I have so far hesitated to write anything about the current Indian government on my blog for two reasons namely (a) It was too early to write anything (b) I was concerned about the reactions from the vociferous online ‘brigades’ that support or oppose the views and policies of the current Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi. I told myself to wait for some days before making any analysis. The Indian government and Narendra Modi have completed one year in office and now it appears to be the right time to pause and look back. I could get away with saying anything about Dr Manmohan Singh. It was easy to write about Dr. Singh because he was an academic and a bureaucrat. With high regards for Manmohan Singh (the person), I also wrote at times with affection and sympathy. On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s big strength is that he is an out-n-out politician (and not a white collared civil servant). In a way Modi is rightly and deservingly accountable to a mandate of the magnitude that India delivered in May 2014. Modi does not need my sympathies as he comes across as a strong individual and he does not need my affection as he gets a truckload of adoration from many quarters. I do not know Narendra Modi, the current Indian prime minister. I also do not know Narendra Modi, the erstwhile chief minister of Gujarat since I come from Karnataka. Although I am reasonably aware of his past circumstances (be it the adulation from India Inc., for his efficient governance or the simmering anger post-2002 riots), my views of Modi are mostly based on what I have seen of him since the 2014 Indian election. I am just watching him as keenly as I used to observe Manmohan Singh.
Narendra Modi started on a high note by inviting all the leaders from the SAARC region to his swearing-in ceremony. His move received a lot of praise across party lines. Since then he has visited some of those countries himself (Bhutan and Nepal come to mind, I don’t remember if he visited others also). It was a good beginning and I felt that the SAARC project may be revived and SAARC could become more than a mere assembly of nations. Knowing and tweeting about Napal’s earthquake by the Indian Prime Minister, before the Indian Home minister is in the know, is quite “impressive” but I sincerely hope that some concrete work is being done behind the scenes to revive SAARC. External affairs has always been one of the portfolios of personal interest to many Indian prime ministers of the past starting from J Nehru to PV Narashimha Rao and from IK Gujral, AB Vajapayee to M Singh. The volatile Indian neighborhood explains some of their special interest in the foreign ministry. But, one cannot overlook the fact that foreign focus is driven by huge personal ambitions. Projecting India as a global power is one aspect of it while there are many other angles often overlooked by daily media. A prime minister usually wants to be remembered (after he finishes his term or perhaps after he is dead) for the great historical deeds that he accomplished or tried to accomplish during his tenure. These interests and inclinations are similar to those of a king investing in grand architectural monuments, hero-stones and war memorials. A prime minister is somehow judged on his/her performance at the international front and sadly not on groundbreaking domestic policies. Modi appears to have succumbed to the temptation of projecting India abroad but so far he has only done well in projecting himself as a ‘reformer in chief’ (to quote US president Barack Obama). It was okay that he spent more than 50 days abroad in his first year in office. I strongly disagree with the patronising and insensitive tone of some of Modi’s speeches abroad (electioneering?). Manmohan Singh did not talk enough and Modi talks a lot more than he should. Nonetheless, I would, as I did to Manmohan Singh, give Modi the benefit of the doubt and say that Modi may have done his job adequately while he was representing India abroad.
Modi’s emphasis on chai pe charcha and mann ki baat did not enthuse me personally. Frankly, to say that Modi oversold himself on the radio and TV would be an understatement. I loathed that he addressed children on the Teacher’s day (September 5) and more over it was a dreadful speech (one of the worst from Modi). The sloganeering has gone from bad to worse. As much as I like to see a punchy tag line to any advertised product, I do not like artificial slogans and acronyms that are stitched with no context and no meaning. He is a gifted speaker and I pray that he talks less, talks more of specifics and talks less of himself.
Much has been said about the expensive suit that Modi allegedly received from one of his admirers. Modi erred in accepting the obscene suit and made a blunder by wearing it when Obama visited India. It provided additional evidence to an existing view that Modi has more than a streak of unhealthy self-obsessiveness in him. Modi was also in the news because of some idiots trying to build a temple in his name. On that occasion, he was quick to shun them. One of the good things Modi has done in his first year is not to promise too much. He has only talked about hope and we can live with hope for the moment. However, one should remember that Barack Obama came to the fore on a tidal wave of hope and since then has been disappointing to say the least. Modi has done well in keeping the government away from big scandals and partly he has benefited from the abysmal slump of UPA II. Reports suggest that he takes active interest in all ministries and the PMO keeps track of all cabinet and state ministers. He may come across as authoritarian and unilateral in this aspect but, I would wait until he completes his term to derive anything from such notions. He would do well to strengthen the democratic institutions of India and if he does, it will count as one of the biggest achievements of any prime minister anywhere. I look forward to writing more about similar subjects when situations arise.
After winning his parliamentary seat in Vaaranaasi in Uttar Pradesh, I was pleased when Modi paid a special tribute to the river Gangaa. I was upbeat about a prime minister drawing the nation’s attention to a dying river, a river sacred to millions of Indians. There was some initial exuberance in the media and since then there is no news. I hope Modi soon returns to the maligned Gangaa and much that symbolizes Indian natural, geographical and working environment. The frothing and burning lakes in Bangalore symbolize what industries are doing to our environment. If Modi wants a clean government and a development agenda (at least he says he does), he can only get it in a clean environment. If development comes at the cost of our natural resources and environment, then I am sure somewhere somebody must be indulging in illegal and corrupt activities. Not all problems in India are due to lack of foreign investment. Not all problems of India are due to our troubled neighborhood. Not all problems that face India are due to his party’s minority in the Rajya sabha (upper house of Indian parliament). Modi probably knows this, and if not I hope, he realizes soon that he should know it.