In cooperation with the FEFU Center of Expertise and Analysis (CES)
One can talk for a long time about the development of India as a state and make predictions about the importance of the nation’s political figures. It goes without saying that the name of Narendra Modi will go down in the history of the Republic of India not just as a simple line in the list of the nation’s prime ministers. Having both passionate supporters and staunch opponents, the fourteenth Prime Minister has significantly changed the country. Dmitriy Shelest speciallly for the Pan Pacific Agency.
Narendra Damodardas Modi was born on September 17, 1950. He approached his 70th birthday with both a wealth of achievements and accomplishments and a burden of failures. It is not surprising that his work for the good of India is equally interpreted by some people as whole-hearted service to the country and as an unbridled desire of power by others. Having started his full-time career as a preacher in the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1971, he was assigned to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to 1985, and by 2001 became a Chief Minister in the state of Gujarat in northwest India.
Narendra Modi was able to transform the state effectively returning the importance of Gujarat that it had during the Mughal era. The Chief Minister has modernized commercial ports, including liquefied natural gas terminals by flexibly using the mechanisms of public-private partnerships. During his tenure in the office, the length of the road and rail networks has increased along with the construction of two thousand kilometers of the gas pipeline. The Gujarat International Financial Technopolis was built from scratch, which in itself has become an advertisement for the investment opportunities of India as a whole together with other achievements. Researchers compared such dramatic changes in the region in a short time with the economic miracle of the Asian tigers, Singapore and South Korea. Unsurprisingly, Modi has enjoyed incredible popular support and was re-elected several times as head of the state all the way through 2013.
However, there is always a fly in the ointment in politics, which will be pointed out to by ill-wishers, direct rivals, and unbiased observers. In 2002, Muslim riots have rocked Gujarat, during which the authorities did not respond to the events promptly. Moreover, it is believed that at the grassroot level police officers have even contributed to the lawlessness. According to the open data, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed while other 223 persons have gone missing and about 2.500 were injured. In turn, followers of the dominant religion are convinced that it was a response to those Muslims who had previously set fire on a train with Hindu pilgrims, which resulted in the deaths of 58 people. It is obvious that such kind of crimes have deeper historical roots, and that certain political groups, directly or indirectly have tried to use religious bigotry to promote their interests. According to the American scholar Robert Kaplan, “Indian political parties have used ethnic and religious tensions for their own good for decades.” The situation described above along with the interfaith conflicts that have already taken place in 2020 in New Delhi, once again reaffirm this argument.
The Gujarati riots did not prevent Narendra Modi from running for the position of the Prime Minister of India on BJP ticket in 2013. The achievements of Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister were quite significant. In addition, the habit of dressing like a wandering monk, modesty in everyday life, outstanding public speaking and management skills, almost ‘pathological’ by Indian standards along with his non-acquisitiveness have earned Modi a great reputation among millions of ordinary people in India. From my own experience in New Delhi, I can tell that when passengers get into an auto rickshaw or a taxi, it is almost impossible not to meet the gaze of Modi’s portrait on the vehicle’s windshield. Modi looks shrewdly at all local residents and visitors who enter the stores and the shops of in New Delhi markets like Main Bazaar after his nomination for the position of the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. At the same time, the BJP candidate did something that many experienced leaders have forgotten about: he proposed a new future for the youth. Having formed the revolutionary doctrine of transformation of the country, Narendra Modi bluntly stated that “Metamorphoses are necessary. My vision for India is rapid transformation, not gradual evolution.” Of course, this captivated imagination of millions of people during the 2011-2013 economic downturns.
Consequently, the First Minister of Gujarat has won the elections and has taken over as a Prime Minister in the 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence in New Delhi. Modi’s supporters noted the words of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who was an Indian philosopher and the country’s president in 1962-1967 became Modi’s own personal motto, “A free India will be judged by the way in which it will serve the interests of common man in the matter of food, clothing, shelter and social services.”
In the beginning of his tenure, the new Prime Minister has started to reform the government institutions. The slogan Minimum government with maximum governance became a reality in Modi’s high-tech initiative titled Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation and other projects in the field of control and interaction with the government agencies at all levels. Already in 2017, considering the preliminary results, the head of the Cabinet of Ministers admitted, “It has been my dream to bring government closer to our citizens, so that they become active participants in the governance process.”
Assessment of the steps taken by the head of state demonstrates that Modi actually used the Keynesian model in the Franklin Roosevelt’s spirit where a significant share of government spending is used for the public needs. This launched several programs that would offer subsidies for the use of natural gas by the rural residents, the poor, and by some other lesser privileged households. In turn, this approach made it possible to set an ambitious goal of bringing 90% of Indian households to a gas supply of energy by 2030. In a similar vein, it is worth mentioning increasing affordability of the medical care in India. One example of this is the Universal Immunization Program that focuses at vaccination of children and pregnant women against seven most dangerous diseases in the country. Other examples are the establishment of about 100 centers where patients can buy drugs and medical supplies with substantial compensation from the national budget. Similar initiative is the launching of the program for digital identification of healthcare insurance for every citizen of India, developed in 2020. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Girl and Give her Education) campaign became a significant solution that addresses the demographic imbalance in India where the male population is significantly larger than the female population.
Another point is the economy, which is a highly sensitive matter for such a large developing country like India. For today’s birthday celebrant, the discussions about the economy become the discussions that relate to increasing the investments. Indian Prime Minister has launched programs such as Make in India, Startups in India, Mastery of India and other initiatives that would help increase the inflow of foreign direct investments. Along with these programs, the government has also established the Micro-Units Development and Refinance Agency to help local micro-enterprises to start their businesses and to expand their capabilities. To promote the interests of the medium and large-size businesses, the government has revised legislation on public-private partnerships. This made it possible to expand the private capital opportunities to be channeled into the infrastructure projects. At the same time, India has seen a program that boosts integration of transportation and energy infrastructure. In the energy sector the government has placed an emphasis on renewable and cleaner sources of energy in addition to the use of nuclear energy. It is expected that by 2022, India would generate 100 gigawatts of solar energy and 75 gigawatts of wind power energy.
The military-industrial complex of India should be discussed separately. New Delhi’s desire to diversify its external suppliers of the armaments fully matches the need to increase national high-tech production, which among other things includes the military manufacturing. The seven-year moratorium on the purchase of 101 types of military equipment implies the development of joint ventures with the main suppliers of these products including such countries as Russia (about 55%), the United States, Israel, France, and Germany. Moreover, India enhances its capacity to come to international agreements on the establishment of highly integrated joint companies that would manufacture defense products with its partners, first of all, with Moscow.
If we talk about the economy in general, it seems that Modi considers this area as a kind of cyclical phenomenon in the spirit of Hindu mythology. Using an ironic metaphor, one can suggest the following similarity. If the Hindu god Lord Shiva initiates a new universal cycle, then the head of the Indian cabinet launches new economic mechanisms, leaves them in motion and moves on to the other matters. Perhaps that is the way how some of his errors become visible. For example, the replacement of cash in 2016 led to the macroeconomic problems and hit the poorest segments of the population. In the same context, one cannot say that all of Modi’s programs have been completed by 100 per cent. Corruption, bureaucracy, and parochial interests have not gone anywhere. Nevertheless, the changes in the economic sphere gave him a positive result, which allowed the head of the Cabinet of Ministers to gain support of the population in domestic policy when he initiated policy changes in the status of Kashmir and the controversial laws on the citizenship.
The foreign policy of the fourteenth Prime Minister of the country, on the one hand, is based on his desire for an economic expansion, and on the other hand, on a reflection of the Indian nation’s internal awareness of its place in the new world. Of course, this is the movement to the East, which is traditionally associated with the reforms of Narasimha Rao in the 1990s known as the Look East Policy. At the same time, it is also an awareness of the growing strength of India in the foreign arena. Speaking about the 74th anniversary of the Independence Day of the Republic of India, Narendra Modi has actually transformed the diplomatic language. He clearly stated, “Today we consider neighbors not those with whom we have common borders, but those with whom we have good relation.” Later, his message was supplemented by the words of the Minister of Defense Rajnat Singh. There, the head of the Defense Ministry summarized the strategy of the founder of the first Indian empire, Ashoka Maurya, “India is trying to conquer hearts, not lands.”
As one speaks about the problems of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), it should be mentioned that India in all periods of its development had an enormous historical inertia. The texts of the Vedas and Upanishads, as well as British colonization, have left their birthmarks and scars on the face of the country. The traditions established centuries ago are still relevant today. This is the reason why social pendulum of the Indian state fluctuates, inter alia, from secularism to religious intolerance and vice versa. This implies that either side finds quite fair arguments to counterbalance the opinions of its opponents. Thus, the conservative journalist and writer, member of the BJP, Swapan Dasgupta, claims that the supporters of the secular regime have long tried to pass off their wishful thinking “to create a picture of a happy family, without problems, which India was not.”
In this regard, it is appropriate to ask the question, “How can you mobilize the population, 80% of which are Hindus?” Naturally, this requires religious symbols and attitudes that correlate to both tactic and strategic objectives of the state. Modi uses Hindutva as much as it is necessary for making his plans a reality, although he does that sincerely, with the greatest conviction in the rightness of his cause. It is not entirely correct to blame the incumbent head of the Cabinet of Ministers directly for his aggressive Hindu mobilization. Rather, it is an attempt to achieve a Hindu renaissance similar to the Bengal Revival in the 19th century whose dark side was the explosion of insane intolerance and religious bigotry.
Today it is obvious that the figure of the incumbent Prime Minister has had a significant impact on the whole of India. Regardless of the interpretation of his undertakings, the incumbent is obsessed with India. From this perspective, Narendra Modi is now offering India an amazing thing: technological and infrastructural modernization that is based on a traditionalist revolution. It should appeal not so much to the conservatives or the nationalists but rather to the revolutionaries. In this respect, the intentions of the head of the Indian Cabinet can be compared to the vector of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, but they extend much further in their strategy and have deeper historical roots. Another thing is that contemporary India is also an echo of the Mauryan and Gupta dynasties, the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, the colonial period and the young republic. Of course, Narendra Modi is not so naive as not to understand the current state of India. Obviously, Modi Raj is aimed at a traditionalist synthesis that should enclose India within a sustainable social system. Such a peculiar thing in itself is able to absorb both the external waves and internal vacillations for long durations of time.
Using the phrase history will judge us when discussing the significance of Narendra Modi is unlikely to be completely successful. The same applies to his comparison with the other large-than-life personalities, for example, his predecessors Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, or with such foreign figures as Joseph Stalin, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, or Winston Churchill. All of the listed individuals, like other persons in other historical eras, did too much at a time when history left them too little to choose from. Of course, making icons out of the national leaders is, in principle, not the best practice that one could imagine. But the following still stand true: during the collapse of the global world order, the presence of external threats and the reorganization of Indian society, the figure of the Prime Minister became a catalyst for changes within India and a certain symbol of the state in the world of the 21st century. However, guided by the good for his country, Narendra Modi should not forget the words of the great compatriot, President of India (2002-2007) Abdul Kalam. For India “tolerance will have to become the foundation for a sustainable and secure future.”
By Dmitriy Shelest. English editing by Ivan Pisarev.