Can Modi make India’s dreams reality?

Author: Rajiv Kumar, Centre for Policy Research

The people of India have delivered a verdict beyond expectations in favour of Narendra Modi, reflecting the people’s hope for structural change in India’s development paradigm.

The pan-Indian victory across rural, urban and tribal lines reflects the deep and widespread aspirations of the new Indian.

Indians who are looking for employment and not doles; empowerment and not entitlements; growth and not mere distribution and transfers; good governance and not an executive devoid of direction and purpose. In short, Bharat with its exploding aspirations has come centre stage. It has pushed aside firmly and perhaps decisively ‘Macaulay’s India‘ that took its reference from the West.

Real India, that is Bharat, can now rise anew delve deep into its talent and resources, and become an India that stands tall among the comity of nations on the basis of its own achievements. This, at least, is the dream that Modi has sold to the electorate, and they believe in it with conviction.

There is now a mountain of expectations before Modi. With the absolute majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delivered by the electorate, he has little excuse for not conquering the mountain. It will be important for all BJP leaders, from urban to rural regions, to now jettison their differences and rally behind the leadership of the man who has won them this unprecedented victory by his indefatigable hard work, single-minded focus and organisational capability.

A challenge for Modi will be rising above social divisions to establish himself as the leader of all Indians. The electorate has already recognised him as such by giving him 26 out of 26 seats in Gujarat and an unprecedented 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Such a verdict could not conceivably be achieved by the support of any particular community. But no society — and certainly not India with its syncretic Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb idea of inclusive culture that Modi talked about in his speech in Varanasi — can develop and progress if a significant proportion of people remain alienated.

Modi would do well to reassure those who have not voted for him that he and his government will deliver fair, just and equitable governance to all Indians, irrespective of political or ideological identity. And here actions speak far louder than words. Will he for example consider appointing his most trusted and capable aide to oversee the implementation of the Sachar Committee report on Muslim-community wellbeing?

The people have shown that they do not accept the diminution of the Prime Minister’s office or the arrogance of any royal family or dynasty. In Modi, the Indian people have elected a leader who will ensure that the PMO re-emerges as the captain’s cabin with the captain having a firm hand on the rudder. But at the same time by promising that he will govern collectively not only with his cabinet but also with the chief ministers during his campaign, he has shown his understanding of the scale, complexity and diversity of the Indian reality. He will therefore not succumb to the temptations of over-centralization. And that will reinforce and enhance federalism with its huge advantage of finding and implementing region specific solutions. This will provide the provinces with the degrees of freedom and fiscal space necessary to make the Indian development experience a beautiful mosaic of regional paradigms.

Given his track record of personal integrity and honesty, it is likely Modi will resist all temptations for appointing anybody who has even the faintest taint of financial corruption or unethical behaviour to the cabinet or high government positions. Selecting those who desire to serve the country, not their own agendas of personal aggrandisement or material gains, is of course essential.

At no cost can Modi allow his government to be seen as another version of the United Progressive Alliance government, of which the Congress party is a part, full of self-serving opportunists willing to switch sides at a drop of a ballot. The people’s strong desire for clean and effective governance has to be respected and addressed.

Modi has built up a tremendous reputation for project execution and also for being open to innovative ideas. Armed with these strengths he can deliver on his promise of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’. He has to keep open as many windows as possible for new and innovative ideas to reach him and to adopt a ‘revolving door’ policy for bringing in talent from the private sector, civil society and non-resident Indians. The entry of such professional talent can help improve governance, implement key projects, sustain rapid growth and ensure effective delivery of public services.

Indian democracy may be at a new beginning, and hopefully at the end of dynasty and identity-based pseudo-secularist parties. The onus of delivering on these hopes and exploding aspirations is on Modi’s shoulders. Not just India but the world wants him to succeed. India’s success, after all, means that development, democracy and diversity can all come together in a successful experiment.

Rajiv Kumar is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research and former Director of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.