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Prime Minister Modi has spelt out a new India narrative

If this is an electoral pitch, as his political opponents and analysts are saying, then it is a deep one

analysis Updated: Aug 17, 2018 19:22 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech was a statement about resurgent India (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech was a statement about resurgent India even though his political opponents and analysts may be forgiven for targeting him for preparing the ground for the 2019 general elections. The speech did not make a virtue of poverty as Independence Day speeches used to in the past decades, instead spelling out measures to alleviate the poverty of millions of Indians. The speech did not gloat over India’s spiritual legacy, instead stressing on the Prime Minister’s impatience to take the country ahead of its competitors in both economic and social development. This is a Prime Minister who isn’t coy about India’s ambition to be a global leader. To be fair, Modi’s predecessors were not any less ambitious in taking India forward but were cramped by resource constraints and ideological mindsets comfortable with the status quo. Modi, on his part, wants India to lead the fourth industrial revolution (as the next wave of global growth is termed by most experts) despite the handicap of his country missing the previous two and playing catch up in the third.

Over the past two decades, questions such as why India needs a 1.2 million strong army, a 200-ship Navy or 42 (and half) squadron strong air force when it possessed a credible nuclear deterrent seemed to have no answers. Questions related to the logic of having three aircraft carriers (in the navy of a country with ostensibly no regional or global ambitions) were usually met with platitudinous answers on the country’s peaceful intention. Sure, the PM didn’t announce India’s military ambitions in his speech but he did announce that the world’s sixth largest economy is in competition with the world. The speech will become more contextual once India’s strategic document ( a sort of vision and mission statement combined for the country) currently being prepared by National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and a team of top military, scientific and economic experts is ready, with principal objectives clearly defined, and with no room for any ideological confusion.

Already, Modi’s ambitions are clearly reflected in his foreign policy initiatives, which are pro-India, not pro-US, pro-Russia or pro-China. His ability to engage top global powers is evident from the ever-growing bipartisan ties with the US but not at the cost of relationships with trusted partner Russia or neighbour China. The fact is that Modi and President Vladimir Putin of Russia have had long one-on-one conversations extending way beyond formal talks, sometimes into the wee hours of morning (the last such being at the South Africa BRICS summit). The Prime Minister’s equation with Chinese paramount leader, Xi Jinping, is no different. Both leaders have been open and upfront in informal talks with the vision of taking bilateral ties forward and simultaneously overcoming the hangover of the 1962 war which is a cloud over the two biggest armies of the world. Modi perhaps wanted the same kind of informal dialogue to succeed within the SAARC nations, including Pakistan, but Rawalpindi GHQ is just not interested and Pakistani politicians are usually too afraid to cross swords with the generals.

On the economic front, Modi’s vision will get a boost with direct and indirect tax revenues expected to grow and a GDP growth of around 7.3%. On the internal security front, Modi’s vision on Kashmir is a welcome departure from the so-called muscular policy enunciated by hardliners, even within his own party. Building on his party leader and the late former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Insaniyat doctrine, Modi has called for embracing the Kashmiris to remove any misconception of alienation among the masses. At the same time, his approach is pragmatic enough to focus on building new and alternative leadership within the state through elections of empowered panchayats with elected sarpanches.

If this is an electoral pitch, then it is a deep one. Many of Modi’s opponents believe that the BJP will fall well short of majority in 2019 but that the NDA will be able to conjure up the numbers for a PM other than Modi. This belief stems from the calculation that the grand alliance or so-called mahagathbandan will be able to crack the electoral code in its favour in the critical states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with the Congress denting the BJP’s nearly absolute gains in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. On paper, this electoral logic makes sense but past elections have shown that people vote for a national leader not for a regional satrap in a general election. Ask BSP supremo, Mayawati, whose dreams of becoming PM were shattered due to this. Her party currently has no representatives in the Lok Sabha. Modi has spelt out a new India narrative. It is time for the Opposition, particularly the Congress, to counter it with better vision rather than rhetoric.

shishir.gupta@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 19:22 IST