Learning to live with Modi | The Daily Star
12:01 AM, May 05, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Learning to live with Modi

Learning to live with Modi

This Indian election appears to be as much about a person as issues. Indian media, with a tacit agreement, is clearly promoting him as the most capable person available for the top executive position of the country. A kind of paranoia surrounding Narendra Modi's potential rise to Indian premiership has also been deliberately fashioned by Indian media just to make the drama as interesting as the Star TV soaps.
There is a gap between hype and truth. The extreme doomsayers fail to understand that in the Indian system there are embedded checks and balances, and no leader can change it too much, let alone turn it upside down. The moderates within BJP are supposed to be a counterbalance to a perceived right-wing Modi. The secular forces of India and relatively strong liberal intelligentsia are there as the next layer of check and balance anyway.
But domestically, Mr. Modi himself seems to have learned to be a little smarter than he previously was. Coupled with the lure of the premiership laid in front of him, the extensive and critical media focus on him, for reasons right or wrong, has worked as a self-fulfilling prophesy to a considerable  degree -- forcing Modi to become moderate. He blended whatever development he did in Gujarat with implied Hindutva. That did wonders for him in elections in his own province for an unprecedented three consecutive times. He and the BJP are now using a customised version of this success formula at national level. The 'Hard Hindutva' has been turned to implicit 'Soft Hindutva' to keep the core Hindu votes aboard and the economic slogans like 'Development for All', 'Gujarat Model,' 'Bikash Purush' (Development Messiah) etc. have occupied the forefront to reach out to the youth and wider strata of the society.
Mr. Modi and his BJP electoral team is almost solely talking about development. 'Ram Temple' issue has been relegated to small space in the last page of BJP election manifesto and, for the first time, the BJP is saying the issue would be solved within constitutional framework.  He may not be a moderate per se nor have the education to metamorphose to a liberal. Becoming moderate ostensibly is simply a shrewd rational choice for him.  
But there is another story of the highly publicised 'Gujarat Developmental Model.' BJP's ex-alliance partner Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of Bihar and their own Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan have better developmental records than the showy urban constructions that Modi facilitated. But they perhaps don't command right wing Hindu votes as Modi does. Modi hasn't abandoned Hindutva. He has enshrined Hindutva in him to an unbreakable bondage so that he can do with less rhetoric these days.
Narendra Modi is also an opportunist. He has already started showing his true colour regionally. It doesn't seem that he has much clue of the reality of regional, international and strategic affairs. He has recently started repeating his typical rhetorical tone for regional audience without comprehending the ramifications.
He is openly advocating aggressive policies like cross-border counter terrorist operation by India and also spouting anti-neighbour rhetoric. The danger is, if one promises something too explicitly during a campaign, the pressure for deliverance after the triumph is heavy. His anti-Pakistan rhetoric doesn't matter much, because the Pakistanis are far more extreme than him. Now he has picked the seemingly softer target -- Bangladesh -- the neighbour that happened to be a strategic ally of India for the last five years and addressed India's key security concerns.
Modi's unequivocal assertion to send the so-called Bangladeshis in India back to Bangladesh is nothing but an act of a desperate demagogue and has gone beyond mere rhetoric. He has simply been dishonest in speaking only some distorted bits of truth. It's not that he or his advisors aren't aware of the injustice perpetrated by India in terms of denying Bangladesh its crucial life line -- river waters -- year after year. Agriculture in Bangladesh has been seriously affected due to salinity caused by sea water and lack of natural water flow essential for irrigation. That has perhaps caused some economic migration; but it's more or less clear what induced it. If one causes some harm, he himself ought to be prepared to bear the brunt. Blatant assertions divorced from the context only compound an issue and provoke reactions.
Indians, with their established system and safeguards, would perhaps be okay with Modi domestically. But regionally and internationally, this half-educated street activist turned prospective prime minister of India has hardly any sense of geo-strategic nuances. A perilous situation would arise if he ignores the advice of the prudent strategists in the euphoria of his potential electoral triumph and starts being assertive in an area he does not fathom.  
There is no certainty that Modi would readily understand the language of civility, smart diplomacy and good neighbourliness.

The writer is an Associate Research Fellow in Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS). E-mail: sarwar558@gmail.com.

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