Friday, August 12, 2016

I Day Musings: As much a nationalist as a patriot, Mr. Narendra Modi

As the Independence Day approaches, Mr. Narendra Modi faces new challenges, along with some of those faced by Nehru, viz., fissiparous tendencies, external aggression, chaotic apparatus of governance and a populace that is becoming increasingly restless thanks to the aspirations triggered off partly by Mr. Modi’s election promises. Moreover, Nehru had tried to bridge the gap between the nationalist and the patriot.  Will Mr. Modi adopt the Nehruvian vision, or…?

In an article on the Kashmir situation, Derek O’Brien recalls a definition which states that the nationalist loves his country while the patriot loves the people of his country. My I Day musings expand this theme to include the entire Republic of India.

There was a time when the Indian National Congress was referred to as the party of the Hindus by its critics, and internationally it was often described as a nationalist party. Now both these terms are used for the Bharatiya Janata Party. I was bemused when, during a TV debate, or was it analysis, somebody pointed out that nowadays the INC is looked upon as the party of the Muslims… Of course, apart from being a party of the corrupt and the traitor! What a sea change in perception – no matter how falsely premised this may be. Looks like the 2014 elections were more than a winner-takes-all phenomenon in terms of Lok Sabha seats. It redistributed the political rivals’ nomenclature and esteem. But should we be surprised?

There was an element of naivety in the way Nehru handled various problems facing the country – immensely daunting as they were. The partition had severely dented the country’s morale. National assets in terms of heavy industry, infrastructure, power generation, educational institutions etc. were either absent or dilapidated. Most of the institutions needed to be rebuilt, or constructed from scratch. The government apparatus was a mess. Famines were a constant threat as were fissiparous tendencies and aggression from neighbors. Structures of governance were outdated as were the mindsets of bureaucracy, intelligentsia etc.  

However, there was no doubting his sincerity and zeal in tackling these problems. He, along with his equally able and willing colleagues, fought the various social and religious taboos that hobbled India’s march towards becoming a modern, progressive state. They laid down strong foundations for not just developing a vibrant polity but also an economy that would ultimately demonstrate its resilience several decades hence. Thanks to the Nehruvian vision and initiatives – and the precedents he set for his successors – India is a proud democracy today. It is a nation that has successfully imbibed enduring scientific temper and is a shining example for other developing economies.  

Consequently, from the perceived land of rope-tricks and snake-charmers, India is considered a powerhouse in the field of Information Technology, and from being considered a basket case it is now the third largest Asian economy. To quote just two examples, today poverty has come down to less than 15% to 30% (depending upon the statistics one relies upon) from the gargantuan over 70% more than six decades ago. Literacy too has risen from the abysmal 14%-18% in 1947 to a respectable 60% to 70% today. These estimates vary because different organizations choose different methodologies for calculating poverty and illiteracy. But, the point is, India has made a huge improvement in these fields.

Of course, if Nehru laid down the foundations and provided a vision for India’s growth, the successive governments – both Congress and non-Congress – have been taking these forward while making modifications – even complete overhauls – as changing circumstances demanded.

Today, India stands at the crossroads once again. On the one hand there are immense prospects for scientific, technological and economic growth that would vastly improve the people’s quality of life; and on the other hand are the forces of darkness and superstition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s instincts propel him towards building a progressive society and a vibrant economy. But he faces acute resistance from the regressive forces. There are elements within his party who would like India to degenerate into a vortex of casteism, misogyny, and superstition. They would like to marginalize the religious minorities and turn Hinduism into a counterfeit Islam where intolerance and medievalism prevail. It is a huge challenge for Narendra Modi because these elements – in public and global perceptions – are identified with the political party he represents. Every time a Dalit is savaged or a Muslim killed fingers invariably are pointed at the Sangh Parivar or one of its associate outfits. This needs to be corrected urgently. The Prime Minister must be aware that one cannot hope to make India a global power if these forces continue to sabotage his initiatives. He must break free of their stranglehold and declare war on the forces of darkness represented by ill-bred religious and casteist bigots.

This Independence Day, we look upon Mr. Modi with hope. He faces new challenges along with some of those faced by Nehru – fissiparous tendencies, external aggression, chaotic apparatus of governance and a populace that is becoming increasingly restless thanks to the aspirations triggered off partly by Mr. Modi’s election promises. It remains to be seen whether he would finally shut out the regressive forces and redeem his development agenda that was promised to the voters during his 2014 general elections campaigning. Would he be able to ensure that all Indians are genuinely treated as equals right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari (proverbial, because we have compatriots in the islands further south)? That a Dalit and a Brahmin, a Hindu and a Muslim, as well as other minorities, will consider themselves as equal stakeholders in India’s unity, progress, and prosperity? That each one of us will feel as much a nationalist as a patriot?

Nehru had tried to bridge the gap between the nationalist and the patriot. For him Indians were as important as India. Will Modi be able to take that roadmap forward? The roadmap that uses secularism, mutual tolerance and respect as sanctified milestones towards India’s tryst with destiny? Looking forward to your speech Mr. Prime Minister… WITH HOPE.

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