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Mr Modi, make India shine again!

By Ram Kelkar
Last updated on: May 22, 2014 14:44 IST
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Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat

'Modi could become the Nehru of the 21st century, and re-establish a new Tryst with Destiny, by stating once and for all that Mera Bharat Mahaan is and will always be a truly secular and inclusive democracy in the best spirit of Bharatiya-tva,' says Ram Kelkar, offering an NRI view of the Modi triumph.

It was a truly memorable speech, delivered extempore in Hindi in the Central Hall of Parliament, and it lived up to all the hype and high expectations of 1.25 billion Indians. Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi exhibited eloquence in a way that was reminiscent of some of the best orators in the Indian pantheon. Modi lived up to the highest standards set by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

And thus an Indian community organiser will soon become the head of government of the world's largest democracy, carrying the hopes and aspirations of a nation, just as another community organiser did for the oldest constitutional democracy in the world.

Meanwhile, it was a disconcerting sight to watch Sonia Gandhi shooing the unnamed but putative prime minister-candidate of the Congress party-led coalition off the stage after conceding the election. The mother and scion of India's uber-dynasty, who could have lived up to the highest traditions of Jawaharlal Nehru's eloquence, instead uttered a strange sequence of what could only be called 'concession sentences', instead of a gracious concession speech that one would have expected and honoured.

Sonia as mother hen shepherding the shahzada off the stage reminded audiences as to why the people of India elected a leader who promised 'sab ka saath, sab ka vikas (To be with everyone and for everyone's development).'

What was especially striking was the selection of words in Modi's speech, and those that he did not utter even once. Without ever mentioning words like Hindu or Hindutva, or even bringing up the topic of God or religion, NaMo focused on the hope that had been kindled in every common citizen of India by the sight of the son of a common chaiwallah becoming head of government.

Modi's choice of a mantra was particularly striking 'Charaiveti, Charaiveti'. These words reflect the heritage of India beautifully, and in an especially non-sectarian and syncretic way. On one hand, these words are from the Hindu scripture called the Aitareya Brahman in the Rigveda -- 'The sun is revered for it shines with constance (likewise) keep moving, keep moving forward! On the other hand, Gautam Buddha used to end his sermons with an exhortation to his disciples using the exact same words -- Charaiveti Charaiveti. Keep moving, keep moving forward!

And Modi's vision for how can India move forward holds a great deal of promise. His successes in Gujarat may well be somewhat over-stated and simply replicating ideas that worked at the state level at the Centre may be too simplistic and naive. Yet the real promise of Modinomics is the pro-active and progressive vision of governance that he could bring to India.

It is a matter of great concern in recent years that growth in the Indian economy is slowing, in line with the predictions of those who pointed out that India cannot just rely on call centres and BPO/KPO outsourcing to grow. A manufacturing economy is essential to provide jobs and opportunities for the large numbers of unskilled labourers in India who have to be moved from farm to industry, if India is to progress and grow.

How does Modi plan to change all this?

In January, he unveiled his vision for the country, promising to develop 100 smart cities and set up IITs (for engineering), IIMs (for management education) and an AIIMS (for medical training) in every state. His stated core agenda is to project India as a brand worldwide by focusing on 5 Ts -- Talent, Tradition, Tourism, Trade and Technology.

And his governance plans are based on a seven-point rainbow that includes India's culture, agriculture, women, natural resources (water, land and forests and environment), youth power, democracy and knowledge.

He has stated that urbanisation should not be seen as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Amongst other ideas, he has proposed a real-time databank for agricultural produce and modern technology to create a national agriculture market.

The above ideas and many others that he has proposed are refreshing in that they at least represent a willingness to dream and be innovative, instead of merely spouting paeans to secularism and proposing handouts for various interest groups which seemingly is all that the Congress and its allies had to offer.

Nor does every good idea have to come from Modi if he can provide good governance and deliver results. As an example, Gujarat Agro Vision 2010 was a plan that dates back to Keshubhai Patel's tenure as Gujarat chief minister in 2000. To Modi's credit, the state continued to focus on agriculture, helped along by one of the best rural road networks in India with a large majority of villages connected by paved roads.

The Jyotigram Yojana for power has helped deliver reliable agricultural power supply for farming. Previously, a common feeder catered to different types of electricity consumers, including residential, agricultural, and industrial users, and did not work well for any of the above.

By separating electric feeders for domestic use and pump-sets, the state could deliver 24/7 electric supply for domestic use, while also providing reliable power supply for agriculture for eight hours a day. Meanwhile, the Gujarat electricity board moved into the black which is a major turnaround from cumulative loss of over Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion) in fiscal 2000.

Sceptics have questioned the so-called Gujarat miracle and pointed out that Gujarat's growth rate of 8 percent was less than Tamil Nadu's 8.6 percent and Bihar's 15 percent. But statistics can be twisted to prove pretty much anything, and Bihar's growth rate of 15 percent from an abysmal start hardly negates Gujarat's performance.

In Sameer Kochhar’s book ModiNomics, the author relates several personal stories that give insights into Modi's style of governance. At a conference on Panchayati Raj, Modi took centrestage like a rock star, and '...the excitement in the hall was palpable.' Yet for all the author's apprehensions about whether he would be arrogant or act like a typical politician in India, he found Modi listening to an old lady for five long minutes on stage, as she held on to his hand. And on stage were more than a dozen bureaucrats of secretary level, but just one other politician.

If Modi can empower India's IAS and IPS administrators, many of whom are just as capable and qualified as their peers who chose to attend IITs and IITMs and followed up with corporate careers, there is hope that the babus of yesteryear could become the rock-star enablers of progress like Elattuvalapil Sreedharan of Delhi Metro fame.

Another personal anecdote from an acquaintance from Chicago who had occasion to visit with Modi was insightful, since it was a first-hand experience. On the day of a long scheduled meeting, there was yet another Modi crisis brewing with the media all agog about something or the other that he had said or done. Expecting that the meeting would surely be canceled or delayed, my friend showed up at the chief minister's offices anyway, just in case.

Much to her surprise, not only did the meeting proceed, but started right on schedule. Modi was waiting for her on the dot, sitting at a pristine desk sans clutter. He was not only oblivious to the media hoopla, but had read his briefing papers, and proceeded to conduct a cogent and to the point meeting, without any notes or aides hanging around. A corporate CEO educated in the best B-school in the world could hardly have done it any better.

India could do with a rock-star like inspirational leader who is also a good CEO.

But what about Hindutva?

After starting out with a statement about the right of return to India of Hindus from Fiji and Mauritius, Modi expanded the definition to include 'troubled' Indian-origin people in Fiji, Africa and elsewhere. Unfortunately for him, the Bharatiya Janata Party manifesto had spoken of India being the 'natural home for persecuted Hindus' and not of 'persecuted Persons of Indian Origin'.

When pressed on this point by television anchor Arnab Goswami, Modi agreed that that all persecuted PIO and not just Hindus were welcome to return to India ('We will look at the colour of their blood, not their passports') but then punted on the manifesto issue by falling back upon the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment that spoke of Hinduism as a 'way of life'.

Non-Christian PIO residing in the secular United States of America are in a unique position to feel the pain of non-Hindu citizens of India. The Establishment Clause of the US constitution states that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Yet there are many political leaders pandering to the religious right who insist on bringing religion into every issue, with even Senator John McCain pronouncing that 'the constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.'

In this context, the unwillingness of Modi and the BJP to put the Hindutva issue to rest is unfortunate. Vajpayee had proclaimed back in 2003 that 'Hindutva has been redefined to mean Bharatiyata.' This is a much better formulation than saying that Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life, and hence Indians of any religion are de facto Hindus. Imagine if McCain and his ilk were to co-opt all Hindus in the US as Christians, since they lived in a 'Christian nation' as he claims erroneously in contradicting the US constitution.

Why not stop focusing on Hindu-tva and instead call it Bharatiya-tva?

Almost a decade ago, during the final days of the Vajpayee government, yours truly had asked this very question of Ram Madhav, the national spokesperson of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. His response was that "Whether we call our culture 'Bharatiya' or 'Hindu', the essence and content of it remains the same... do (those objecting to the term Hindutva) agree with all that we propose or stand for, if we adopt the word 'Bharatiya' instead of 'Hindu'? If yes, we have no problem at all."

Therein lies the myopia of the BJP/RSS vision... insisting that everyone of Indian origin is a Hindu may make for great demagoguery, but is a non-starter for most non-Hindus. And in a nation with almost 20 percent of the population consisting of followers of other religions, a governing party that wishes to focus on governance and wants to get re-elected in 2019 should not be playing semantical word games.

India could become the newest Asian tiger under Modi's dynamic leadership, with a clear majority and a mandate to govern. On May 26 and the coming days, Narendra Damodardas Modi, as the first prime minister to be born after India gained Independence, could become the Nehru of the 21st century, and re-establish a new Tryst with Destiny, by stating once and for all that Mera Bharat Mahaan is and will always be a truly secular and inclusive democracy in the best spirit of Bharatiya-tva.

Neither pseudo-secular nor pseudo-Hindu... Charaiveti, Charaiveti, Mr Modi, and make India shine again!

Ram Kelkar is a Chicago-based writer.

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