A few years ago, when someone suggested that we had tried the Indian National Congress for so many years, but after its inaction post-Mumbai 2008 and the alleged greed and loot in UPA-2, we should try an alternative, this idea was rejected as preposterous. The suggestion that Narendra Modi could be that alternative was sniggered away as that of 'Modi Bhakts' — he was just not one of us, was the refrain; not only did he not speak English like us, leave alone like Shashi Tharoor, he did not even go to the right college.
End of conversation.
In the 2019 elections, India has voted for India, as Chitra Subramaniam remarked a few days ago, or Indians voted as Indians, as Arif Mohammed Khan remarked in a TV programme recently. Look at it any way you want — India won.
This time, it was a vote by the aspirational, seeking for themselves and theirs as they had seen others enjoy the benefits of modernisation and all that signifies modernity. They saw in Narendra Modi a man as good as his word — they have seen hope. And women saw a chance at the restoration of their dignity. Of course, Narendra Modi has not succeeded in all that he promised — but full marks for trying to do as much as his government could. He did not succeed in some cases partly because we have an ossified delivery system that hoped that the Modi phenomenon was a Black Swan event and they could bide their time.
Life will be different now for them — and better for the people.
Our tormented liberals, however, continue to analyse vote counts by caste, religion and whatever.
This is what the British did to us: we are now a free country and about time we thought of ourselves as Indians. It is this colonial mindset that leads to reactions. For far too long, we have condemned our diversity instead of celebrating the unity in it — in practical terms, not as slogans. Some of our liberals refer to the values of Montesquieu’s political thoughts but they do not realise that Montesquieu hardly matters to a Kishan Pal from Banda or a Riaz Ahmed from Mewat when he casts his vote. Our liberals themselves have forgotten what Voltaire said about free speech and are not prepared to accept the alternative opinion. In any case, we may need to consider Thomas Hobbes’ observation — Before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power. In today’s context, coercive power means enforcement of law and order that is people-friendly, and not an ogre.
Fortunately, the viewership of English channels in India is limited just as much as the dirge about Indian democracy we get from The Economist, The New York Times, Washington Post and Time magazine. Sadly, some of us contribute to these negative perceptions about India. For good governance, we need two essential political attributes: A ruling party that cares — we have that now — and we need a caring responsible opposition as well. One that goes beyond its limited vocabulary of Rafale, Chowkidar and Poison, and a strategy beyond being tigers in Parliament. They could begin by accepting the peoples' verdict graciously and not insulting both the people and the Constitution by endlessly whining.
Right now, it looks increasingly like the sulking behaviour of a person to the manor-born, whose manor has been snatched away by an ‘un-entitled’ person.
A responsible opposition abides by a sense of decorum and political correctness which this young 'un lacks. A responsible opposition is also required to be a watchdog and not an obstructionist to peoples’ aspirations, which is what mindless opposition eventually becomes. They could instead give an alternate vision and how they would realise this. People are no longer going to accept empty slogans of secularism and loan waivers as policy. So far, the NDA 2 government has not been gloating and seems to have got down to the business of governance from the first day in office.
Ideally — and ideals are not always easy to attain or maintain — there are many targets we need to achieve.
We should strive for a nationhood so strong that it needs no slogans, our security so strong that it lessens the need for so many para-militaries, our judicial system so strong that speedy justice is delivered to all and not the chosen few, our bureaucracy so strong that it is seen to be delivering good administration to the common person, and a law and order system so strong that it encourages people to seek shelter with the system and not be afraid.
Ideally, we should have a political system where the representatives are untainted and a media that is the true guardian of democracy and not doling out views as news.
Narendra Modi has miles to go and many promises to keep. He cannot do this alone. He needs the people to support him. In the next two decades, and this is not too far away, ours will be the third-largest economy. We shall be sitting at the same table as the US and China. This status will not be gifted to us — we have to strive for it and if we do, it is ours for the asking. It is also ours to lose if we falter. One would think that India should now have a declared National Security Doctrine that essentially states in its totality who we are, where we want to be, how do we get there and what will be the obstacles.
There will be the usual external security issues of terrorism, Pakistan’s inabilities to live as a normal country and until it does that, we need not change our stance or lower our vigil.
China’s ambitions are serious, long-term and global, and we are learning to handle this.
Undoubtedly, handling a would-be superpower on our un-demarcated borders requires special skills. We may have friendly relations with the US these days but it is not easy dealing with a superpower that is so self-centred. Mutuality of common strategic goals ends where the superpower goals become different and take precedence. There are no natural allies. We can take the case of the US-led sanctions on Iran, opposition to Indian purchase of Russian S-400 missiles with some of the pressure points on us or the various trade restrictions on us, as examples of these differences in perceptions.
Every issue becomes a matter of deals or trade-offs.
Therefore, the fine print is to be read carefully.
As we progress in the years ahead, our interests abroad will increase — for resources and markets. So will our responsibilities and the need for power projection. An advanced modernised armed force is one aspect of a highly technology-driven environment. So will the requirements of intelligence collection increase to include the wider definition of security in the age of Artificial Intelligence.
External security is one aspect of a rising power — internal cohesion is another. Left-wing extremism will remain a problem and Kashmir has to be solved, too. Both are internal problems and there is no solution without first controlling the violence. Any organisation or group that takes to the gun has no place in the Indian system — even more so if the cause is described to be religious. Negotiations with terrorists or with those who take to the gun without taking control of the situation amount to appeasement and will not lead to peace.
“Peace has enemies. Peace must be won by the gun,” is a statement of realism from John le Carré, devoid of any starry-eyed notions. There is now a new doctrine about how terror attacks sponsored from across will be handled — it is presumed, that Pakistan will be more circumspect.
The new cabinet also has a number of 'old hands' who distinguished themselves in the first term. Their experience in handling various infrastructure aspects would be invaluable in the next five years. The bureaucracy will now be more amenable as this government is here to stay, not only this term but also quite possibly the next term as well. The other aspect is technology, innovation and communication. We simply must stay ahead of the curve or we will miss the technological revolution that is taking place. If we miss it, and fail to encash on the youth dividend, we will be thrown back a few centuries. Local talent — of which there is no shortage — must be nurtured to the maximum and harvested smartly. The huge Indian talent that resides abroad must be drawn back to participate in the great Indian adventure. This has to be incentivised and the private sector has to play its role, be competitive and socially responsible.
The largest minority in India are women — nearly 50% of our population. Emancipate all and empower women to improve their status in life, educate them while ensuring good health for all to feel the difference in our entire country.
The people have chosen wisely by giving Narendra Modi another chance.
The alternative was too frightening, but mercifully never a serious one.