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Challenges before Modi

From a tea vendor to a prime ministerial aspirant, this is something to be admired. But it would seem that many in his own party are still sceptical that Narendra Modi can lead the NDA to victory. Chanakya writes.

columns Updated: Sep 22, 2013 04:00 IST

From a tea vendor to a prime ministerial aspirant, this is something to be admired. But it would seem that many in his own party are still sceptical that Narendra Modi can lead the NDA to a grand victory so easily.

After Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi is undoubtedly the second BJP leader to get such a huge backing from the rank and file to be the ‘natural choice’ for projection as the prime ministerial candidate. There may well be well several reasons for this, including the fact that the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, threw in its lot with him, and the groundswell of support from BJP cadres, who were unwilling to settle for anyone else.

Those within the BJP who were arguing for a quasi-presidential campaign in 2014 in the hope of unsettling the Congress-led UPA, projected Modi, given his track record in Gujarat. But the way I see it, his journey has just half begun.

There are innumerable hurdles before him, which should be analysed before the euphoria over his elevation leads his party to believe that it is a foregone conclusion that it will go past the winning post. Even as he gets down to the nuts and bolts of converting his popularity into votes, Modi will realise that the battle is one of big challenges, the least of which is reaching out to those still wary of his style of functioning and his vision for India.

His admirers may point to his first speech at a Rewari rally last week after his anointment to underline some early signs of his ability to adapt to the new responsibilities thrust on him. I do not doubt Modi’s ability to learn on the job. Of course, his development plank is his USP and that will stand him in good stead when he launches his all India campaign.

He may also realise that neither he nor his supporters can assume or expect others to accept that ‘Narendra Modi hi to mudda hai’ (what else can be the issue but Narendra Modi); there may be challengers from other parties.

The challenge for Modi would be to go beyond his negative outpourings about the UPA. There is no dearth of negative points against the dispensation that has ruled the country for nearly 10 years. But Modi must give us to understand that there will be something different in him if a BJP-led combination is voted to power. Modi has to come out with an alternative approach to the crises daunting the nation, ranging from economic recovery to mismatched development.

I have no doubt that the economy will have to be Modi’s No 1 priority. We, the voters, would like to be informed about what exactly his thoughts on larger national issues are or how strongly he will push them through. Can Modi show the courage to embrace bold ideas like foreign direct investment, which are key to India tapping its economic potential?

The time has come for such bold ideas and Modi seems to be on top of that. He has said in no uncertain terms that he is against the status quo. He dreams of ‘India First’ — wherein every single thought about empowerment of every single class is about thinking and doing what’s best for the country.

Also, I am aware the first few indications from him are about unleashing the untapped energy of India’s entrepreneur class and fixing inherent deficiencies that are a huge drain on the system.

No one can disagree with Modi when he says he wants to rebuild every sector and institution to serve their original cause, instead of becoming bodies that work against merit. Therefore, I would think that a big challenge would be for Modi to spell out the specific ideas that he has in this regard.

Modi’s close aides do tell me that he will hardsell his ideas of governance. He also wants a strong imprint of his call for ‘minimum government and maximum governance’. Modi is sure to try and sell the idea of his government as a model on which India can be run.

I would expect him to not limit himself to just spelling out the Gujarat story. Last December, I understand, when he won the mandate for a third time, his administration came out with a compendium of ‘best practices’ in Gujarat that can be adopted in the rest of India. The document lists Modi’s steps in six areas — efficient delivery of services, employment, empowerment, equity and predictability, justice, transparency and accountability.

They are laudable. But, in a vast country like India, Modi ought to realise the importance of involving a broad coalition of ideas as no single leader, however decisive, can have all the answers to all the problems.

For Indians to make a success of Modi’s 272+ mission, he will have to involve all of them. More so the younger lot of 18-plus voters for whom the ideas of caste and religious identity politics are increasing making little sense.

I think Modi as the PM candidate will have to reach out, beyond the symbolic presence of skull caps at his rallies, to show that the BJP, under him, will really care for all, go beyond the electoral rhetoric and work for every marginalised section of people who just want to get on with their daily lives. That’s perhaps his biggest challenge.