There was lit­tle de­bate amongst In­dia To­day ed­i­tors on who would be News­maker of 2016. Even be­fore the fate­ful day of Novem­ber 8, he was in the lead, but his D-bomb sealed it. In 2016, no one dom­i­nated the coun­try’s dis­course and in­flu­enced the lives of its peo­ple more than Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. He kept the me­dia busy by or­der­ing a sur­gi­cal strike on Pak­istan Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir as a reprisal for ter­ror at­tacks, he did not ex­tend the term of poster boy RBI gov­er­nor Raghu­ram Ra­jan in spite of a cho­rus of sup­port, he did not suc­cumb to the rage of vet­er­ans on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of One Rank One Pen­sion, and he scored an un­prece­dented win for the BJP in As­sam. As In­dia’s First Diplo­mat, he trav­elled to 18 coun­tries, in­clud­ing five in East and South­east Asia, al­ter­ing the fo­cus of our Pak­istan-cen­tric in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and hard-sell­ing In­dia’s im­age from red tape to red car­pet. He lob­bied for In­dia’s en­try into the NSG even though he was stymied in his ef­forts by China.

In 2016, he was on the In­dia To­day cover five times. In all, In­dia To­day has had him on the cover 36 times (one more than Indira Gandhi and five less than So­nia Gandhi). He has been news­maker of the year twice be­fore, once in 2002 and a sec­ond time in 2014. In the time we have been chron­i­cling his jour­ney, it is grat­i­fy­ing to see cer­tain cam­paign prom­ises come through, whether it is in the large-scale im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Prad­han Mantri Jan Dhan Yo­jana or the weed­ing out of cor­rup­tion from the Cen­tre. Some other big-ticket ideas have been highly pub­li­cised, such as Make in In­dia and min­i­mum gov­er­nance, but not ad­e­quately ex­e­cuted.

But the prime min­is­ter’s vi­sion has been clear from the begin­ning. At his first In­de­pen­dence Day speech in 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Modi had de­scribed him­self as the na­tion’s Prad­han Se­vak, and de­clared that he wanted to put an end to the cul­ture of ‘mera kya, mu­jhe kya’. It was not a slo­gan, as many imag­ined, but a prom­ise. Par­tic­i­pa­tive gov­ern­ment has be­come the cor­ner­stone of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, ev­i­dent in poli­cies such as Swachh Bharat, schemes such as Give It Up by the min­istry of pe­tro­leum and nat­u­ral gas, and in great dis­rup­tions like de­mon­eti­sa­tion. It is a long-term cul­tural re­mak­ing project. And it piv­ots on the prime min­is­ter’s in­di­vid­ual pop­u­lar­ity. When he says he is a fakir who will pack his bags and move on if and when the time comes, much of In­dia be­lieves him.

That is both Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s strength and weak­ness. His high per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity has given him the courage to take a de­ci­sion with­out any ap­par­ent short-term pay­off. It may also have blinded him to the po­ten­tial pit­falls aris­ing out of poor im­ple­men­ta­tion. In his urge to trans­form In­dia, he over­es­ti­mated the state’s ca­pac­ity to de­liver an es­sen­tial ser­vice like bank­ing. But as the prime min­is­ter says in a can­did in­ter­ac­tion, pre­ceded by an ex­ten­sive e-mail in­ter­view, to Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor Raj Chen­gappa, “one must dis­tin­guish be­tween niti (pol­icy) and ran-niti (ex­e­cu­tion strat­egy or tac­ti­cal ma­noeu­vres). De­mon­eti­sa­tion, which re­flects our niti, is un­equiv­o­cally clear, un­wa­ver­ing and cat­e­gor­i­cal. Our ran-niti, how­ever, was ‘Tu daal-daal, main paat-paat’. We must stay two steps ahead of the en­emy’’. Al­tru­ism is not the sole driver of the prime min­is­ter’s re­lent­less search for in­no­va­tive de­ci­sions. After the hor­ror of the 2002 riots, he spent the next 12 years of his ten­ure as Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter trans­form­ing the state into a model of de­vel­op­ment and him­self into an icon of progress. Modi has al­ways been con­scious about his place in his­tory, more so since he be­came prime min­is­ter.

No won­der he’s launched one ground-break­ing scheme after an­other. At last count, he had an­nounced 27 new schemes, from the Prad­han Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yo­jana in March to the Prad­han Mantri Yuva Yo­jana in Novem­ber; given over 200 speeches and ac­quired over 25 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers. Many may dis­agree with his style of func­tion­ing and ex­e­cu­tion of his var­i­ous schemes, but few can dis­pute the goals and di­rec­tions of his ef­forts. They are aimed at mod­ernising In­dia ev­ery which way. Frankly, I would rather have a prime min­is­ter prop­a­gate de­vel­op­ment and rail against cor­rup­tion than have the na­tion fight­ing over a mandir or the sanc­tity of the cow.

A rebel with­out a pause, he is a man burst­ing with ideas to up­set the es­tab­lished or­der. All this has en­sured he re­mains leagues ahead of an er­ratic Op­po­si­tion and the undis­puted news­maker of 2016. On that de­ci­sive note, Happy New Year!



(Aroon Purie)

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