Sunday, May 12, 2013

Narendra Modi: temptation of the middle class

The sudden ascent of stocky, 62 year old Narendra Modi as a serious contender for the nation’s leadership has taken people by surprise. The general election is still a year away but the average, open minded, middle-of- the-road Indian wonders how to think about the polarizing chief minister of Gujarat. Either you love him or hate him, which is precisely why one must not react with a knee-jerk but try and go beyond the shallow surface of a flawed but remarkable human being.

India today is discontented and troubled as a result of corruption scandals, high inflation, declining growth, and a government in denial. Sick of the drift and paralysis, people desperately seek a strong leader, and insistently ask if Narendra Modi might be the one. Clearly, he has proven the ability to build a vibrant economy and usher in corrupt free governance. Could he be India’s best chance to ungum the bureaucracy, tackle corruption and restore the economy to health? But Modi also has a clear downside: he is dictatorial with communal tendencies. Should one risk India’s precious secular and collaborative traditions for the sake of good governance and prosperity? It is a dreadful moral dilemma between equally important values--a classic dharma-sankat.

No Indian leader in recent times has spoken with such passion about ‘governance’ and ‘development’. His talk of ‘less government and more governance’ resonates with the aspiring young middle class. He has changed the language of politics with words like outcomes, accountability, and unbureaucratic service delivery. Visit a municipal office, he says, and you will only see clerks; but an urbanizing nation needs technical people to solve sanitation, transport and infrastructure problems; so, he hired engineer interns and gave them an opportunity to solve municipal problems in Gujarat. Implementation is his obsession and he compares two canals of equal size--the Sujalam Sufalam Yojana, which he completed in two years while the old Sardar Sarovar canal from Nehru's days is still incomplete.

Every country must protect its environment, he argues, but none stops 750 industrial projects and delays them for years. By covering Gujarat’s canals with solar panels, he is conserving water and has made Gujarat a model of solar power. India’s schools face a serious problem of quality, and the Right to Education Act refuses to measure outcomes; so, he plans to make Gujarat’s schools accountable through continuous, quality testing. He inspires young people, saying ‘IT + IT = IT’ (Indian Talent + Information Technology = India’s Tomorrow.) Not since Jawaharlal Nehru has a politician given people such a sense of possibilities. They see in Modi an underdog, a David challenging the Goliath of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

But every temptation has a price. Modi is considered anti-Muslim and many cannot forgive him for the events in Gujarat in 2002. He may not have actively connived in the violence, they say, but why doesn’t  he show remorse? After all, it happened under his watch, and he is responsible. By polarizing the country, people fear he might alienate India's Muslims and this might enhance the risk of domestic terror. The temptation to vote for prosperity and good governance must be tempered by the imperative to keep the nation united and secular.

Those who dismiss the middle class’ impact on elections forget that a new generation of voters has joined the middle class after 1991, and it is in a rage over violence against women and children and longs for a leader who is tough against crime. But it also does not want an Indira Gandhi who will subvert the institutions of democracy. Modi is not likeable--Rahul Gandhi is far more affable--but people today seek an effective, not a friendly leader. India's dilemma is that Modi is the most likely candidate to provide corrupt free governance and restore the economy to high growth, create masses of jobs and lift millions into the middle class. But his communal past is a threat. In the end, each voter will have to choose in 2014 between several imperfect candidates and make a trade-off. Those who think corrupt free governance and prosperity are more important will vote for Modi. Those who worry about communal harmony and domestic security, will not vote for him. It is an unhappy but unambiguous choice.


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Kiran said...

Sir, I had read your India Unbound and was fascinated by the book. Whenever I see your column in print or when you participate in panel discussions, I have found you to be very knowledgeable. But I am disappointed with this blog of yours. You have merely stated facts or what are peddled as facts by the media. I do not see one original idea or urge for action. Pardon my forthrightness but I would expect you to do more than that. If Modi is indeed dictatorial, how come citizens of Guj want him to come to power again and again? If he is communal, how come muslims in guj sing paeans of him? Please dont tell me there is something wrong with Gujratis like Digvijay Singh would. Do you really think India is now secular and there is no polarisation or jingoism in India now? Majority is bashed in India. When reservations are given, bifurcations, trifurcations happen in the name of caste, the powers that be say that for time immemorial they had been suppressed, hence they need a chance. But for how many centuries were majority hindus ruled by muslims and had to have an unfair share of the taxes etc imposed on them? isn't this unfair? So long as industry leaders beat around the bush, close their eyes while India is being looted, they will just be that- "business" leaders, certainly not India's leaders. would be grateful if everyone acted decisively and brought India out of the rut it is in now. Its time for a leader and Modi seems to fit the bill. Would you rather have a clearly nincompoop person like Rahul Gandhi than a proven "purportedly communal" Modi who will take India forward? If Rahul becomes PM, India will be divided further not only on caste/religion lines but a country like Maldives or Bangladesh would also not hesitate from occupying Indiian territory forget about China.

Chinmay 'भारद्वाज' said...

Hello Sir,

Big fan of yours but I don't necessarily agree with your assertions in the column. You are man of reasons and facts. Though you have captured the facts about development of Gujarat and Modi ji's role, you have completely failed rationalize the reasons of not liking him. For example, you say Rahul Gandhi is more affable? I can't fathom your thought behind this. How come he is more affable? Because his last name is Gandhi or because he and his ancestors have wrecked havoc in our country for last 60 years. Would you rather have a scion of a corrupt and incompetant family to rule us or a man who holds his own and talk about development to lead us?

Also, your assertions about Gujarat riots lack basic truths.

As I said I am a big fan of yours. One of the very few sane voices left in Inda but this column was dissapointing to say the least.

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Ramblings said...

Modi is aggressive and articulate. In marketing terms he has a clear positioning while the other "brand" in the fray is very diffused and unfocussed. It is trying to appease too many segments.

But Modi lacks reach, he does not have enough exposure beyond Gujrat. He is trying to correct that and the media seems to be obliging, but his party needs to be more committed and needs to back whole halfheartedly and support him.

It a long haul and time is limited
but a couple of big hard hitting initiatives could really turn the game in his favour.

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I've always been your admirer- through your writings and debates on NDTV.Well, I've no doubt in my mind that we need a leader like Mr. Modi - who is honest, task master and assertive. I'm not very sure of the communaltag he has been labeled. it's more of a media trial then his direct involvement. I'm sure no leader can play with our secular fabric and Mr. Modi is ware of this truth.

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Tacky said...

I don't understand why Modi wants to run the country other than to spread his U.S. Republican sounding platform.
Just as the GOP's hidden agenda ( bring back "the good old days")of keeping people in their place while retaining power, it seems to me that Modi emotes the same philosophy.
There has to be someone other than Rahul. It seems the world over that family"dynasties" have replaced kings and queens of the past. Democracy does not translate into the people making intelligent choices--examples: Steve King of Iowa, Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and a host of others in the U.S., Syria, Korea and other countries. The middle class needs to beware of making poor choices.

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Jolly Shah said...

Sir nicely written but does not talk of Muslims in Modi's decade of rule in Gujarat. That way your worries over his communal side could have been better addressed for larger audience who form an opinion on something coming out from credible source like you. I am from Ahmedabad and I witness this. Muslims in Gujarat have progressed very well wit Gujarat's progress and there is no environment of fear within them. Hope you will do justice to that issue at some point in future.

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Anonymous said...


I agree with all what you said. I am also concerned about the fact that he is part of the group who do not believe in secular republic india.

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Anonymous said...

Modi is never a threat to communal harmony. How many muslims left Gujurat after 2002 incident during this long tenure of Modi in Gujurat?

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Freedom_India said...

Friends, please don't mind Mr. Das's 'objections' against Modi's so-called 'communal mindset'. After all, Mr. Das is industry leader, sits on many company's board of directors and may have many investments. He of course can not afford to piss-off Congis; after all they may unleash dongs from IT or CBI behind him. So after couple of articles denouncing UPA's policy and governance, Mr. Das wants to communicate that he only wanted to promote economic reforms in India, but he does not support any other party - and thus come Modi bashing! Mr. Das, I can understand your issues. You are good industrialist and understand economics; but of course do not have political/money/mafia power to fight Sonia/Manmohan's dictetoral government.

Freedom_India said...

Friends, please don't mind Mr. Das's 'objections' against Modi's so-called 'communal mindset'. After all, Mr. Das is industry leader, sits on many company's board of directors and may have many investments. He of course can not afford to piss-off Congis; after all they may unleash dongs from IT or CBI behind him. So after couple of articles denouncing UPA's policy and governance, Mr. Das wants to communicate that he only wanted to promote economic reforms in India, but he does not support any other party - and thus come Modi bashing! Mr. Das, I can understand your issues. You are good industrialist and understand economics; but of course do not have political/money/mafia power to fight Sonia/Manmohan's dictatorial government.

DK said...

I understand that Modi has a streak of what netaji had.Modi is smart enough to understand where the world is heading to, he understands the world is in neo-colonial period.History tells the story of how the future will be. Power and money is the basis of world evolution. Colonial period followed by world wars,then cold war as WW I &II made superpowers pauper.This lead to cold war and disintegration of super power and end of communist era.The order of the day is to understand capitalism is coming back in the form of neo colonisation:social,economical and cultural control by powers.Hence its in the good interest of Indian people to come out of this pseudo secular stuff and understand that economic growth only is the order of today to remain independin true sense.ent

Stots said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stots said...

Hi . I like your Thoughts on various issue... Thought share mine on your blog not sure you get a chance to look at them

I feel Modi is trying to target two set of people here. Pro-Hindu & Pro-Development

I think 200 BJP (not NDA) seat in 2014 is needed for Modi to become Prim Minister 170-80 will not allow him to be PM (Sushma/Advani/Jaitely ), in that case other NDA parties will have their say.

On the agenda of Progress Modi can achieve 170-80 for sure and here is dilemma, to get those extra 20-30 seat he needs Utter Pradesh and where Caste (Higher Hindu Caste --RSS ) is major factor and Modi is thinking to get their support by showing somewhat inclination to Pro-Hindu view. That is why in his recent statement you can notice he is reflecting himself bit Pro-Hindu, he cannot show himself like of Advani of 1991 (full fledge Hinduism ) as Modi is afraid to lose other vote bank of youth’s seeking development model and get angry if Hinduism is promoted loudly.
Modi cannot afford to waste this chance 2014 election, he cannot see some other BJP leader move ahead of him because BJP missing 200 mark, if he misses this time very huge chance he will be out of PM race forever like Advani. said...

Sir, you have just echoed my views regarding this 'unhappy but ambiguous choice'.. Given the present situation where we are just too sick and tired of corruption, down-treading economy and inefficient governance, Narendra Modi has emerged as the vociferous leader for crores of Indians looking for a breather.

Narendra Phanse said...

Et tu Brutus?

You are one of the rare intellectuals in the country who has a sharp, objective and incisive view of most things Indian. This article, I am afraid, is based on conjecture. I reproduce excerpts of your paragraph:
"Modi is considered anti-Muslim....many cannot forgive him for the events in Gujarat in 2002."
What do YOU consider Mr. Modi to be? Have you made your deductions on the basis of what OTHERS consider?

"...after all it (2002) happened under his watch, and he is responsible..."

Are you,sir, suggesting that the courts in India too have failed in their function?

Mr. Modi is not YET the Prime Minister. It is unfiar to judge him and sau that "by polarizing the country...he MIGHT alienate Indian's Muslims and this MIGHT enhance the risk of domestic terror."

Could YOU kindly consider the fact that he is the CM of Gujarat and see for yourself if his state is 'polarized' and see whether there is an 'enhanced state of terror' in Gujarat. The fact is, there have not been any acts of terror in Gujarat under his stewardship for the last ten years.

If you had done your own on the spot study in Gujarat rather than believe in what 'SOME consider him to be," your article would have been fair to us the readers as well as to Mr. Modi.

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suma said...

I am not understanding why so called intellectuals like you are labeling Modi as non secular. In current politicians I find him secular..many other ruling politicians are pseudo secular. They just used secularism through out history for vote bank reasons
I am not well read like you and I am not even have the experience like you. I am thirty and I am a lady with big dreams and I just want good governance, good infrastructure and security from government. And my culture thought me to be secular in day to day life and it is not a business of politician to teach me. If they do their job that is enough

Abhishek Kotecha said...

Sir, I heard about you and your blog from few of my friends and they praised your content to me as well. Today, no content is complete without talks on Mr. Modi and it got very reasons too. What's better than start with content on youth's choice. Reading it entirely, I don't want to debate or force my thinking/youth's thinking on you, I just have a single, tiny question for every intelligent person - just think of congress/Gandhis (whose surname is also taken for granted) on whatever questions or worrisome facts raised here on Mr. Modi. You will than be realized with real facts. And the reason of why everyone likes Mr. Modi. And sorry as I won't visit your blog again as I think authors don't rely on cheap money oriented news but ground level facts and I didn't find that quality here!

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roko said...

there has always been such dilemma in common man but what we want now is a person who can take a stand and could lead the country to a better future. 2002 riots was a massacre which can't be forgotten but instead of pushing him to the same every time why not just give him a chance and let the people see what he can do. and maybe (a sense of hope) we could be free of this fuddle(a good leader).