The word “sarkar” in the BJP election slogan which is the title of this article has two meanings in the Hindi language: 1) it is a title of respect for someone revered for his position and power, and 2) it means the “government.” Hence, one translation in English of this heading is: “this time, (your government) reverend Modi.” This brings us to the fact that the BJP election slogan has proven to have a remarkable quality of resplendent and resonant predictability to it. Indeed, Narendra Modi is the 17th Prime Minister of India chosen by a massive majority of voters. Interestingly and by the deliberate choice of the word “sarkar,” a reference was also meant to highlight Modi’s deep religious affiliation to Hindu nationalism. Has the Hindu nationalism factor helped create the “Modi Wave” to uproot the “Grand Old Party” of India, the Indian National Congress, and push it out of the game to almost political oblivion – if not permanently, at least for the foreseeable future?
My own considered opinion is that the “Hindu nationalism” card has played a formidable role in Modi’s ascendancy to power and Indian political leadership. But that is not the end of the story. There is a lot more to Modi’s tale: from where he was to where he is today, it is a narrative of an extraordinary and fascinating journey of a lifetime full of energetic optimism, self-determination, self-discipline, hard work, dedication and visionary political foresight. Indeed, Narendra Modi has made mistakes, (needless to say some very serious ones), but he stayed steadfastly committed to a political discourse that is intimately linked to an ideological concept of public welfare.
Interestingly, it was not a campaign by the BJP; in fact, Modi was able to personify the entire political campaigning around himself. The Indian masses paid very little attention to what was in the party’s manifesto and the ideological Hindu-nationalist contents that dominated the party’s past. What the voters saw was a determined, energetic Modi fuelling fresh optimism and hope for the Indian masses to look forward to a fundamentally changed India.
“Modi may be, in the words of one of his admirers, a one-man army; it is his decisiveness that some find so compelling… He too, claims to speak for the marginalised against a corrupt and self-serving urban elite… He has stirred the pent-up yearning of millions who have glimpsed India’s economic awakening from afar,” wrote David Pilling of the Financial Times in a recent article.
But a most interesting observation made by Pilling in the context of the public aspirations for political change that are gripping India is: “For many, Modi’s victory is a torpedoing of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, whose patrician grip on post-independence India, William Dalrymple calls ‘sexually transmitted democracy.’” How true. Sonia Gandhi, during the entire election campaign, was obsessively focused on stopping Modi.
Modi himself, in public addresses and speeches all over India has promised to be “result-orientated,” “truly representative,” “transparent,” and to lead “a sensitive government.” He has pledged to “restore confidence in the government, bring back credibility in the system and take effective steps to bridge the trust deficit that exists (in India) today.” Will Modi succeed? That will have to be seen.
Some questions asked over and over again in Pakistan these days are: Will Modi go back to his Hindu nationalist roots and impose a sectarian regime on a country with a vastly diverse population and foment intolerance towards India’s 175 million Muslims? (Of particular concern to the Pakistani people is a continued Hindu siege of Kashmiri Muslims.) Will he opt for an India of Hindu domination? Will Modi pursue a foreign policy of Indian domination of the region and specifically a planned political-military domination of Pakistan?
But how would this type of foreign policy discourse help Modi’s domestic and global leadership? How would it give Modi political immortality if he turned India into a modern apartheid regime?
My take on the phobia that the Pakistani awaam have of Modi’s staunch faith in Hinduism is unjustified and emotionally misperceived. So what if Modi is a diehard Hindu? What is the problem with that? Are we not in Pakistan faithful Muslims as much as Modi is a devoted Hindu? The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is not India’s number one problem, and neither is India Pakistan’s most pressing and urgent issue. Both India and Pakistan are faced with identical socio-economic problematics: we have rising poverty, and so has India. Prime Minister Modi has the same urgent domestic issues that are also being faced by Pakistan’s political establishment.
However, Modi’s election success in India presents a victory for progressive political forces marching forward. Unfortunately in Pakistan, the present day political process remains backward and frozen in time in the political status quo at the hands of a vested-interests ruling elite who are unmindful of the systemic changes that are urgently needed. With Modi, India has already made a hopeful change for the transformation of its political-socio-economic system. Pakistan is nowhere near the start of such a political process nor is there real political discourse directed towards that objective.
Modi is already on public record to have shunned the BJP’s historical Hindu nationalist agenda. To a specific question during a press conference as to how he would address the fears of the minorities, particularly Muslims (in India) Modi said, “We are committed to provide a government where nobody needs to be apprehensive or fearful. We are committed to go the extra mile to ensure that not only are we fair and just, but that we are also perceived to be fair and just.”
And now we come to the pivotal issue between India and Pakistan - a test case for Modi’s self-confessed, self-declared policy of justice and fairness to all. Will Modi overcome the historical Indian lack of will to let the Kashmiri Muslims decide a future for themselves? So far India has failed to resolve this issue with due respect to the political aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims.
But in my view, it is incumbent on Pakistan to fight for the Kashmiri Muslims’ right to self-determination at international forums, at the International Court of Justice and in the court of public opinion in the international community. Let us see if Pakistan will be able to constructively and diplomatically engage with Narendra Modi. It could be a success story for Modi as well as Pakistan for the peace, prosperity and stability of the two nations.
Narendra Modi is not an ordinary “man” or an ordinary “politician.” Modi is a political phenomenon. The question is, can Modi perform a political miracle?
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.