Friday, December 19, 2014

Modi must unite all, not make us fear him

Given its vast size, it is said that a super tanker takes 10 nautical miles to execute a turn. The ship of state that is India is in the same situation. A new party and government has taken charge just five months ago and have begun the process of change, but given the size of the country, it will take time before you actually feel something happening. 
As it is, Modi seems to be working on a different timetable. His goal is nothing short of hegemony in Indian politics, both personal, and that of his party.
Modi has centralised the politics of the country around himself and has made his Prime Minister’s Office the core of his authority. From here he runs India, and it is now clear to all that no detail is too small for the PMO to be involved in - from dealing with Pakistan, China and the US, to dispatching the Joint Intelligence Committee chairman to check out a robbery in Haryana and helping a teacher get her gratuity from her institution. 
As part of this centralisation process, Modi is taking charge of his party across the country. 
Beginning with Amit Shah, party organisations across the states are being reorganised with the old guard marginalised and a new team loyal to Modi being put in their place. 
Modi’s ties to big business are well known. That he is a Gujarati is a natural advantage since many of the top businessmen are also from the same community. But in Modi’s case, he sees the businessmen as instruments of his policy, rather than as a source of funds. 
The way he looks at it, if he is to transform India to becoming a manufacturing hub, and meet the expectations that he has aroused among the people, he needs the cooperation of big business. 
As of now, the picture that emerges of Modi is that notwithstanding the fact that he has a Master’s degree, Modi is not an “intellectual” politician, he runs more on instincts and strong beliefs. 
These views have been built up over time, they have a strong leavening of the Sangh Parivar, but also of his varied experiences as a party organiser and chief minister. In this he is like Ronald Reagan who created a revolution of sorts in American politics by pursuing politics that were rooted in his deep beliefs, regardless of the fact that they were not part of the country’s mainstream. 
But unlike Reagan, and more like Mrs Indira Gandhi, Modi likes to run the show on his own. As of now, his government is painfully thin in terms of talent. He has the formidable Mr Jaitley by his side, but even Jaitley cannot manage the enormous demands of the two ministries - finance and defence - especially since they require not just their running, but also deep restructuring and reform. 
Despite his increasing control over his party, Modi today essentially depends on the bureaucracy to execute his will. He coerces them, but also empowers them to take decisions. They, more than his Cabinet colleagues, are the primary instrument of his decision-making. 
This is the model that he patented in Gujarat and this is the one that he seems to be using in New Delhi as well. But, unlike his predecessors, you will not hear of any coterie or kitchen cabinet. He treats them all alike, but keeps them at a distance. 
There is of course his big family - the Sangh Parivar. But anyone who has seen the record of their dealings will know that the relationship is a complex one.

At Saturday's launch of the BJP membership drive, PM Modi made a case for inclusion in the party
At Saturday's launch of the BJP membership drive, PM Modi made a case for inclusion in the party

Modi is not the typical pracharak. Had he been so, he would not have become the prime minister of India. But he is aware of the enormous power of the Sangh through its network of pracharaks and front organisations, and that just like the Congress is nothing without the Gandhis, so is the BJP zero without the Sangh. 
As of now the relationship has been exemplary. Modi has taken key leaders like Ram Madhav aboard from the Sangh into the BJP, and has institutionalised consultations between ministers and top leaders. What is more likely to happen is that given time, the Modi machine will subsume the Sangh, rather than the other way around. 
There is one big dangerous downside to the current political situation: the efforts to trigger communal polarisation and Modi’s silence, at least till now, on this issue.
It is true that during election time such polarisation is not uncommon. But the talk of “love jihad” by some partymen in UP and the rise in communal tension are a bad augury. 
If Modi is to move this country ahead, he also needs social peace. Indian Muslims have been remarkable in their immunity to the global jihadi agenda till now. None were found in Guantanamo in the wake of the American victory in Afghanistan in 2001, and none have been found in Syria either with the Islamic State militants. 
There have been some claims about Indians going to join the stir, but little evidence. Even in India, the 100 or so Indian Mujahideen involved in the bombing campaign of 2005-2008 are a negligible number as compared to the 180 million Muslim population. 
Indeed, social indicators show and opinion polls reveal most Indian Muslims have the same aspirations as their other countrymen. They want smaller families, better jobs, and good education for their children. Let’s note: 180 million is not a small number, and if pushed to the wall, they are likely to fight back and the consequences will be bad for the whole country. 
Modi himself has been silent on the issue, but last week, kicking off a membership drive for the BJP, he called for a more inclusive party, one that represented all sections of the people. 
Currently it is seen as a party of the Hindi heartland and mainly of Hindus. But if the BJP is to supplant the Congress as the default party of the land, it has to appeal to people across the very diverse landscape of the country. 
Mail Today November 7, 2014

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