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Modi@20: New India’s Destiny Maker

In the 20 years that he has been in power, Modi has been an enormously popular leader. But his long innings signifies more than popularity, leadership qualities or style of governance.

Published: 06th October 2021 01:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th October 2021 10:33 AM   |  A+A-

Illustration: Amit Bandre

Today, October 6, is the day Narendra Modi completes 20 years in office without a break. On 7 October 2001, he became Gujarat’s 14th chief minister. Four spells in that position, totalling 12 years, 227 days, make him the longest-serving chief minister of the state. Then, since May 2014, as India’s 14th prime minister, he has served over seven years and four months. If both these stretches, first as the head of a prominent state and then of the Union Cabinet, are taken together, Modi has been on the top of Indian politics for a staggering 7,305 days. What is more, he has not lost a single Assembly or Lok Sabha election during this time.

If only the duration in office of prime ministers is counted, Modi comes fourth. Our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, occupied the office for 6,130 days or nearly 16 years and ten months. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, was PM for 5,829 days or nearly 16 years. Manmohan Singh served two terms for 3,656 days or just over 10 years.

Modi has already overtaken Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure of 2,272 days or a little over six years and two months. He will surpass Singh’s two-term length in office if he remains as the prime minister till 29 May 2024. To pass Nehru’s record, however, Modi will have to remain PM till March 2031, that is for almost one more term and a half, facing two more general elections in 2024 and 2029. In 2024 he will be 74 years old and 79 in 2029. To speculate on whether he is likely to contest that long is only for the statistically inclined or astrologically minded.

The rest of us might more fruitfully ask, what is the significance of Modi@20? There is a simple answer to this as well as a more complicated one. The simple answer should be obvious: Narendra Modi is an enormously popular and successful leader. The Indian voting public has repeatedly reposed their trust in him. In voting him to power, they have known that they were electing India’s prime minister or, earlier, Gujarat’s chief minister. Therefore, these years in office amply demonstrate an endorsement of his policies, style of governance and leadership qualities.

But his long innings at the helm of affairs signifies more than popularity, leadership qualities or style of governance. It also shows his enormous political acumen, organisational abilities, oratory skills and, above all, his knack of striking a rapport with the Indian masses. Modi, thus, is not only a charismatic leader, but a great communicator as well.

What is more, he inspires loyalty and fear. The latter were not attributes we normally associate with most of his predecessors. The only other prime minister who inspired similar awe and fear was Indira Gandhi. But then, she was also surrounded by sycophants, who contributed to her downfall. Modi might save himself from such a fate by his fabled panoptical, 360-degree feedback and reporting system, which ensures that he does not lose touch with the pulse of the people he serves. 

Like Indira, however, Modi too has centralised power and authority in great measure. He has done so by appointing weak or non-political ministers who lack a political base. He has also clipped the wings of leaders with a standing of their own. Barring a few exceptions, no major regional satrap has a place in his cabinet, nor is anyone else allowed to come across as the face of his government other than himself.
Modi, thus, stands alone, like a colossus. Not only when he addresses the nation, but also at major events or locales. No one shares the stage with him when he meets foreign dignitaries in India or overseas. No one appears alongside him when he is at the Red Fort, Statue of Unity or Raj Ghat.

Those in the know aver that he has also bypassed or outflanked the standard operating procedures of the Indian bureaucracy. Secretaries of several ministries answer directly to the PMO, which is manned by loyalists or retirees. Officers on Special Duty advise and help state governors and chief ministers, thus keeping tabs on how well they perform. Performance indicators are continuously monitored in all departments of the government to ensure that no one in public office slacks off.

This brings us to the more complex meaning of his success. For Modi is quite unlike any other prime minister before him. He is not only a game changer but also a visionary of the kind we have rarely seen in Indian politics. An outsider to Lutyens Delhi, he has not only sidelined the media, which had assumed the role of image-makers, if not kingmakers, in the past, but he has set about fashioning his own narrative of a new India.

Whether it is demonetisation, GST, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the resolution of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute or changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir, to name just a few, Modi’s actions have been bold and unprecedented. He has also, in the teeth of opposition and calumny, replaced secularism with Hindutva as India’s ruling ideology. Modi has made radical departures from the past and taken on problems once considered intractable. In fact, we are in the middle of one, the farmer’s ongoing protests.

Modi’s multitudinous and innovative schemes have made the people direct beneficiaries of the government. He has cut out middlemen and power brokers to a large extent. He has strengthened the defence forces to make Indians feel safe. He has enhanced India’s stature, as well as his own, on the world stage. In addition, with mega-projects like the Statue of Unity and the Central Vista remodelling, he has ensured that his stamp on the nation will remain for a long time to come.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, adores or abhors him, no one can deny that Modi is one of a kind. His sincerity and commitment to serve and transform India cannot be doubted. He has no personal agenda, no other axe to grind, no selfish aim or interest to attain or promote. A tireless son, champion and warrior of Bharat Mata, with tremendous integrity and sincerity of purpose, Modi has endeared himself to crores of Indians. As far as he is concerned, that is probably all that matters.

(Views are personal)

Makarand R Paranjape

Professor of English at JNU

(Tweets @MakrandParanspe)



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  • Jagadeesh

    So precise and factual article on Shri Modiji.... simply fantastic.
    2 months ago reply
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