Narendra Modi: Opportunities and Challenges


After much dilly dallying, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Sangh Parivar finally decided grudgingly to bet on Narendra Modi for winning power in Delhi. They had no option but to endorse Modi given the support he has on the ground and the widespread perception that the BJP leadership in Delhi is compromised.

The Modi candidature ends a decade long leadership crisis and confusion in the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar. The party now has a leader with the potential to decisively influence the polity. It now remains to be seen how the Modi era can influence national politics? Would he be just another political aspirant for the post of prime minister, or will his track record make him a game changer?

Over the years, many have joined the Modi bandwagon for a variety of reasons; what is important is how his ideological core constituency, that stood by him in difficult times, looks at his evolution at the national stage. The majority seems happy and wholeheartedly believes that Modi would deliver on ideology and the net effect of his rise would be positive to them.

But, some ideological puritans see his evolution as compromising for the sake of power. They see the recent “toilets before temples” comment as an ideological affront, confirming their worst fears. Yet some of these very ideological puritans consider Vajpayee as the tallest leader, without even once bothering to critically evaluate his delivery on the ideological front while in power.

Despite delivering countless speeches on a variety of topics, Modi in some ways remains an enigma. It’s difficult to get to the bottom of his thinking, but one can get a sense of his mission by looking at his decade long track record in Gujarat. Like every sensible leader, his vision is more about moulding the future than basking in self glorification of past. If we extrapolate his track record at national level, he could well lead an Indian renaissance without compromising the basic Hindu character.

The Congress party has dominated for almost six decades due to division in Hindu votes. Historically, most land-owning, middle segments of Hindu society were hard core anti-Congress, while the traditional Hindu elite, minorities and scheduled castes supported it. Since independence, both Congress and the Jan Sangh were represented at the top by traditional urban Hindu elites who failed to connect with and articulate the interests of the Hindu masses.

This vacuum was filled partially by Lohia-style politics, the Left, and other regional leaders. The Sangh Parivar for long failed to evolve a program and leadership that could connect with the masses. Narendra Modi is the first truly mass leader of Sangh Parivar stock who connects with both the elite and the masses. Current trends indicate he is gaining support amongst the powerful anti-Congress Hindu constituency that was for long uncomfortable with the Sangh Parivar ecosystem, but supported the Janata Parivar, Left and regional parties. This could lead to a tectonic shift domestically, with the consolidation of Hindus at all levels behind Modi, and thus a much broader Hindu representation in the corridors of power in Delhi.

Ideologues of Hindu nationalism are traditionally wary of western influence and tend to over-idealize the autonomous village life and associated socio-administrative structures. Their position on modernity is vague, and when forced to take a position will speak of “modernization without westernization”. This is a kind of oxymoron; current modernity is hugely influenced by western ideas, economics and technology. As an example of “modernization without westernization” they cite countries like Japan, but in truth the economic-cultural life there is not very different from the West, and is in fact very much integrated with the West.

More than romanticizing about the past, Hindu nationalism needs a comprehensive blue print to evolve a holistic alternative to the adharmic development of the modern world. Modi seems to have realized this. In Gujarat, he gave impetus to modern manufacturing with plans for new cities on waste lands. Simultaneously, he focused on making rural life, economy and administration more autonomous. This approach would help a long battered Hindu civilization gain some strength and ability to experiment with ideas from its past. The present cannot be completely ignored for some utopian past. The present demands an approach that would make India an independent economic and military power. Modi’s emphasis on energy security with renewable energy, indigenous defense production and environment protection are steps in that direction.

In October, Gujarat organized a Vibrant Global farmer’s conference; over 10,000 farmers across the country participated. The government of Gujarat honored best performing farmers across the country with cash rewards. When was the last time a national leader bothered about farmers? Perhaps, the last big leader who talked about farmers was Lal Bahadur Shastri. Those who claim Modi’s development approach is corporate-centric should listen to his valedictory speech at the farmers meet (link here).

He has rightly diagnosed the issue ailing farm economy across the globe – the inability of the farmer to sell his produce on his terms. If Modi can successfully address this at national level, by letting farmers self-organize, it would automatically create a healthy balance between urban and rural economies. Also his idea of equal distribution of GDP between Agriculture, Manufacturing and Services with focus on SMEs would translate into a more decentralized healthy economy with prime focus on professional skills than “invisible” market forces or stock markets.

Modi’s approach in Gujarat suggests that he is adapting old Hindu socio-economic ideas that evolved from core spiritual values to modern reality. The real test for him if he manages to win Delhi would be whether he can politically, economically and culturally liberate India’s seven lakh villages, municipalities, corporations, from power brokers in Delhi and state capitals. The imbalance in the system to a large extant can be corrected with optimum decentralization.

The decentralization of power structure could give vast scope for asserting and expanding Hindu cultural identity. Temples can be made autonomous cultural centers and communities can decide on their social, economic and cultural choices within broader national framework. Water conservation, cow-centric organic farming, ayurveda, renewable energy, hygiene, bio-diversity can be more easily promoted at grassroots. It would give scope for society to lead the change than state forcing from the top.

A big challenge for Modi would be zealously maintaining the country’s territorial integrity amidst claims of hostile neighbors. The complete integration of Kashmir a necessary pre-condition for sending a strong message internally and externally. A uniform civil code is an important step for social integrity. Either minorities have to be brought under common law or the state should stop interfering in Hindu social space. Modi and BJP are right in not making Ayodhya an electoral issue. But, in power he cannot sidestep the issue for long and efforts have to be made to bring closure with a grand temple at Ram Janmabhoomi.

Another challenge is to make BJP a political party that better represents the diversity of Hindu society at all levels. The party may get wider support in the next election, but it’s very important to consolidate the surge with diverse representation in organization. The party shouldn’t be held hostage by political pimps in Delhi with no mass base. High command authority has to be sanctioned by grassroots workers through a credible democratic process.

The Modi phenomenon is exciting, gives hope to Indians after a long period of cynicism. The fact that he has managed to maintain consistency for the last twelve years against all odds gives credibility to his ideas and actions. The 2014 general election would be most decisive for the future of Hindu identity and Bharat bhoomi.

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About krishnarjun108

curiosity is my addiction
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