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'Modi wants to be Patel, but might end up as Indira'

By Sheela Bhatt/
Last updated on: August 14, 2014 16:15 IST
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'It is obvious within these two months that in many ways Narendra Modi has a great degree of resemblance with Indira Gandhi.'

'The same style of management of power. The same kind of attempt to reduce a large section of the political leadership into, if not spectators, bureaucrats. His leaders are taking orders from him and executing those orders.'

'This is the model that has worked in Gujarat. And he is hoping that it will work in India.'

Ashis Nandy deciphers the Narendra Modi government, in an interview with Sheela Bhatt/ The second in a two-part series.

Read part one here: 10 things the Modi government is doing right

If one puts together, in one big frame, all the decisions of the Union Cabinet, press releases, the political, diplomatic and administrative actions taken by the Modi Sarkar since coming to power, it becomes quite clear that Narendra Modi's government is overwhelmed by the power it has won. It is certainly finding the challenge to run India much greater than what was thought initially.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in New Delhi convey confidence that picking up speed from their unexpected slow pace of governance is only a matter of time.

What most BJP leaders don't say is that they are taking time to detect -- if any -- 'landmines' left behind by the Congress regime.

The new government looks with suspicion at the bureaucracy, the vested interests and power lobbies. The fears and insecurity, while handling power, are certainly factors in holding back the government from taking important decisions.

Indian politics is sensitive to certain things and it takes time to decipher the sensitivity of people for any new government. What will enter folklore and turn into legend is, sometimes, not in the hands of the powerful leaders or in the hands of the media.

And, here, one photograph speaks louder than anything else in the last two months.

The photograph inside Modi's Race Course Road office, taken during a meeting with his Cabinet colleagues along with some members of Parliament from his party reveals how in closed-door meetings senior colleagues like Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda are not treated with the respect they deserve. Gowda, a former Karnataka chief minister, is seen standing before Modi as a student stands before the class teacher.

People are waiting for the new template of Modi's style of governance to emerge. One is sure that Modi wants the 'direct marketing' format and wants to connect with the people directly, without any intermediary between him and them.

All things considered, the most charitable comment expressed is: "Let's give the Modi Sarkar six months."

Ashis Nandy, image, left, the distinguished political psychologist and social analyst, had interviewed Narendra Modi, then an RSS pracharak, two decades ago for a book. In an exclusive interview with Sheela Bhatt/, Dr Nandy gives his take on Prime Minister Modi and his government.

What is missing in the Modi government so far?

Frankly speaking, this regime is very much in continuity with the earlier regime except for the fact that some of its fringe elements and some of its activists are trying to make life difficult for the present regime.

The prime minister has not opened his mouth, the policies have not gone through any drastic changes, and we are seeing, in effect, much more continuity than most people expected.

I expect this to last for a while unless and until some major crisis strikes the country.

Do you think change was desired? Was the Modi-led change desired?

Technically yes. Because, everybody loves change in India. But I don't think people had a clear idea of what the changes should actually be. They wanted more efficiency, they wanted no corruption, they wanted a cap on food price rise, they expect faster development.

Now this is an enormous task and a really large claim. And there are limits to which any government can meet these expectations.

Modi was clever enough to try to bring down the level of expectations on assumption of office. Now I think people, to some extent, are finding out that Modi is no magician and the magical solutions they expected for all their problems is not available in any kind of politics.

Around 1992-1993, you famously said, after meeting Modi, that he is a textbook fascist. Now he is India;s prime minister. Would you like to revisit your view?

No. I was talking of the person. The post might make the person, I'm hoping so. But time is too short to pass a final judgment on these kinds of things.

The one thing I can tell you very clearly, and it is obvious within these two months, is that in many ways Narendra Modi has a great degree of resemblance with Mrs Indira Gandhi.

Why do you say that?

The same style of management of power. The same kind of attempt to reduce a large section of the political leadership into, if not spectators, bureaucrats. His leaders are taking orders from him and executing those orders.

This is the model that has worked in Gujarat. And he is hoping that it will work in India. So there are similarities.

To me, it's not a very good sign. But only time will tell if he grows in his new post.

Do you want to say that the democracy quotient of this government will be doubtful?

I won't say doubtful, it might go down a little bit. That's what I believe.

But it may not also because in some way certain kind of development changes might create new centres of power. I also do notice that the media is getting a little bit more centralised. 

At this point in time it is very important to have an opposition because it is such a huge majority that the BJP has produced. So I hope that there will be some opposition from the press. It will not only be confined to Times Now in television and that there will be also a healthy, robust, judiciary in the name of correcting the earlier system, the collegium system.

Let us hope the judiciary is not weakened and I hope they don't fiddle with the educational system. Dinanath Batra is not my ideal or a person from whom one can learn anything about India or its history. I doubt whether anybody will appoint him as a school teacher in any respectable school. But then he has almost acquired blackmailing powers. Why almost, he has acquired blackmailing powers.

In these last few months, what kind of final Brand Modi is emerging from this churning?

It is too early to say. Modi has not opened his mouth much. And some of the gestures he has made are very promising. Like inviting the South Asian heads of State to India, the SAARC leaders. That was a very healthy, robust, act.

The kind of impact he made on Nepal, it is a very positive one. And I hope he will keep other parts of his personality in check.

Do you think he wants to be a benevolent leader of the country and at the same time he wants a very tight grip over governance through bureaucrats? Is that the kind of thing he is thinking of?

In other words, he probably wants to be Sardar Patel, but might end up as Indira Gandhi.

What are the fundamental differences you see between the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime and its politics and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime and its politics?

The style is different. Because in the UPA the PM was a taciturn person, but his policies were obviously good because this government is continuing them. So all that was Modi's electoral rhetoric.

Do you think the harsh Hindutva agenda will come to the front?

Some sections of the BJP and its supporters will try very hard for that. So to that extent it will come to the forefront. To that extent it will occasionally dominate public debates.

But let us hope that it ends there and it does not make a full-fledged war to establish a Hindu Rashtra because I'm afraid then the days of the Indian Union as a federal structure and democratic country will be numbered.

See, we have enjoyed a certain kind of freedom since 1947. I am afraid that the Modi-inspired middle-class can dominate us now and may try to curtail that freedom. I am very uncomfortable with certain sections of the middle-class and sections of the corporate world. They were feeling uncomfortable with the constant debate and less performance in areas like development.

They thought the Indian people had almost unlimited freedom to say or get away with anything. Parliament was not functioning and so on and so forth. I think that is a very dangerous concept to have. Particularly, in a country like India, which is such a diverse country.

The more noisy the democracy is, in some sense a greater sign of life of the democracy is also there in that.

Should Modi not intervene in that case?

I am afraid he will see it as noise. The problem is that one of India's major goals, one of the major goals of South Asian countries, is they want to be like Singapore. Even China wanted to be like Singapore. Now we also want to be like Singapore.

I don't think Singapore is a very good model. Either for development or democracy.

Do you see something good about Modi's new avatar?

He is keeping his mouth shut! The problem with Narendra Modi is that he talks too much. The problem with Manmohan Singh was that he talked too little. So at least one of them has corrected himself to some extent. He is talking less. It is good.

In politics you must know when not to talk. In politics one must learn the art of not talking when talking is not necessary.

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Sheela Bhatt/