Sunehri zulfon, nasheeli ankhon ki desh ko khokar;
Main hairaan hoon woh zikr waadi-e-kashmir ke karte hain. (After losing Bangladesh, I am troubled to learn they still go on about the Kashmir valley.) - Habib Jalib
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Is a new Modi emerging?
Pritish Nandy in Times of India
Last week I was watching, as I often do, Arnab doing his usual on News Hour and I found Sambit Patra, the hapless BJP spokesman who’s expected to defend everything the Government does (and often doesn’t) trying very hard to be heard above the hubbub. The issue was Kashmir and Patra was trying to defend what Arnab described as Modi’s flip flop on article 370 as well as the release of Masarat Alam, a suspected terror sympathiser, as well as Modi’s letter to Nawaz Sharif on Pakistan National Day on resuming the Indo-Pak dialogue while the Hurriyat was in full attendance at the Pakistan ambassador’s reception in Delhi where Modi had sent his minister of state for external affairs, General VK Singh, who posted tweets from the event suggesting that he was caught between a sense of duty and the sheer disgust at having to socialize with the very men he had been fighting in Kashmir as anti-nationals.(Of course the next morning, the good General, now a consummate politician, swore undying loyalty to his job, his party and his leader and said the media had misrepresented his tweets.)
But the issue here is not the General’s flip flop. It’s Modi’s. And there’s been no dearth of media reports on that. Commentators like Arnab have been constantly harping on the question: Where has the strong, muscular, unbending Modi gone? The PDP-BJP deal to share power in J&K has yielded many changes that look like political compromises. Modi also appears to have gone soft on Pakistan, slow on economic reforms, more sympathetic towards minorities. These have not gone unnoticed by his fringe allies in the Parivar, and his non-stop visits overseas seem to bear a scary resemblance to the jaunts of his predecessor Manmohan Singh who, whenever he found the going tough in India, would seek out the warmth of international bonhomie.
Add to this, the Supreme Court striking down 66A, the Swadeshi Jagran Manchswearing to fight back reforms, Modi affirming the commitment of his government to protecting minorities and their places of worship, the contentious land bill now being toned down to appease the Opposition, and the monogrammed suit auctioned off to a Surat businessman, Modi 2.0 looks all set to be a traditional, commonplace Indian prime minister: Tentative, accommodating, easy on the nerves and no longer looking like Rambo 5 on Hindutva steroids. In short, we now have the perfect leader all set to accommodate all schools of thought, all faiths, all shades of opinion, and will soon hopefully take his vicious trolls off the social media space, return censorship to its sanity, and free speech to its shrine.
The BJP would thus have its second mainstream prime minister who, like Vajpayee before him, will be seen not so much as an aggressive reformist or an RSS propagandist or a six pack challenger of the great status quo that Galbraith once famously described as a functioning anarchy but as just another popular success story of a man who rose from humble origins to the nation’s top job and led it, like his predecessors, into exactly nowhere. And therein lies the magic of India, that it finds its own destiny irrespective of who the leader is and where he or she intends to take the nation. Parties do not count. Nor do declared ideologies. What matters is the ability to walk the middle road, accommodate all shades of opinion, respect the plurality of the nation, its charming inconsistencies and set aside all thought about being the tough, battering ram of change.
Yes, India will change but on its own terms, quietly and easily. It may not become the centre of the universe. And if it does ever become the world’s next super power it will not be because of 10% GDP growth rate or the rise of a new nationalism or even its amazing youth power. It will be because of its wisdom, its compassion, its ease with living under its own skin and not wanting to be another China or Singapore.
All the new Modi has to do is to liberalise more. Liberalise the economy. Liberalise education. Liberalise culture. Nurture the emerging arts. Help grow India’s soft power and its incredible talent. Allow new ideas to flourish. Encourage tourism so that the world may see and love India for what it actually is. Liberalise tax policies; free the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian people. And if he still wants to be seen as a tough, unyielding leader, as some men want to be, he should fight crime and corruption with a firm hand and be unforgiving towards those who embarrass us all before the world. As for India, India will take care of herself as she always has.
If we could have survived so many years of bad, foolish, corrupt governance under the Congress, we can survive anything. Except the stupidity of those who believe they know how to run our lives for us. We don’t need strong, muscular leaders. We never did. We need leaders who trust us, who can restore our faith in ourselves. A gentle nudge is all we require to take us down the road to change, real change. And a new Modi, if it really emerges, gentler, more accommodating, more inclusive, less boastful, less abrasive, easier to live with politically, nearer to Vajpayee than to Vladimir Putin, could actually take us there.