Narendra Modi has a long way to go for greatness

It is a year since Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an overwhelming electoral victory in the world’s second most populous country and largest democracy, India.

By Rahul Singh (ANALYSIS)

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Published: Sat 23 May 2015, 11:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 11:20 PM

The Congress Party, headed by the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, and her son, Rahul, suffered an ignonimous defeat, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. It was a seismic shift in Indian politics and the lowest point for the Congress in four decades.

The Congress had a proud tradition of leading the country’s fight for independence from British rule. The Party’s inspirational figure was the saintly Mohandas Karamchand (“Mahatma”) Gandhi and the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru was the nation’s first Prime Minister. Both of them laid the foundations of democracy and the rule of law – foundations that have stood firm for over six decades, except for a short period under Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. Her 17-year tenure as prime minister was followed by her son, Rajiv, until he, like his mother, was assassinated.

However, the dynastic rule of the Gandhi/Nehru continued, since in a very real sense, Rajiv’s widow, Sonia was the main power even though Manmohan Singh was the prime minister from 2004 to 2014. Modi’s victory in 2014 was a sure sign that the Indian public was fed up of the dynastic rule of the Gandhi/Nehru family and wanted a change. It was also sickened by the series of scams that had been plaguing the country, slowing economic growth and adversely affecting governance.

Modi, a successful two-term chief minister of the State of Gujarat, promised an end to corruption, higher growth and better governance. He appealed to an aspirational generation that wanted more jobs and a cleaner, less obtrusive government. What’s more, he was a self-made man, with no elitist pretensions. His catchy slogan that “good days were coming” clearly appealed to the electorate.

Well, how has he fared?

Surprisingly, in his foreign policy, brilliantly. Nobody expected this area to be his forte. After all, his English was faltering at best and his exposure to diplomacy very limited. Yet, he has surprised not only his own countrymen but the rest of the world as well. He began his prime ministership with a master stroke, by inviting the leaders of India’s neighbouring SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Countries) to his and his Cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi.

Modi’s message was clear: he would give priority to improving ties between India and its neighbours. New Delhi’s immediate response in providing aid and relief to Nepal, following the recent earthquake, and the reaching out to the new government in Sri Lanka were indications of this welcome reorientation. His high-voltage visit to the USA – whose government had earlier denied him a visa – and the presence of President Obama as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebration (the first American President to accept that honour) was yet another foreign policy triumph. His just-concluded three-day tour of China has added yet another feather to his cap, commanding worldwide attention. It could lead to a settlement of the long-standing border dispute that had led to a brief war in 1962. Indeed, the many trips made by Modi abroad has evoked criticism that he has been neglecting domestic affairs. The record speaks otherwise. In elections held in four states, the BJP has come out on top. Rahul Gandhi, the heir presumptive of the Congress Party, has come nowhere near matching the charisma and oratory of Modi. It is only in the Union Territory of Delhi that the Modi wave has faltered. There, the BJP put up Kiran Bedi, a former woman senior police officer, as its chief ministerial candidate. It was a cardinal mistake. The recently formed Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, of which Bedi had been a leading member, trounced the BJP.

Otherwise, Indian business has been happy with Modi. The stock market has gone up and India’s foreign exchange reserves are at a record high. The economic growth rate has risen from around 4.5 percent to over 7 percent. However, there has been grumbling that the promises made a year ago have not been fulfilled and that there are still too many bureaucratic and other hurdles in setting up businesses in India. There is also disquiet over extremist elements of the BJP getting out of hand and making statements discomfiting to minorities. Modi was considered a “polarizing figure”, largely because of his controversial role in the anti-Muslim 2002 Gujarat riots. He needs to curb the hot-heads in his party if he wants to erase that image.

Unlike his predecessor, the self-effacing Manmohan Singh, the ambitious Narendra Modi clearly sees himself as a man of destiny. He wants to cement his place as one of the great leaders of India. In his first year he has made a fairly good start, with considerable success overseas, limited gains domestically. But for greatness he has a long way to go.  

 Rahul Singh is the former Editor of the Reader’s Digest, Indian

Express and Khaleej Times.

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