Monday, May 26, 2014

Judge not Modi too soon

Narendra Modi being sworn in as PM by President Pranab
Mukherjee. (Photo credit: Rajeev Bhatt/The Hindu
Narendra Modi has just been sworn in as the Prime Minister of India in a grand ceremony in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. For the first time ever, leaders from all the seven Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations and Mauritius, besides 4,000 other invitees attended.

It should normally have been just another transition of power -- for the 15th time, if you didn't include two stints of 13 days each when Gulzarilal Nanda was the acting prime minister after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. But there has been so much of excitement this time around.

In the recent past, perhaps only two other transitions created so much excitement -- in 1977 when Morarji Desai became PM heading India's first non-Congress government that too after both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were defeated in the election; and later in 1996 when Atal Behari Vajpayee led a BJP-led minority government, for 16 days, just 4 years after the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Given the way the UPA-2 government was drifting rudderless courting one controversy after another -- under a competent man, who unfortunately never got to do what he wanted to (unlike in 1991 when he was the finance minister, Narasimha Rao was the PM and Sonia Gandhi hadn't entered politics) -- Narendra Modi becoming the PM was very much foreseen.

Why the excitement?
  • The hope that we will have a government that will be also seen to be functioning.
  • After 16 years, we have a prime minister who has campaigned and led his party to victory.
  • After 30 years, a single party has got majority in the Lok Sabha.
  • Regional satraps who have only a score or two MPs won't hold the entire nation to ransom.
  • The talk that Modi is an efficient and tough taskmaster who gets things done.
  • We have a PM who is backed by a reasonable set of achievements, though he has quite a lot of negative attributes as well. But in the absence of any alternative, many seem to have decided to focus on his pluses than minuses.
While the excitement is understandable. we are too presumptuous in judging Modi. I guess, we must allow him and his government to settle down. We have seen only a number of symbolisms, during electioneering and after, from Modi. Nothing wrong. After all, politics is a lot about perception -- formed not just by tangible substantive actions, but by intangible tokenism too. The most talked-about symbolism is the invitation of foreign leaders to the swearing-in, particularly Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

I am sure Modi wouldn't restrict himself to token gestures, as he and his team gets the wheels of effective governance turning again. Expect not just sweet symbolisms, but quite a few harsh and unpopular decisions as well that are needed if our country has to scale heights of economic and social excellence. Hopefully, sloth, lack of accountability and indiscipline in governance will be things of the past.

Eager anticipation

It's more anticipation than excitement; anticipation on how the future would be. Going by the way votes have gone, it has been established on multiple fora that people who voted for the BJP had chosen to look at economic issues over communal and religious issues.

One important area that has suffered over the past few years is investment. We are not talking about the more controversial foreign direct investment, that too in retail. We are talking of investment in infrastructure, education, science and technology, agriculture, industry, tourism etc. And we are not talking of foreign investment. We are talking of Indian investment. Many Indians, wary of investing in India itself, have been turning to foreign countries.

The biggest change most Indians are looking forward to is this. Because, it will have a great bearing on jobs, state of the economy, and by extrapolation, the standard of living.

But the huge flip side of the mandate is that very other Indian who voted, didn't vote for BJP. Its vote share was a little over 30%. The majority of those voted, the nearly two-thirds, will be keeping their fingers crossed with a lot skepticism.

Hopefully Modi will keep them in mind, the huge majority who didn't vote for the BJP. Finally, his image and success, will depend on how he takes care of them.

Test of crisis

It's said the strength of a chain is its weakest link. It means, when pressure is applied on the chain, it's weakest link that will snap first. So, how long lasting the chain is depends on that weakest link. Similarly, how good Modi is will depend on how well he can handle a crisis. It's during a crisis one's abilities are put to test. So, we will be able to judge best, when he is faced with a crisis, by looking at how well he resolves it.

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