Narendra Damodardas Modi, who comes from a humble background as the son of a tea-seller, is a charismatic, dynamic and shrewd politician. His victory in the recent elections in India can only be matched by that of President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections.
If some of you readers don’t quite agree with that opinion, perhaps you might find this, too, a bit difficult to agree with: Modi is finally the global role model India has been looking for in politics as well as in business, sports, films and the arts.
It’s not that India has not had its share of great politicians—with all their individual flaws—to choose from. There have been many, from the erudite and sophisticated Jawaharlal Nehru to the reformist Narasimha Rao, whose liberalization policies were taken forward by the capable Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh to shape India’s aspirations towards becoming a developed nation. I believe that Modi, too, will endeavor to follow that same path and goals.
But what makes Modi a great Indian politician, a global role model, and one who commands respect is that he has beaten all odds to make the impossible possible. Obama, and now Modi, with their calculated, successful campaigns and ultimate victory at the polls, have given hope to generations, and have inspired and will continue to inspire millions of youngsters to dream big.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections were as personal for Modi as it was for Rajiv Gandhi in the wake of the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi. The country may have voted for the first time in 30 years on the issue of the economy, but for Modi, it was about reinstating his identity as a secular Indian.
Modi, who will turn 64 this September, when entrusted with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) leadership spot for the 2014 polls in India, showed tremendous enthusiasm, energy, vigor and panache at hundreds of rallies across the country.
For Obama, the hardest part was to win the Democratic primaries, beating Hillary Clinton. The rest was easier, as United States votes state by state either Blue or Red. It was either going to be a narrow win or a narrow loss for him.
Not so, for Modi. The challenge for him has been the same since the 2002 Gujarat riots. There was no way for him to know till the day the votes were counted how much the nation either hated or loved him.
Modi not only had to counter the opposition, and convince a sceptical nation of his worth, but to convince the top leaders from his own party, stalwarts like L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj, of his leadership credentials.
Before Modi took on the reins of the party, the BJP was in shambles. The party was in no position to take charge of even a state government anywhere, forget sweeping polls nationally. Modi made it a cohesive national party again, gave it the badly needed stature and confidence, got immediate results in Assembly elections in prominent states, and proved to be an astute leader.
Modi was ostracized by not only his fellow Indians, but by the global community for the 2002 Gujarat riots. In all those years when he was condemned and castigated, Modi could have exploded in public fury and disintegrated like an Arvind Kejriwal, or created a split within the party and formed a faction of his own, or committed political hara kiri. But instead he quietly and systematically laid the foundation for the Prime Minister’s job by developing Gujarat economically and gaining the trust with his performance as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
As detractors continued to criticize him, Modi showed one of his greatest strengths: he kept a calm front in the face of all the overt and passive aggression against him; and he didn’t stoop to denounce the lobbying-tilted actions of the United States, who refused him a diplomatic United States visa in 2005.
The United States is now courting Modi. Obama has invited him to the White House; the State Department wants him to visit the United States. The visa issue, it seems was white smoke.
The most difficult part, as Modi will soon come to know, is to succeed in the face of adversity, while governing the country.
If Modi wants to succeed in developing India economically, which is what his campaign message has been, he needs to make India the engine of growth, take the country towards global economic recovery, initiate measures to punish corruption and eradicate it in the long run, make the country more secular, despite the reservations of minorities, and make its defence forces and borders stronger.
This is indeed a tall task and one for which Modi is well-prepared, and if he is able to achieve everything that he has stated he will, Modi will be revered in the global community as an icon.
No Indian businessman, bar Ratan Tata, can come close to being a global icon—for Indian businesses believe more in the service sector to make money than in developing products like Bill Gates did. Sachin Tendulkar, for all of India’s pretensions, is still a (retired) cricket celebrity, not a global sports icon; ditto for Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan in the films arena, and the country’s real writers, the ones who make money and are critically successful at the same time, like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and Jhumpa Lahiri are NRIs and PIOs, so the likes of Chetan Bhagat are confined to being desi phenomenons. Besides the country is yet to produce another Rabindranath Tagore or Satyajit Ray.
If Modi is able to unite a diverse and divisive populace, within the contours of democracy and government, his name will one day be taken in the same breath as one would Mahatma Gandhi’s name. As one of the two greatest Indians the country has ever produced.
After all, one gave India freedom. The other could well give Indians freedom from its worries.
Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar