission to raise India to new heights.

Here, I remember the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo who on the eve of India’s independence in 1947 had articulated his five dreams. The fourth dream was India’s role as moral and spiritual conscience of the world. Sri Aurobindo had in his mind the cultural and spiritual capital of India and its transformative power to reshape the human society. It needs emphasis this cultural and spiritual capital is not purely Hindu or purely Muslim, but Indian, rising from thousands of years of India’s rich historical and cultural heritage despite all its deformities. Modi may take a leaf from Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Swami Vivekananda. Both had argued India is a pluralistic society, and emphasized on synthesis. One of them had talked about the need of Hindu intellect and Muslim valor.

Modi can also prove Maulana Azad and Nehru right. Jinnah argued that Hindus and Muslims are different nations; hence they need to have different nation-states. Nehru and Azad had argued differently. They had strongly argued that India is a multicultural and pluralistic country in which Hindus and Muslims can stay together. Modi’s policies need to reflect this pluralistic ethos. During his electoral campaigns Modi promised to take all Indians together along with him. And he needs to fulfill that promise while in office.

Whether dealing with internal or external challenges, Modi will have to tread cautiously. Pakistan will be a big challenge. China will be another one. China-Pakistan nexus has not always proved beneficial for India, and Modi has to keep in mind that. While Russia has proved a traditional friend of India, Modi has to devise strategies to balance relations with Russia with that of the USA. Though the USA denied visa to Modi earlier, now it will be eager to deal with Modi, the leader of the largest democracy and also of one of the fastest rising economies. He may also revive the campaign for India’s claim for permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council, the highest and most powerful international body.

Modi will have a better tool in his hand to lift the nation from the morass of poverty and unemployment – two biggest internal challenges. With a strong determination, and by combining the visions of Patel, Shastri and Vajpayee, Modi will be able to trudge through difficult terrains while keeping his mission high.

I wish Modi good luck!


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. He is a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013. This article appeared in TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS on May 26, 2014.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 May 2014.

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