It is the age of secular wimps and politically correct fops. It is an age where weakness hides under the garb of decency and exhibits an aversion to decisive action. It is also the reason why everyone in politics fear Narendra Modi. After Indira Gandhi, he is the only Indian politician who scares other politicians—both friends and foes.
Great leadership has been largely absent in the world from the late 20th century to now. After the colossal presence of Winston Churchill came a series of British prime ministers who were dwarfed by his shadow, even long after the famous cigar was put out. Then came Margaret Thatcher—the Iron Lady who returned Britain its lost sense of pride in its place in the world. The UK hasn’t had a strong leader ever since. In the US—after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, which dominated the last of the Cold War years—no American president is considered a global giant. Bill Clinton was a charmer but not Roosevelt; both the Bushes got America involved in messy wars. Barack Obama is the oxymoronic Socialist in the White House. Elsewhere, too, the story is the same—a Sarkozy after Mitterand; a Zuma after Mandela. It was as if the massive energy of previous titans had exhausted the future even as they straddled their present.
Since Indira’s assassination in 1984, no prime minister—with the exception of Atal Bihari Vajpayee—has been a political Moghul; Vajpayee’s rule was like the benevolent shade of a great banyan tree, but not a battlefield where generals fought for all or nothing. Rajiv Gandhi was the David Cameron of his time; charming, ineffectual and well meaning. V P Singh’s burning Mandal legacy left little to recommend him a pedestal in history; H D Deve Gowda slept through his brief
incumbency; I K Gujral thought he was the prime minister of Pakistan instead of India’s; P V Narasimha Rao was Chanakya and not Vikramaditya. Only Indira reshaped Indian politics in her own image, suppressing all internal dissident, even suspending democracy in 1975 to save the dynasty. That was her dark side. But Indira is also India’s most decisive leader ever—she nationalized banks and industry, supported the Green Revolution to make India self-reliant in food and in 1971 went to war with Pakistan, which earned her the sobriquet of Durga. Globally, she positioned India as a powerful Soviet ally; she was contemptuous of American presidents who looked down on India. Many of her decisions had catastrophic consequences like Operation Bluestar, which cost her, her life.
After three decades, a leader is riding an election wave in the western India that might carry him onward, towards a larger ocean. Modi is polarizing opinion. There is no middle path to him—he is either loved or hated. His supporters believe that he will bring to India the prosperity he brought to Gujarat, and the administrative efficiency and political ruthlessness to execute his decisive vision. He seems to have robbed the prime ministerial futures of many in his own party, who can only sulk or walk out of meetings. Sonia Gandhi has little left to lambast him with; the minority card didn’t serve her well in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Secular activists warn that minorities will be unsafe in Modi’s India, by keeping memories alive of the 2004 riots in which 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed. But statistics show that the 1984 Sikh genocide and the post-Babri Masjid riots—both of which happened on the Congress’s watch—didn’t prevent Sikhs and Muslims from voting for the party. Gujarat has been communally stable for nearly a decade, unlike Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The Indian Muslim is as much a stakeholder in India’s economic prosperity as any Hindu, Christian or Sikh. The results of the Gujarat elections will determine whether the age of the Brobdingnagian has dawned on Indian politics again, or will the Lilliputian continue whining and conspiring to make India even smaller than him.