20200818 narendra modi
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Image Credit: PTI

Today — September 17 — Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will turn seventy. At this milestone, just as one can assess his legacy, one can also crystal ball into the later years of this decade, for the large part of which, and most likely entirely, Modi will the Prime Minister.

So, what are some of the representative attributes and insights that we can glean from the almost five decades and more Modi has been in public life and nineteen years and running he has continuously held the office of elected head of a government.

There are seven distinct strands in which we can assess the impact of Modi the politician.

First, the mind of Modi, the man. It commits. Modi embraces decision. He does not shirk any responsibility. In fact, the greater the challenge, brighter is the scope for Modi to rise up to it and take the right decision and manage the consequences.

Consider how he has resolutely responded to the challenge posed by China at the borders or the COVID-19 pandemic by going for one of the earliest complete lockdowns in the world and saving thousands of lives.

Modi reflects the best the BJP as a party and the RSS as a value system has to offer. He is devoted his life to India’s national cause, is selfless with not a hint of nepotism, is incorruptible, extremely hard-working, steeped in India ethos and yet in tune with modern science and technology and he always puts the nation first, the party next and the self is always last

- Akhilesh Mishra

In this respect he is distinctly different from other politicians who, faced with crunch decisions, either delay or procrastinate or consign the problem to committees or simply refuse to take a decision — which is also a kind of decision.

This trait of Modi has now fundamentally altered the expectations of the people of India from their head of government.

Modi aims at reaching the last mile and uplifting the poorest Image Credit: Muhammad Nahas/Gulf News

Focused on the big picture

Second, an extraordinary quality of Modi is his ability to keep himself focused on the big picture and goals, without getting distracted by transitory events. This may sound easy but is in fact one of the most difficult traits to be able to master. Two examples best substantiate this.

The big picture idea of neutralising the roots of separatism in Kashmir was never lost sight of during the transitory alliance phase of 2014-19. And, the competitive nature of electoral politics has not changed the essential nature of developmental politics of Modi.

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Third, Modi has forever changed the grammar of mass-politics in India. It was he who brought out numbers and graphs and data and rankings from the arcane debates in thinly attended policy conferences to the lively and hotly debated circles of electoral rallies.

When more than a decade ago, Modi made mass political rallies, many of which had as much as half-a-million people in attendance, the theatre of discussing improvement in maternal mortality rates and ease of doing business rankings, his critics laughed at him.

They were used to just discussing divisive issues of caste and religion in these rallies. Now, in 2020, every politician worth his salt has been forced to follow the Modi model of talking development and governance as the primary agenda.

17 September 1950
Narendra Modi was born in Vadnagar, Mehsana district, Bombay State (present-day Gujarat)

Full time successful mass politician

Fourth, Modi is the first full time successful mass politician, and now also Prime Minister, who embodies essence of Antodaya — reaching the last mile and uplifting the poorest — in the truest sense.

While serving as a party office bearer in Gujarat or later as Chief Minister of same state or now as Prime Minister, all his life’s actions have been about reaching the last mile and empowering the last person in the line.

Be it working tirelessly to rebuild an earthquake ravaged Kutch in 2001 or ensuring a pucca ghar (concrete roof house) for every India through PM Awas — both in vision and execution — the mission has always been Antodaya.

Building infrastructure in remote areas of Ladakh and North East or providing timely relief to almost 800 million people during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are all examples of how even while being firmly in the centre power, Modi has focused his sights firmly on Antodaya.

Fifth, Modi reflects the best the BJP as a party and the RSS as a value system has to offer. He is devoted his life to India’s national cause, is selfless with not a hint of nepotism, is incorruptible, extremely hard-working, steeped in India ethos and yet in tune with modern science and technology and he always puts the nation first, the party next and the self is always last.

Projecting India’s values and ethos

Sixth, Modi’s foreign policy has shown that though he is inspired by convention, he is never bogged down by it. One of the peculiarities of India’s foreign policy before Modi was that in many aspects it was apologetic in nature. It refrained from projecting India’s values and ethos lest it offend interlocutors.

This lack of confidence reflected most acutely in dealings with the Middle East. Somehow India had convinced itself that it would always be seen by the countries in the Middle East through the prism of coreligionist Pakistan and therefore India has very little maneuverability and the best it could do was to keep a safe distance while making a periodic show of appeasement.

When Modi first became Prime Minister, his critics even wondered what would happen to these relationships, given how they had tried to tarnish him in domestic politics.

Six years into his tenure, and Modi has completely inverted the previous paradigms. He has shown, that it is possible to build strong and lasting relationships based on mutual respect without being apologetic about one’s own core.

The Indian diplomatic relations with countries in the Middle East, be they UAE or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia are stronger than ever before while at the same time India has strengthened its bonds with Israel. In a sense, Modi’s policies have been a precursor to the recent resetting of Middle East geopolitical landscape as a whole.

Modi's charisma and skill

Seventh, the lasting legacy of Modi will be that of a unifier. This may sound implausible to his trenchant critics, but think about it.

Before the advent of Modi on the national scene, the cut and throat of domestic electoral politics was largely about appealing to distinctive identities, be they religious, caste, regional or linguistic. By its very nature, this appeal was divisive and frittered the national energies into smaller and smaller subgroups.

Modi turned this entire model upside down. He unites. Modi unites on the basis of ideals, ideology, vision, hope and governance agenda. This is a very difficult model to pull off since the default mode is of being divided into these subgroups.

It is this default mode that first the invaders (during the middle ages) and then the Leftist politics after independence exploited.

Modi’s politics is about asking people to rise one or two levels above their default level and then vote in elections. He asks them to unite on the basis of nationalism or for development or for coming together to empower women or as seemingly blasé an agenda as to clean India.

All of these are uniting agendas without and divisive identity barriers. It is a testament to Modi’s commitment and perseverance, his charisma and skill, that he has been able to pull it off successfully.

History may finally refer to Modi, just as it does to other great rulers of men, by a simple and short phrase. In the case of Prime Minister of India, the builder of New India, it may be Modi — The Unifier.

Akhilesh Mishra byline
Image Credit: Gulf News 2020