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Narendra Modi was always known to paint in bold strokes. His unstinting commitment to the idea of an economically vibrant India—a nation with the world’s highest growth rate, far from the old stereotype of a hesitant Third World laggard with sub-Saharan indices—comes from this capacity to think big, and then to follow it up with concerted, goal-oriented action. With demonetisation, he has sealed his reputation as a new-age warrior for the epoch. The new battles are fought with policy. On November 8, with a decision that would repaint our whole monetary landscape—a decision countless others would have dithered over—it became clear why his admirers invest him with the aura of men from the old fables, of titans from centuries long past. That’s the journey’s message, halfway.
All this was necessitated, of course, by the mess left behind by a decade-long Congress rule in the last instance—with the ageing, decaying and rudderless rent-seekers who pass for visionaries in their ranks. Not to speak of the pseudo-socialist ruling ideology that weighed India down, and kept its potential energies hidden from itself, in the half-century preceding that. No wonder so many Indians see hope for deliverance now. That’s the reason people across social, regional and identity-based faultlines—especially from among the tech-savvy young generation—support his actions and can see their transformative potential.
We are just at the halfway mark of Modi’s first tenure, and already so many things have happened. In a sense, India has already changed. It’s no longer that nation which is eager to please by yielding space. The world already has an intimation of what a strong, developed, ethically cleansed India—the essence of what he’d have imbibed from the RSS prayer Param Vaibhavam—has got to give in the next eight years. Beset with weak leadership for so long, it’s perhaps time everyone realised the value of Golwalkar’s ideal: man with capital M.
It’s not merely about growth figures either. A nation cannot just be a conglomeration of pockets of steel-and-glass corporate wealth and military power, peopled by a submissive mass of faceless millions toiling to earn their daily bread and put a shelter over their head. A nation is built on abstractions too: a sense of a collective journey, a belongingness, a common pool of emotions. For the last six decades, India was in search of a no-nonsense leadership that could tap into this soul, this storehouse of energies.
Even his critics will admit that Modi has faced down severe opposition from within and without. Today, it's the US that has reset its lens.
It was essential, to unlock India’s potential, to hit at the termites that have been eating away at the vitals of the nation with mai-baap politics and family fiefdoms. Corruption was the order of the day and procrastination was the prime logic of governance. The morale of the soldiers and the citizens was at an equal ebb. We woke each morning with a new corruption expose and/or with news of incursions on the eastern and western sectors. Scandals touched the three proverbial orbits—jal, thal, nabh or water, land and space.
Even critics will acknowledge that Modi faced severe, brutal challenges from within and without. In April 2014, I was in Washington, addressing a select elite of the US-India Business Council. The corporate and diplomatic leaders assembled there feared riots, wars and a Hindu fanatic-led Dark Age if Modi won. I told them—on record—that Modi will come with a clear majority and Capitol Hill mavens will have to eat their words. Finally, it was America that had to reset its lens.
Modi’s swearing-in was a picture of good-neighbourliness, offering a snapshot of a possible world, if only they saw the point of it. His visits abroad—New York, Beijing, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Japan, the Indian Ocean rim countries—each met a unique challenge that’s often glossed over only because of the élan with which he encountered them. At each dialogue and point of collaboration, Modi raised the levels at which India entered the engagement. From his first foreign visit as PM—to Bhutan—he came across as the very embodiment of a new, confident India: whether beating those drums in Tokyo with “dear buddy Abe san”, or the informal, old schoolboys’ chemistry with “Barack”, or seated on a swing with President Xi.
The trip to Lahore is often cited as a misstep. But the SAARC slap on Pakistan remains a testimony to the friends India has earned. Even China now sees merit in inviting India to join the CPEC project. Not surprising that. For, economic empowerment is the key that opens all gates—and hence the massive solar energy push and crop insurance, hence Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, and the highways and ports creating a new architecture of prosperity. Farmers, soldiers, labourers, women...across sectors of human enterprise, the hope for a better life transcends statistics.
(The writer is director, Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, and former editor, Panchjanya.)