Monday, May 25, 2015

On Narendra Modi

Very few assessments of Narendra Modi are balanced. There are carping criticisms and enthusiastic encomiums. Even estimates are rare. Therefore, it is refreshing to come across a logical review of Modi in the first year of primeministership by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of Centre for Policy Research appearing in The Indian Express. Some of his observations:

"There is ambition, and even a hint of liberality that ambition brings. But there is the temptation to knock down all opponents. It has been hard to take his measure, because the man and his measures have become one. And the man, after one year, still remains elusive."

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi provokes unprecedented passion. Both his supporters and his critics fail to keep a steady grip on his vices and virtues. He is hard to grasp because he is the product of a peculiarly contradictory moment in Indian democracy. He is a centraliser who looms large. A sense of his self is infused in every speech. Some yearned for exactly this kind of leader. But his sense of self-legitimation also draws power from democracy: an architect of his own fortune, who represents, in his own way, a deepening vernacularisation of democracy. He is seeking legitimacy in the eyes of the people: the compulsive desire to project an image is in service of this goal. But it also means that he will don different costumes, languages and even headgear when necessary. The script will evolve as he reads the people."

"Modi is, in a strange way, a leader who seems to wants to fold in all the qualities of those he claims to represent. This is, by its very nature, a quixotic enterprise, full of tensions. It is often asked: Who is the real Modi? The one articulating lofty and generous aspirations or the one whose government can have streaks of paranoia and petulance?"

" But institutions that supposedly protect individuals: justice systems, police, bureaucracy, the CBI, the CVC, the RTI are in disrepair. Many of their pathologies were not the creation of this government. But there is an anxiety that this government could match existing pathologies with a new efficiency, to produce even more detrimental outcomes."

"It is hard to take his measure. All the contradictions of India play out in his persona."

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