Modi’s Victory to Hide His Weaknesses
If Modi has to break free of past image, he needs to make himself visible in places he does not normally go
There are two ways to make an entry into India’s political centre stage: from either the Left or the Right. But to stay firm on the platform, governments and its leaders have moved to the centre. So would Modi have to perforce make a lateral move similar to the one made by his party in 1998? Being more a political pragmatist than a zealot, Modi would make this transition in the normal course unless there is greater political dividend in adopting a more strident posture than he has done in the course of his election campaign. Despite fears of increased inter-community temperature in the immediate aftermath of Modi’s ascendance it is unlikely that he would want to socially ignite the Gangetic Plains. Modi’s mandate has been built on the promise of elevated levels of development, more efficient forms of governance, putting the economy back on tracks, eliminating a system that nurtures corruption and providing more jobs. The mandate has also been built around the belief that though Modi’s government will not run on principles of religious majoritarianism, he is not initiating immediate steps to redress grievances of religious minorities. But Modi has evolved in the course of the campaign from the one who brandished his Alpha Male image at a rally in Gorakhpur to one who referred to Varanasi’s syncretism. So will Modi make that elusive grand gesture? An answer to this can be provided by Modi alone, and making assumptions is hazardous. It depends if in his assessment, after having won votes, he needs to win hearts. But as a reader of possible scenarios, there is little chance of Modi either expressing public regret for events in 2002 or for him to wear a skull cap and pay obeisance at a Dargah. During the last dramatic day of his campaign at Varanasi, he was disallowed from addressing a meet in a predominantly Muslim area, Beniya Bagh. But Modi was not going there to win hearts and instead approaching with the intent of conquering. If Modi has to break free of his past image, he needs to make himself visible in places he does not normally go to. As prime minister Modi has to decide if increased ghettoisation of our towns and cities is good for the country. If he concludes in the negative, then he could consider visiting even Juhapura the well known Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Ahmedabad or Signal Falia, the infamous Godhra colony. How Modi positions himself vis-à-vis will determine his approach to the aggrieved communities. Though Modi will no longer face the challenge of managing a coalition, he will be up against himself greatly when it comes to cajoling other parties to offer support in Rajya Sabha, crucial for passing key legislations. His personality precludes the possibility of being persuasive with reluctant supporters. This victory will probably hide several of Modi’s weaknesses and knowing him he would not use this respite to address those. Modi’s victory is the biggest news to have emanated from India in a long while and has predictably been anticipated keenly the world over. Most would apprehend a replay of 2002 and the beginning of a reign of suppression of the minorities. But, his government is unlikely to allow such developments to emerge as hurdles in the path of governance and development. In the course of the campaign, Modi came down fairly heavily on the fringe element in his own political fraternity. This should set the tone towards deescalating social tension and inter-community conflict. He will have to address Muslim anxiety something that he has not done. The world will also look keenly at Modi’s neighbourhood policy especially given the assorted statements he made on Pakistan and Sri Lanka besides the commitment to consult states while formulating foreign policy. As far as India’s western neighbour is concerned, this massive mandate enables him to pick up threads of Indo-Pak ties from a position of strength. With the United States warming up to a Modi-led regime, he will utilise diplomatic routes to leverage this into his advantage while dealing with Islamabad. The greater than expected mandate was probably not anticipated by anyone save the man himself and his core team. In this scenario, he probably would have a game plan worked out. But it would be a tragedy if Modi allows hate and dislike to derail the chance he has got to emerge as one of the most significant leaders in Indian political history. Modi’s track record has been the worst when it comes tackling dissent. But to make India feel proud once again, he has to give people the confidence to be able to oppose him. Modi needs to prove that he believes in what he recently said - that he dislikes people who level allegations against him but regards those who evaluate him critically. When he is not addressing key policy issues, he will be up against himself.