Even if Narendra Modi hasn't lived up to the expectations which he
aroused two years ago, he is still the best person for turning India
into a modern and economically advanced country.
The claim about
modernity may seem odd considering that the medievalists of the saffron
brotherhood constitute an influential section of the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their affiliates
like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - not to mention the abusive
Moreover, the hope that Modi will restrain
them hasn't been fulfilled. There are still elements who call for
beheading those who do not chant a slogan which is used by the
saffronites to check a person's patriotism.
Besides, the Sangh
Parivar's familiar aversion to beef is still in place, although the
unavoidable modernistic trends have compelled some of the BJP-run state
governments like Goa to allow the consumption of the forbidden meat.
notwithstanding these negative points, Modi is ahead of other leaders
in the popularity stakes, as seen in an Economic Times-TNSA survey, the
reason is his outlook, which is in sync with the 21st century.
Fortunately for the BJP, this evidence of belonging to the present times cannot be found in some of the others.
for instance, the credentials of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who
wants to lead an anti-BJP combine at the national level to replicate
the success of the 'mahagathbandhan' (grand alliance) in his state.
the retrogressive nature of his ideas shows that he cannot look beyond
the familiar obsession of the Hindi-belt politicians with caste. Not
only does he want his caste brethren to find employment in the private
sector through quotas, thereby reducing this sole successful segment of
the economy to another version of the loss-making public sector, Nitish
Kumar is also in favour of expanding the ambit of reservations beyond
the 50 percent limit set by the Supreme Court.
related to this desire to boost the quota system is the Janata
Dal-United chief's conviction that catering for the backward castes on
the plea of social justice is a surefire way to enable his party to win
elections and for him to gain popularity.
He is not bothered
about job creation via industrial expansion, but wants only to enable
the backward castes, the main support base of the mahagathbandhan, to
secure government employment via the reservation system which looks at
birth and not educational certificates.
If Nitish Kumar's ideas
are implemented, India can say farewell to economic or educational
progress. While the quota-based entries into official service will
squeeze out the meritorious, the educational system will see a
preponderance of those for whom caste is the route to a degree and not a
devotion to studies.
If Nitish Kumar had endorsed the
elimination of the wealthy "creamy layer" from the beneficiaries of
quotas, it would have at least shown that he is not wholly focussed on
electoral success and has some interest in taking everyone along,
including the upper castes, in the task of ensuring the country's
progress. But he apparently thinks that such a demonstration of
reasonableness will be detrimental to his position as a backward caste
leader because it will make him vulnerable to the machinations of Lau
Prasad and other votaries of caste-based affirmative action.
is not a word, therefore, from him on industries, infrastructure,
educational advancement, health facilities and so on. It is only about
This is where Modi is different. Though he belongs to a
backward caste himself - he is a ghanchi or teli - Modi almost never
talks in terms of caste.
Nor of Hindus like others in the
Hindutva brigade who want to give the community a status above all
others in the country. Indeed, Modi has distanced himself from the
saffronites to such an extent that he is the only one among them to have
described Islam as a religion of peace, a concept which is anathema to
the Sangh parivar.
There is little doubt that Modi has shown
greater interest than any other politician in recent years in India's
industrial development. Hence his emphasis on projects like Make in
India and entrepreneurial endeavours like Start Up India, Stand Up
India, Skill India, Digital India and so on.
Manmohan Singh, also favoured market-oriented economic reforms and
succeeded in effecting the fastest ever reduction in overall poverty
between 2005-06 and 2011-12, according to the Modi government's chief
economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian.
But Manmohan Singh was
stopped in his tracks by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who feared
that the "accidental" prime minister's economic success will make him a
hero and put her son Rahul Gandhi in the shade.
Modi has picked
up from where the gentle sardar had left off and, ironically, facing
resistance from none other than Sonia Gandhi, who has threatened to
stall the goods and services tax, one of the key components of the
But the middle class, one of Modi's major bases
of support, is aware that only he can make the growth rate cross eight
per cent, as Subramanian expects, and ensure a significant erosion in
the levels of poverty.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)