Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

An army of stags led by a lion could be more formidable than the army of lions led by a stag. This Latin proverb is applicable in every situation in every area of human activity in any part of the world.

A visionary and daredevil leader as “guidepost” can make the difference in and off the field. Of course, the question of political leadership is a complex phenomenon, especially in the Indian situation. The people here look for an ideal image – charismatic and forward-looking, but in the traditional mould.

Where does Prime Minister Narendra Modi fit in, in the complex Indian setting ? He surely roars like a lion. After three years of his rule, it is still too early to have an objective assessment of the controversial former Chief Minister of Gujarat. It can, however, be safely stated that he has proved himself to be a Master Magician who could generate thunderous applause by his rhetoric despite visible gaps between Promise and Performance.

Only a Master Magician can take out a rabbit from his “hat” to the delight of his audience. Prime Minister Modi has perfected the intricate art of image-building even against the backdrop of his controversial masterstroke of demonetisation. Knowledgeable persons have raised a number of inconvenient questions on Notes Ban.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s good intentions. He is a well-meaning and forward-looking leader. What his Notes Ban move lacked was thought inputs from the ground. I am sorry to say the Prime Minister failed to make an objective assessment of grassroots realities before his historic demonetization measure.

He and his close associates continue to be guided by their inflated ego, though hard economic facts give distress signals on this count. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) report tells us about the growth slowdown to 5.7 per cent in the last quarter, growing joblessness, stagnation on the farm front and in the manufacturing sector. Even the net effect of “good monsoon” is anyone’s guess.

Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has stated that “if the decision such as this Notes Ban turns out as exposed, the country would want to ask what were the inputs that went into that decision”. This is a legitimate issue in a vibrant democratic country like ours.

The Prime Minister’s problem is his style of governance, which is highly personalized and secretive. He banks on a small coterie of bureaucrats and some invisible experts who, I am afraid, might be well versed with the country’s complex ground realities.

May I ask: whether the demonetization pain inflicted on ordinary citizens and suicide-prone farmers were worth it ? A shattering damage has already been done to small and medium- sized industries. Millions of youngsters are without jobs. The sufferings of the economically crippled ordinary masses have increased manifold because of high prices even of rice and pulses.

What happened to the promise of generating one crore jobs? What of new jobs? Lakhs of workers in the informal sectors are still on the streets? So is the plight of daily workers. No Master Magician on the earth can take out jobs from his hat. This will require high speed economic growth and right development priorities.

Be that as it may. Prime Minister Modi continues to be popular with the majority of people. They trust him, hoping against hope that he would be able to deliver on his promises.

Narendra Modi is indeed seen as the best bet vis-vis the poor quality of Opposition leadership, headed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Nitish Kumar had some potentialities to emerge as an alternative to Modi. But he has been roped in by the BJP-led NDA outfit. Good luck to the Bihar Chief Minister. He has a tough task ahead in the face of the odd but evergreen Bihar phenomenon of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The new factor in this setting is Sharad Yadav.

With 18 months to go for the 2019 elections, the BJP leadership’s target is the magic figure of 350 seats for the Lok Sabha. The ball is in the people’s court and the Prime Minister continues to cast a spell on them. It must be acknowledged that the reason for Prime Minister Modi’s high popularity graph is due to his certain initiatives on electricity for villages, toilets for every home, empowerment of girls etc. Even signals from his cabinet shake-up at the BRICS summit have been his plus points.

The elevation of Nirmala Seetharaman as the first woman full-fledged Defence Minister has been widely welcomed. She also takes her place in a male-dominated Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) along with her colleague Sushma Swaraj. This is absolutely fine. It will, however, be wrong to see this symbolic act as empowerment of women. We know that the country has still a long way to go for the safety and empowerment of girls and women, both in rural and urban India.

Similarly, replacing Suresh Prabhu by Piyush Goyal will not solve the Railways’ basic problems of mordernisation and improved facilities for ordinary passengers unless priorities in the rail set-up are reoriented.

Prime Minister Modi has, of course, done well by inducting “outsiders” on the plea of professionalism. But, ironically, they have been placed outside their areas of expertise. Well, no one can take Modi for granted. He has a reservoir of surprises. But he has to constantly keep it in mind that the Indian electorate could swing either way to anyone’s surprise.

The cabinet reshuffle apart, the Prime Minister clicked at the BRICS summit at Xiamen in China. He successfully diffused the Doklam stand-off crisis after his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He played a key role in naming two Pakistan-based terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Xiamen Declaration which expressed “concern” on the security situation in the region and violence caused by these terrorist groups.
This is for the first time that a BRICS declaration named the terrorist groups despite China’s known axis with Pakistan and its blocking of the UN moves to dub Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. This is the Prime Minister’s big diplomatic success.

However the main challenge to the Prime Minister comes from the home front. What matters here is the delivery of promises for faster economic growth and employment generation. For this, he has to create congenial business atmosphere to turn India into a land of opportunity.

It will be worthwhile to quote former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. He said:

“…India’s greatest strength as it makes its place in the global economy is ….an environment of openness, free speech and tolerance. And if we were to lose this, we would lose what is our greatest strength and in an economy going forward where innovation, human capital contribution of the highest order is going to be where value is added…..The fact that we have achieved this with a modest level of per capita income is the strength that would be really misguided to lose”. (Indian Express, Sept 6)

I wish to leave these thoughts for the Prime Minister to ponder over. He has surely been talking against intolerance, violence and even cow vigilantism. What matters is the firm action on the ground. He also must not lose the sight of the hard fact of growing inequality in India. A report by economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel shows how India has gone from British Raj to the Billionaire Raj, with 22 per cent income accruing to the top one per cent income earners.

Well, the Prime Minister needs to correct his priorities. Instead of creating a pro- rich image, he ought to identify himself fully with the sufferings and deprivations of the poor and have-nots who are still waiting for a place of honour in the Republic.

The question is not merely of poverty and faster development. At stake is the quality of governance which has to ensure an environment of openness, free speech, a place for voices of dissent, tolerance and mutual understanding.

The India today cannot be turned back. Extraordinary changes have occurred at several levels over the years and will continue to occur. All that is required in this changing scenario is an open mind so that new challenges are faced effectively and decisively.

Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *