Day after tomorrow Narendra Modi will have been Prime Minister of India for a full year. The one unquestionable thing you can say of this period is that he has dominated the news. Whether you like him or criticise him, he’s been the central subject for practically every one of these 365 days. That of itself is an incredible achievement.
For me three positive outcomes stand out. First, the prime minister is a remarkable speaker. Even when you disagree with what he’s saying he can be riveting to listen to. At times his style may be theatrical, occasionally his content clichéd and often he can be repetitive, but I’ve listened to practically every speech on TV and I have to admit my attention did not waver. If it did, it wasn’t for long!
Second, whether you agree he’s proved exceptionally deft at handling foreign policy or not, few can deny the skill and facility with which he’s established a rapport with leaders as diverse as Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe and Stephen Harper, Tony Abbott and Francois Hollande. That’s an almost unbelievable achievement for a man who was, once, considered a political pariah.
The third positive is the energy the Prime Minister seems to have. He may boast he’s never taken a day off but I won’t deny he’s tireless. If one man alone can revive our spirits, energise the system and force change Mr Modi has made an exceptional claim to be that person.
Of course, as always, there is a flipside too. Let me identify one negative and one conundrum. The negative arises out of the fact that in India the Prime Minister is not just a political leader. He needs to take a position on moral issues that disturb the nation so we can rally around a well-articulated and nationally unifying stand. Alas, Mr Modi either doesn’t do this or does it reluctantly.
He was silent right through the love-jihad campaign when Muslims were waiting to hear him speak. He was slow to respond to the conversion campaign, causing needless anguish to India’s Christians. The lesson he must learn is that silence on such occasions raises doubts he cannot afford.
The conundrum is more difficult to tackle. It’s a result of the enormous expectations his victory has produced which could never have been adequately or swiftly fulfilled. In this respect, he’s a victim of his own success.
The conundrum is this: both the opposition and his supporters, like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, regard his economic policies as pro-rich and anti-farmer. Conversely, investors and industrialists seem to be disappointed by the lack of resolute reform. Mr Modi is caught in between.
I’m tempted to suggest a solution: single-mindedly and unhesitatingly press ahead with reform, thus creating the growth needed to deliver the jobs the country wants. This is not a time for second thoughts or worrying about political consequences. The next election is four years away and if he can fulfil the promises he’s made the political doubts he faces today will evaporate.
Finally, I doubt Mr Modi reads columns like this. If prime ministers have time for journalists it’s probably only to read those they like and agree with. But what Mr Modi should never forget is that, outside of his opponents in politics, even his critics want him to succeed for the simple reason he’s the only Prime Minister we have and India can’t afford to stumble or lag behind.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)