The Centre for Politics and Governance hosted a panel discussion on the book “Modi @20: Dreams Meet Delivery”. The anthology has been brought out by Bluekraft Digital Foundation working in the domain of policy and governance.
It brought together leading policy makers to debate ideas that can explain the rise of PM Modi from Gandhinagar as Chief minister to Delhi as Prime Minister, completing twenty years in high office without being in opposition.
The important actors in the realm of policy making, working with and around PM Modi viz, Dr S. Jaishankar, Amit Shah, Ajit Doval, Arvind Panagariya, Surjit Bhalla etc., have shared their experiences and personal anecdotes of working with Prime Minister.
The book gives an insight into Prime Minister’s mind, and in the opinion of Foundation answers the key question of why Modi works?
I had the privilege to chair a panel discussion on the book with Economic Advisor Government of India Dr Anantha Nageshwaran, and well known Psephologist Pradeep Gupta as the two panelists.
The discussion and careful reading of the book persuaded me to review it. Bharat Ratna late Lata Mangeshkar in the preface to the book notes that the pursuits of the PM are different who has no attachment to power (notwithstanding Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s much later disgust that politics now we see is 100 percent power play).
One gets a glimpse of it in his speech when the PM after 2014 forcefully talked about toilets and asked parents to question their sons instead of daughters when they discuss the issues of safety for women.
As a result of this the Indian state under Modi according to Shobana Kamineni (the first women president of Confederation of Indian Industry and head of Apollo Hospitals and contributor to the book) has developed a new grammar of women empowerment.
India needs women as creators, entrepreneurs, achievers and leaders, and PM has sent out a strong message that for him good governance is all about walking the talk. The international day of ‘Girl Child’ on October 11, 2014 became the occasion for the PM to describe female feticide as a matter of shame.
Shobana Kamineni further states that as “head of a family with pioneering health care mission I have seen how the death of mother disrupts family and therefore we need 360 degree approach not merely attention during pregnancy and after delivery” The issue is not merely women development but women-led development.
Prof Surjit Bhalla who is IMF director India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka holds the view that success of Modi model lies in its being people-centric.
Modi is first non-elite and non-Brahmin to be the Prime Minister of India and hence openly talked about ‘open defecation’ . That more than 60 percent of rural India went open is a matter of shame.
The building of toilets helped in keeping the rural India clean during Covid-19 when India had only 17, 850 ventilators in public hospitals and a critically ill patient according to Dr Devi Shetty (founder chairman Narayan Health and contributor to the book) requires medical oxygen as high as 86,000 liters per day.
The PM during the pandemic led the nation from the front and put in place a “whole of the Government” approach. The Aam Adami style of communication of the prime minister during Covid 19- Do gaz Ki Doori, Janta curfew, Corona Mahamari and the jaan hai jahan hai and later Jaan bi, Jahan-bhi explains in many ways what some contributors to the book refer as ‘Modi phenomenon’. Dr Shetty, renowned heart surgeon, finds the PM strong advocate of technology application in healthcare.
Dr Anantha Nageswaran in his presentation stated that PM Modi thinks big and thinks differently and that he got impressed during his visit to China and learnt from the developments in other countries during his visits.
The PM concluded that India has no chance but to pursue scale. Earlier as chief minister Modi tapped into the inner strength of Gujarati society and transformed its agriculture by building check dams to help draught prone areas.
The state has 98.7 percent Pakka village roads. The JAM trinity “Jandhan yogna-Aadhar-Mobile phone” based new paradigm of governance with direct benefit transfer system has plugged the loopholes which late prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi noticed with his candid admission that only 15 paisa of every rupee reaches the actual beneficiary.
The Government e-marketplace (GEM) has done away with the role of inspector as the e-commerce platform is cashless, paperless and importantly the contactless.
The country missed the industrial revolution but the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) for different sectors viz, steel, automobile, pharmaceuticals etc., according to Dr Nageshwaran is going to make India the manufacturing hub.
Additionally other reforms undertaken by the Modi government have according to Arvind Panagariya given push to Indian economy. The modern bankruptcy law, Goods and Services Tax, and importantly ending of Medical Council of India which acted as hindrance in the expansion of medical education have made India more competitive.
However, many of the reforms undertaken met with lot of resistance. Raghuram Rajan in an interview to NDTV the other day reacted that people know the ground reality better than coterie in PM’s office.
Many reforms were undertaken without proper consultation and suffered legitimacy deficit. He, like many others, argues that growth is jobless.
The well known author Amish Tripathi in his chapter describes India among very few civilizational states united by dharma. The dharma is beyond and above any religion or ritual.
This characterisation of India makes departure from the European construct of nation-state and nearly approximates a model with Chinese features.
Pertinently, Mr. Tripathy notes that there is no right-wing or left-wing but only a “Mother-India” wing prompting some commentators to label Indian party system as one of a party-state.
The showcasing and recalibration of India’s soft power viz, international Yoga Day, renovation of 200 year old Swaminaryan Ji temple in Behrain, historic Lord Shiva temple in Muscat, gifting of Baghwat Gita to Barak Obama and Shinzo Abe, getting back 250 stolen pieces of artifacts from different countries and launch of Prashad scheme through which important pilgrimage places are to be developed, are to Mr. Tripathy indicators of PM’s resolve to give up the label that Indians are civilizational cowards. Modi wears cultural pride on his sleeves. The fact is that the construct of civilisational state has been around for long time and has been examined by many scholars.
The nation-building process in India had also a collision with nation-state construct and many scholars suggested that safety lies in the concept of multinational state considering huge diversity of India.
The advocates of civilisational state need to bring in more rigour and completeness in their conceptualisation as it undermines the essence of Indian constitution and for many it smacks of a majoritarian project.
Many commentators on Indian politics in recent times have turned to the poet Firaq Gorakpori who in poetic style answered the question:
“Sar Zamine-e-Hind par Aqwame-e-alam ke Firaq
Kafile baste gaye, Hindustan banta gaya”.
In the realm of foreign engagements PM Modi in the opinion of the foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar established new milestones. Modi to him belongs to orthodox school of diplomacy from bottom side.
Building upon his curiosity about the world Modi as autodidactic got impressed by bullet train in Japan, railway station in Berlin, cleaned river project in Seoul and public housing in Singapore, only to replicate these in India.
PM Modi has fascination for thinking big and went for collective summits whereby all forty one leaders from Africa, ten leaders from ASEAN and 27 leaders from European union were engaged.
Dr Jaishankar also opines that PM Modi has addressed regional dichotomies like Israel and Palestine, Iran and Gulf, or Japan and Korea with dexterity and self assurance.
PM Modi gave a big push to Diaspora diplomacy so much so that the cabinet resolution of January 2015 establishing the NITI Ayog refers to Diaspora as geo-economic and geo-political strength. To Manoj Ladwa (contributor to the book) Diaspora is a living bridge.
PM remained the first responder to relief and rescue operations in natural and manmade disaster situations.
We saw it during Op Neer to take the drinking water to Maldives in 2014, Op Rehat to rescue the trapped in civil war in Yemen, Op Maitri to aid Nepal during 2015 earthquake, Op Sankat Mochan in Sudan in 2016, Op Devi Shakti in Afghanistan and Vande Bharat to repatriate 700 million Indians during the pandemic.
Be that as it may what remains an issue of concern for students of international relations is Indian state’s push to secularisation of foreign policy on one hand and communalisation of domestic policy on the other?
This manifested in PM’s reaching out to Arab countries and closing his government and party to Muslims, the largest minority in India. All this at a time in the history of nation-building when the country rightly is looking for a space in the league of great powers.
Taking the discussion forward the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in his paper flags the new directions in strategic thinking. India is no longer hyphenated with Pakistan or viewed from the prism of the Non-aligned. During the Modi rule the assertion of national will has become an attribute of national power and there is firm resolve of the nation to stand to adversarial forces.
“We need to raise the costs of cross-border terrorism and make it the new normal”. The PM Modi has high risk taking capability in a system where status-quoist mindsets and archaic attitudes are entrenched.
The expansion of Indian power can be seen in the invitation Organisation of Islamic Conference(OIC) extended to Indian foreign minister to address it for the first time.
The long delayed boundary agreement with Bangladesh was concluded but at the same time India respected the international verdict on settlement of maritime boundary with Bangladesh.
Notwithstanding the strategic gains it is pertinent to underline that Indian state must not suffer from “enemy is everywhere syndrome” in a turbulent region where China, a strategic rival historically feels that ‘there cannot be two suns in the sky’.
The immediate neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood policies need to be reviewed considering the cost of continuing geopolitical rivalry.
Prime Minister Modi’s confident oratory-pause, pitch, modulation, and depth, according to Pradeep Gupta influence the audience. The Home Minister Mr Amit Shah writes, “PM Modi is now the template for what it means and what it takes to be a National leader”.
While all contributors to the anthology make passing reference to removal of Art 370 as a wall of separation, no one has adequately discussed the compensatory confidence-building measures for the people of Jammu and Kashmir so that we are able to bring back the old smile on their faces. The book is a must read for all who value the arrival of public policy as a new academic discipline.
Prof Gull Wani is Kashmir based Political Scientist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.