A lot has been said and discussed about the intentions and capabilities of Narendra Modi before and after he became prime minister. The last three months have converted some fence sitters to his side, while the critics and skeptics continue to hold fort. However, we must give credit where it is due.
Modi is still an enigma on subjects like communal issues and educational reforms (or rather the saffronization of education, if you please). However, he has been quite forthcoming on matters pertaining to industry and business, albeit a little less about prices, agriculture and farmer’s issues. His call for sanitation and cleanliness is praiseworthy, while his engagement with Pakistan has sharply divided domestic and international opinion.
Another area where Modi is found wanting is his lack of concern about environment. Development seems to be his sole mantra. Probably he feels that the environmental activists are impediments in this road to development. I think this is the result of a lack of broader understanding of how the environment and sustainability are being affected by so called development. The industry lobby is too imposing to let him see the reality. I hope he understands that environment is not limited to personal hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation but has a larger canvas extending to protection of habitats for man and beast and not tampering with nature causing irreversible damage – not only taking from the environment, but also giving back.
Modi may be a good administrator as he has proved in Gujarat, but there is no denying that he has a streak of an autocrat if not a dictator. It is said that if he is convinced about the capabilities of a man, he gives him a free hand. However, we have seen few cases which can support this quality. The way he has clipped the wings of his cabinet, it is apparent that he trusts very few people. So, another view emerges that power is concentrated in his hands. He also has a bad record of ill-treating honest police officers in his home state and even using the pliable ones and then dumping them.
But Modi’s biggest asset is his sharp intellect. His oratory is another strength, which sometimes, unfortunately, takes an incendiary trend (as seen during the election campaign). It is good that he is much more restrained now, thanks to the constraints of office and protocol.
Modi is particular about dressing and grooming. Not quite a Nehru, but he exhibits good taste. His rise from a humble 'pracharak' to the highest office in government surely means he is an astute politician. He has shown his humility symbolically by bowing at the steps of parliament and acknowledging the role of senior leaders in his as well as the nation’s rise. On the other hand, he also comes across as a no nonsense leader. However, one eagerly awaits to see a statesman in that position, and is disappointed.
Modi’s early life is still not well known. There are stories about his wanderings in the Himalayas and time spent in ashrams. However, his life post joining RSS is fairly well documented. As far as I know, Modi attended the neighbourhood school till matriculation. He grew up like a normal small town lower middle class boy mixing with school friends across castes and communities, participating in cultural activities, with an early inclination towards nationalism.
Modi never attended college, which in my opinion is a great disadvantage. College education, which is usually more cosmopolitan and liberating, unshackles one from some deeply entrenched detrimental “values” which might have crept in during early formative years. It is a pity that Modi missed this phase of life, otherwise, I am sure, he would have been more open and liberal in his opinions, speech and actions. However, to his credit, Modi completed his graduation and probably post-graduation through correspondence.
But the real higher education that Modi received was in the shakhas of RSS and under the tutelage of various RSS leaders and some BJP stalwarts. He learnt by listening, observation and reading nationalist and religious literature. And he is no doubt a keen learner. Thus, his was not a normal mainstream Indian education.
Another disadvantage he suffered was the lack of fluency in English. But he makes do with his excellent command over Hindi. So, we hear more of Hindi now in official briefings as well as on international fora where Modi speaks. After the much acclaimed and remembered speech in Hindi by Vajpayee at the UN General Assembly, we await another rousing address by Modi later this month.
After the pragmatic address from Red Fort on August 15th and a successful trip to Japan we are looking forward to Modi’s address to the UNGA. This address is expected to reveal the government’s broad foreign policy in general and how it plans to counter a Pakistan in turmoil once again, which will surely raise the Kashmir issue.
Modi’s government has been accused of only taking forward the UPA policies. There is nothing wrong in continuing with the good policies, but the rhetoric of politics and the noise of blame game should be toned down. With a comfortable majority, NDA is in a position to rule firmly and take tough decisions if required. I only hope that while doing so, this government acquires a more secular and inclusive outlook with “good governance” as promised and a conscious attempt towards preservation of the planet.